Clever Economy

4 Steps to A Financial Imagination

Almost every financial website, blog post, and listicle will assume the same thing: the way to live the good life is to make as much money as possible. There’s certainly some truth to this. Most of us would certainly be happier with a little more money–or would we? The problem is, most people who are attempting to make a lot of money or succeed in life never actually sit down and picture what that success would actually look like. So create a word document on your computer, and take a few minutes to start doing some journaling.

1.Picture the ideal week

Start to reflect on the structures and essentials in your life that contribute to your happiness. One day is too short, and one month is too long. The perfect chunk of time is one week. Write down all the things that a week should contain to make you happy. Think about the systems and structures that will help you live your best life. How much are you working? What job do you have? Do you have a family? Single? Time with kids? Time with friends? In this step, don’t focus on brands! All our lives we’re bombarded with advertisements and marketing strategies teaching us to associate luxury and the good life with products instead of processes, and your financial imagination needs to start by reversing this structure. Its processes that make us happy, not the products that are used in those processes. It’s important that you drive a car that gets you to a job you enjoy, it’s less important what kind of car you have or what title is on your office door. Do you like art? Creativity? Numbers? Finances? In your best week, what are the types of tasks, activities, and hobbies that fulfill and refresh you?

2.Lifestyle products

Once you’ve identified the processes, then, and only then, should you think about the products. The products do matter. Some cars are better than others, some food tastes better, and some clothes are cooler. In this step, envision different attainable products that you’d like. What kind of car do you drive, where do you live, and what do you eat? It’s important here to identify the essentials. While you might like a $100,000 car more than a $30,000 car, how much happier will you be in the average week with the difference in cars? At some point, that $70,000 is probably better spent on housing, clothes, and food. Only if you’re really a car person should you be trying to jump the gap between the mid-level luxury car and the high-end sports car. Otherwise, focus on the lifestyle things that really matter to you.


Maybe your ideal retirement is sipping martinis on a Caribbean island while shooting fireworks off your yacht. But it is probably something more realistic–like a nice place to live, enough money not to worry, and a little cash to travel. The retirement that will make you happy might be more like coffee and books (on a beach) than fireworks and sportscars (on a beach). But if it is sportscars and fireworks, it’ll be nice to have some idea of how much you’ll have to shell out to get that on the weekends (probably 50,000 for the car and 5,000 for a fireworks display).

4.Revise and update

Desires don’t remain stable. Our desires change as we get older, and our picture of the good life starts to shift. As any parent or grandparent will say, the shifting dynamics of family life and the test of experience will be enough to radically reorient the things that you thought you cared about. Don’t just put your head down and run the race of life. Pick your head up, stop for water, and reassess where you’re at!

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