My wife and I were talking with one of our twin daughters about things that she has learned since she has been away at college. She mentioned that she spent too much time with her high school boyfriend (with whom she broke up soon after college started) and not enough time really experiencing different aspects of herself and high school. She feels emboldened by what college offers.
Our daughter's reflection is quite fitting for a column about money. We are all making ongoing decisions about spending our lives wisely. Time is our most precious resource. We sell part of our lives through work and use money to pay for things that we hope will improve our lives. We use time to raise our families, experience nature, embrace spirituality, chill out, or read a blog on money and wellness. If we are not stopping to think about this trade-off, we may be destined for regret. Neal Roese terms regret as "the aching remorse of actions left undone, of better possibilities unattained."
Think about the most meaningful times in your life. My suspicion is that you are reflecting on experiences certain times the family really connected, beautiful places you have visited, laughing or crying with a friend. When finances are tight, we often refrain from doing the things that will give us pleasure and rejuvenate us. One of the most important things that you can do with your money is to spend it in ways that will last long after the event itself. But there are many other things that you can be doing that may cost little or nothing. Acts of charity to others, writing thank you notes, and keeping an appreciation journal may serve as a reminder of things that are going right for you.
One of our clients was a successful businessman who contracted ALS (Lou Gehrig disease) two years after he sold his business. The retirement that he and his wife envisioned was not filled with travel and adventure, but rather nurses and a death much too soon. But this couple had lived with a sense of possibility long before their business was successful. At his last meeting with us, he was forced to drink his coffee out of a straw that his wife held for him, but he never lost the twinkle in his eye or his deep compassion for others. They lived their lives creating experiences, so he died with few regrets.
Here is a piece of simple advice when you are seriously debating whether you should be doing something (serious takes the frivolity out of it), go for it. Live by the law of columnist Sydney J. Harris who said, "Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable." If you are going to cut back, figure out how you can cut back on the things that are worth less over time, not those that are worth more.