Should You Always Do What Makes The Most Financial Sense?

Here is a financial myth that I’ve believed for far too long:

Myth: If it makes the most math sense it must be the right choice.

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Reality: We must work the math system for a period of time so that we can ignore the math.

You cannot ignore the math for your entire life.  In fact, the problem with most people is that they try and ignore the math. They spend more than they earn.  Borrow beyond their capacity and end up upside down in debt. Math is a reality.

However, if you play by the math rules starting young and early then what makes the most math sense is no longer the right choice. In fact, math (money) is a terrible life motivator. Seriously, who wants to spend the rest of their lives doing ONLY and ALWAYS what looks the best on paper and increases your net worth.

Personally, I think I’m here for something different and something more.  I want to glorify God.  To work with people. And, to do something I’m passionate about.

Career: Follow Your Passion Not Your Checkbook

I’m not in a very lucrative career field.  Last time I checked the ministers salary isn’t ranking at the top of any salary scale.  So the question is – did I make a poor career choice because it is not the best paying job in the world?

Absolutely not.  I followed a call.  In the process I’ve had the opportunity to see, do, and experience some amazing things by the grace of God.  Personally, had I gone out and done something just to earn an income I’d feel like a sell out.

Similarly, my wife works at home (and she works hard too).  She could make more money outside the home.  But, we never, never once, ran the math on this decision.  We knew it was what we wanted to do and we did it.  The only decision we made is that we would make whatever sacrifices necessary to make it work, and we did.

I love my family.  I love the healthy and positive environment that my wife has fostered with our kids.  Not for a second (or even a millisecond) do I regret that choice.  I wasn’t the best math choice, but it was and is the best choice for our family.

School: Chase A Dream Don’t Chase A Deal

I walked away from a full tuition scholarship, sort of.  When I was considering my school options I had a full-tuition scholarship and (though I wasn’t crazy about the school) I took it.  I actually liked the school and made a lot of great friends.  However, the whole time I had this feeling that I had settled for something just because it made the most math sense.

I wanted something more.  I wanted to follow a dream.  I wanted an adventure.  So, after completing my Associates Degree, I transferred to a much more expensive school and in the process even had to take my first student loans.  That decision let me to meet my incredible wife.

Had I decided to do what made the most math sense I’d probably be regretting my education “compromise” today.

Saving for Retirement: Yes, At Some Point You Can Stop

I’m sure we’ve all seen those charts – one person saves $2000 per year starting at age 21 and finishes at age 31.  Another starts at age 31 and saves $2000 for the rest of his life.  And … the first guy ends up with more money.

The problem is this.  That first person CAN’T stop.  They have ‘a great head start’ so they want to capitalize on the opportunity.  They’ve done so well, but now become compulsive about increasing those earnings.

Is there ever a point when you’ve saved enough for retirement?  Once a person is saving enough for retirement (or has saved enough) shouldn’t those funds be available for something else?

Here, then, is my suggestion.

Do the right math stuff early and often.  Then, with wisdom, when you are ahead of the game follow your passion and ignore the math.

When To Break The Math Rule

The problem is this.  Too many people break the math rules too often and then they are enslaved by their debt.

To do the things I’m talking about above you must be extremely frugal, flexible, focused, and disciplined. You can only break the math rules so many times before they burden you. It is about knowing exactly when you want and breaking those rules. Just don’t spend the rest of your life doing what makes the most math sense.  Follow the math rules for just long enough until you are in a place where you can take a stand against the math.

Is math the king of the financial jungle?  Should you always do what make the most sense according the the calculator?  Have you ever gone against the math to follow a dream?  Do you regret it or are you glad you did it?

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Last Edited: 17th September 2014

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  1. says

    Wow, what an insightful, passionate article. Great to hear that you don’t regret the sacrificial choice you made!

    Lately, I’ve been feeling like that person you described who saves early and saves often. But… now I’ve been asking myself, “What am I saving for???” I agree that at some point, you’ve got to take a step back and start following a passion and chasing a dream. I’m trying to go against the math right now through trying to create a successful blog. You’ve been a helpful part of that.

    Doing what makes the best financial sense may not be the best decision… if your heart is not in it. Some well-meaning people may tell you to go after a higher-paying position, but if you’re not passionate about the work, I think you might very well be miserable in the end.

    Great post to stimulate some deep thinking…

  2. says

    Great post, Craig!

    I believe, though, that math is king.
    When trading-off multiple options where some metrics aren’t numeric, assign each metric a weight. This way, the option with the highest score wins. ALWAYS.

    Example (for a used car purchase):
    – car price (scaled 0 – 5 pts)
    – sunroof (1 point)
    – mileage (scaled 0 – 5pts)
    – roof rack (1 point)
    – colour (0 – 3 pts)

    In trading-off whether your wife should work at home or not, a large weight would be placed on the intangible benefit of raising the kids yourself. Again, though, the numbers don’t lie.

    Spend your emotions deciding your weight scale, so that the actual decision is numbers-based.

    My two cents!

  3. says

    Craig – I don’t view it as a contradiction.
    You’ve simply introduced another variable into the equation.
    The higher calling has a greater value than numbers describe. Those who do the work of the Big Guy or serve their fellow man without regard to salary still use the ” > ” symbol as far as I can tell, it’s just that the numbers and dollars aren’t part of it. It’s more than most of us do, and I respect it.

  4. says

    What a great post Craig!
    Math is a King but not always a winner- As JoeTaxpayer noted there is a passion within us that cannot be translated into dollars. People who serve as missionaries – like you and live on allowances; the dollars are not their driving force. Jesus said “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost?” Luke 14:28

    Another math that does not translate into numbers-
    So what does it profit a man to Gain the world and lose his soul (Mark 8:36)

  5. says

    I think sometimes the best math answer isn’t the best answer for YOU.

    My husband confounded all of our friends and relatives when he left a great full-time job to go back to grad school. He is now in a much-less stresful career that he loves and earns twice as much money doing it.

    I quit my full-time job that I loved to be a stay-at-home mom to our three boys. On paper, it was a horrible plan for our finances. But for our three little boys, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve learned a lot through parenting and now that I’m blogging, I feel like I have the best of both worlds – I get to be with my kids AND connect with other people through my writing.

    Sometimes the things that don’t seem smart on paper, end up being the best decisions.

    Great post!

  6. says

    Good timing, since I just recently named “respecting math” as one of my three “financial rules for life.” :) But I completely agree with you–finance cannot stop at math.

    While we have to respect the basic math principles, I’m beginning to understand more and more the importance of emotions and psychology in making money decisions. Sometimes we have to bend the math laws to get to what we want faster (if not immediately, then at least in the long run…).

    Great and thoughtful post.

  7. Ken says

    Like Christina said you have to pick your priorities…My wife wanted to stay home and raise our kids….we postponed being homeowners 5 years due to this decision..while we are having to catch up on some things late…you can’t put a price tag on being with your kids when they are young…you only have them for a while.

  8. Ronnie says

    Great post Craig, and I completely agree. I left a full scholarship to law school to go to my first choice, which had accepted me but offered no loans. I have $200k in loans to show for it, plus an awesome job, great friends, and my fiancee, none of which I’d have without having made that choice. People will forever tell me I’m stupid, I’ll forever look at my future hubby and know I made the right choice :D.

    They say the same thing about paying down my loans. They’re all at a pretty low interest rate, but I want to pay off some of the lower interest loans first. Why? Because my mom cosigned for them, and her name’s on the line too. I don’t want her to worry about those loans, or feel that she’ll ever be required to pay on them. I want her to know how much I love her and appreciate what she did by cosigning for me, because I never would’ve been able to go otherwise. And since love is a deed, my way of showing my love is by removing that obligation from her. I’m willing to take on more interest in the process!!

  9. Brian says

    Following your passions will eventually lead to maximizing your earnings anyway. Anything you love, you will spend countless hours perfecting, learning more about and doing over and over again.

    Sometimes this is hard to do at first (especially right out of college when you are broke). Anything you continually build on and let grow will compound into something unimaginable.

    Great article Craig!

  10. says

    Nice one Craig! I used to spend more than I earn and I was living paycheck to paycheck. Until one day, I said to myself, I should not let my money take control of me, I should be the one who will take control of my money.

  11. says

    This is something I’ve been contemplating lately, mostly in regards to my retirement savings. I’ve been maxing out my Roth IRA ever since I got my first job out of college. Now, I have some debt I want to get rid of AND a wedding to pay for and I’m considering pausing the retirement savings to allow myself to do these things. The pf blogger/nerd in me is telling me to keep contributing, but right now I feel like that money can be used better elsewhere… Just as long as I know that it’s a temporary pause, not a complete stop, in savings. Great post, Craig!

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