The Sterlings (Part 10): The only goals that matter are your own

Read the different chapters of this story: 1234, 567, 89, 10)

“You’re on the quiet side tonight,” Travis said to his wife, Amy. “Something up?”

Amy looked up from her folded hands, not realizing how long she’d been lost in her thoughts. “Yeah…It’s just, talking to our friends last weekend about everyone’s financial lives – savings, and retirement – I feel like I’m chasing a different neighbor.

“What do you mean, ‘chasing’? And, what neighbor?”

“You know how I used to be awful at budgeting, right?”

Not knowing what was on his wife’s mind, Travis attempted a careful, diplomatic response. “Well, it wasn’t awful. Neither of us prioritized saving because we weren’t thinking about future goals—we just had a vague idea that at some point in the future, we needed to have more money socked away.

“But,” Travis continued, “I hardly think you should be beating yourself up for picking the pricier kitchen remodel two years after the fact.”

Amy laughed. Long-term financial planning had never been a source of stress in the Sterling’s marriage. It wasn’t that they’d always agreed with each other’s spending and saving habits—they’d simply avoided talking about them.

Of course, they’d both recognized that sticking their heads in the sand wasn’t a great strategy for achieving anything—much less a healthy retirement. Yet, Amy couldn’t help but feel bothered by the idea that ever since she and Travis had started focusing their financial efforts on achieving long-term goals, every decision brought more questions and doubt than feelings of security.

Travis touched Amy’s hand, hoping to get her attention. “Finish what you were saying. About spending?”

“What I mean is that I used to spend, whether on daily coffees or a new kitchen, not so much to impress anyone, but because it was easy to excuse. Because it’s what our friends were doing. Like, Maureen remodeled her kitchen, so I get a bug to remodel ours—a ’keeping up with the Joneses’ sort of thing.”

“Sure, everyone’s susceptible to that.” Travis responded.

“And, after listening to our friends talk about investing in real estate or life insurance…I still can’t escape the urge to compare our financial choices to theirs. Except, it’s not spending that I’m comparing, it’s savings.

“So, that’s what I meant by ‘chasing a different neighbor,’” Any continued. “I look at other couples who are relatively our same age, we make about the same amount of money, we live in the same area. It’s hard not to look at their investment strategies, and the success they’re having, as some kind of benchmark to judge our own choices.”

“Well, if I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that comparing yourself—much less our finances—to others is the quickest way to feel insecure and defeated about any decision,” Travis said, bringing some much needed wisdom to the conversation.

“If you’re concerned that there might be a better approach to saving for our goals, I say we give Jon a call. But, I’m pretty sure I know what he’ll say.”

“Oh yeah?” Amy asked, “What’s that?”

See what Travis thinks Jon will say in the “Amy Sterling” book, found here.