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Personal finance for life

Chris Farrell: A few weeks ago I went to my college reunion. Okay, it was my 35th. I still can't believe it's been that long.

Tess Vigeland: Marketplace economics editor Chris Farrell.


Farrell: My classmates had a little less hair, a bit more weight and some more wrinkles. For some, life had taken a turn for the worse. But for many, things turned out better than expected.

On the flight home, I thought about the conversations I had during the reunion. I ended up thinking about what I'd learned about personal finance.

The first thing is no one talked about the size of their house or the clothes in their closet. I didn't stand next to anyone murmuring deep regret over not having bought a fancy car.

What did we talk about? Partners. Children. Friends. Adventures. In other words, we talked about what we truly value in life, memorable experiences, times that shaped our character.

Of course, we all know this is true. Yet it's easy to forget in the rush of modern life.

The second lesson involves regret. The only thing my classmates regretted was a risk not taken. When I got home, I looked up a wonderful passage by Henry David Thoreau in "Walden Pond." He disdains the man who dreams of becoming a poet, but first must make his fortune. Poetry, the guy thought, could wait for retirement. Thoreau's advice: What are you waiting for?

My last takeaway from the reunion was that it's hard to find the right balance between saving for the future and pursuing your passions. Sure, personal finance starts with learning what you want out of life. But the discovery changes as we age. We also make mistakes and life tosses us a curve, say, a layoff or a sick parent. There's never enough money.

So what? This is the right way to think about money. Personal finance should follow the dreams, not the other way around.


Vigeland: Chris Farrell. Send us your thoughts.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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