Feeling Financially Out-of-Control?

“When this new bunch in Washington raises everyone’s taxes, what’s going to happen to the market then?”

I get questions like this a few times each week.

And my honest answer is “I have no idea.”

Will our taxes be raised? Possibly. But since I’m not a prophet, I can’t say for sure—government tax policy is beyond my control. (And while we’re on the subject, so is the future performance of the financial markets.) 

Therefore, we have a choice: Fixate on matters we cannot control or focus on all the things we alter.

As a CFP® professional, my job is helping people plan for and protect their financial futures. A big part of that is reminding clients that when it comes to “financial control,” everything falls into one of three categories:

1. The things over which you have NO control. As mentioned, except at the ballot box every couple of years, we can’t control what our elected officials do when it comes to taxation, determining government benefits, or setting monetary policies. Yet many of us spend lots of time fretting about what this or that administration might do. Let’s be honest: Such things are beyond our control.

The same is true for the financial markets. They can basically go sideways for a decade, as they did from 2000 to 2010. They can suddenly turn bearish and go over the nearest cliff. Or they can turn bullish and rocket almost straight up like they did in the late 20th century. 

Our control over such things? Zero. Zilch. Nada.

2. The things over which you have SOME control. Waking up. Going to work. Choosing how hard and how smart you will work. These choices influence (in big and small ways) how much you will earn, and whether you’ll get a promotion . . . or be invited to seek employment elsewhere.

Your diet, how much you sleep, how much you exercise, whether you get regular medical checkups—these are also matters over which you have a good bit of control. 

(Obviously, such healthy choices impact your life, but none of them can guarantee a long life. As the Bible wisely put it, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”)

3. The things over which you have FULL control. Believe it or not, there are some monetary matters over which you have total control. Here’s a quick, incomplete list:

Lifestyle choices. Where will you live? What car will you drive? How will you dress? How about travel? All these little choices ultimately determine how much you’ll spend each month and year.

Savings habits. Will you save first, then spend the leftovers? Or will you spend first and wonder why I don’t have any leftovers to save?

Investment discipline. No one can make you put money in your company 401(k) plan. If you do, it’s because you choose to. In the same way, no one will force you to invest some or all of your money in a balanced portfolio, appropriate to your age and needs. If that happens, it is because you made a choice. 

Maybe that choice involved seeing a professional and delegating all these money matters. But it was still your choice. 

Since we have limited amounts of time, energy, and attention, here’s my suggestion. Instead of obsessing over the fickle decisions of faraway politicians and the unpredictable nature of the markets, why not focus on the things over which you have at least some control? 

You’ll find great freedom when you focus on things you have the power to affect. And great peace when you let go of the rest.

Argent Advisors, Inc. is an SEC-registered investment adviser. A copy of our current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees is available upon request. Please See Important Disclosure Information here.

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