Symbols are No Surrogate for Substance

I wonder how many patients gorge on fried chicken the day before their first cardiology appointment.

I’ve had many people come to see me for financial planning and begin the conversation by “admitting” they just bought a new car. Or a new house. Or maybe a new boat. It didn’t take long to figure out they made these purchases prior to our visit, convinced I would tell them to cease and desist from spending their money on anything remotely fun.

To them, I was the cardiologist that would tell them to give up fried chicken and switch to vegan salads with beet juice dressing effective immediately. The fun is over. The rest of your life (of drudgery) has begun.

If I have given you the idea that not spending money for the sake of not spending money is in any way virtuous, I hereby apologize. There is a word for that behavior – hoarding. And it isn’t healthy. 

Financial journalism is filled with ridiculous advice that can best be described as symbolism over substance when it comes to saving: never drive a new car, don’t buy lattes at the coffee shop, only shop at thrift stores, live in tiny homes. 

The above-mentioned items are neither virtuous nor harmful. If they describe things you want to do, do them. But please, please stop doing them because you think you are signaling to others your financial savvy. 

Someone is going to spend every dime you earn, find or inherit. If we all had a guarantee that we could work all our lives, staying healthy until the day we died, this would be simple. You’d just keep working and spend 100% of what you make. Our earnings would last exactly as long as we did. No problems.

But that isn’t the way life works, is it?

For one, you might not want to work all your life. You might find the idea of retirement attractive.

Or, you may not get a choice. Your age, energy, capabilities, and health may all decline to the point where you are not able to work and earn a living. 

Because of this obvious reality, we need to save. How much?

Enough. In prior columns, I’ve dealt with how to determine what saving “enough” means to you (and I promise I’ll deal with it some more in the future). But for now, I just want to stipulate there is an amount of savings that is “enough.”

And here’s the thing: you really, really need to know what that number is. It is as different for each individual as the measurements for a fine suit of clothes. 

But once you know it, you need to design a plan based off it. 

Then you need to put that plan into action.

But all this is hard. And most of us don’t like hard.

We like shortcuts.

So, we cut out lattes for a week or drive a car “until the wheels fall off.” We try to make ourselves feel better because of how “financially virtuous” we’re being. 

But when it comes time to really retire, your financial statement won’t care how many “sacrifices” you’ve made. It will only care if you have enough. 

Symbols won’t work when reality sets in – only substance will.

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 at

Scroll to Top
Speak with an Advisor