Perfection and finances

Early this morning, as things were – once again – not going exactly as planned, I found myself drawn to an interesting (and appropriate) blog post on Psychology Today. It centered on our desire to be perfect and how lingering too long on the thought of perfection can be a real drain on our happiness. “The more you find ways to see [these imperfections] as your own special qualities, the less perfectionism will maintain its hold over you.”

That makes sense not just in your life overall, but in your financial life specifically. Perfection may be an admirable goal but when it comes to your money it’s often just not possible. Sure, you can potentially find the best credit card for you. You can nail the best deal on an insurance policy or a car. But whether it’s worth your time is questionable.

In my new book, Money Rules: The Simple Path To Lifelong Security, which contains guidelines to help you make decisions about your money simpler and easier, there is a rule that says, “The more time you spend looking, the less happy you’ll be with what you find.” It’s true. Researchers surveyed job-hunting college seniors and found that those who searched for perfection generally did land jobs paying 20 percent more. Unfortunately, those former students liked those jobs much less. That makes sense. If you’re looking for the ultimate opportunity, the one you eventually choose is destined to fall short. The not-so-picky students were happier with their jobs. The same applies to any big purchase. Spend days searching for the best flat-screen TV and you’ll always doubt your choice. Find one in a few hours that fits all your needs at a decent price? You’re gonna love it.

And that’s assuming there is a “best” option. In the world of money, there often is not. That’s the way it works with investments of all sorts. You do your homework, get help when you need it, and you do the best you can.

So what can you do if you find yourself, too often, striving for perfection? In life, Amy Przeworski, Ph. D., who wrote the piece for Psychology Today suggests trying to be “deliberately imperfect. Make small mistakes and do not fix them,” she writes. She also believes you should know why you’re aiming so high. Are you doing this for yourself or because you don’t want to let others down? Knowing what’s behind your tendencies can help you reign them in.

And in money? Automate! If you know, for example, that you have a tendency to procrastinate, the more automation you can build into your financial life the better off you will be. Automatic transfers into retirement and other savings accounts can act as insurance that money actually gets saved rather than being frittered away. Similarly, putting your mortgage, utility and credit card bills on an auto-payment schedule can save you from the possibility of late payments, protecting both your wallets and your credit score.

Jean Chatzky

About Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine. Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future. In April 2013 Jean launched Jean Chatzky's Money School , a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her. Jean lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.
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One Response to Perfection and finances

  1. kathy says:

    Hmm… does not reflect my experience all the time. I looked for my fabulous Ford Ranger truck for 2.5 years and got a spectacular deal on it – it is just right for me.

    I can see the point of not obsessing and I guess if it’s a choice rather than a style, that’s cool.

    BTW, I saved and bought my rig cash – now have a savings program of $60 a month to replenish the money I spent on it – as I keep my vehicles 10-13 years.

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