Certain seasons of life are filled with big decisions. There are inflection points in life which determine the trajectory of our future. Choosing a career, a spouse, where to live, and to have children (and how many) are all huge decision points that radically affect our life and lifestyle. The pressure to make the right decision can be tough as we move through different seasons of life. One way to make the process more palatable is to simply slow down the process. If I am not comfortable moving forward, I must take additional time, gather more information, and make one big decision at a time.
Our family is in the middle of one of the largest inflection points we’ll experience. Life has been pretty straightforward for the last five or six years. We’ve lived in our little college town, maintained the same jobs, and executed the plan of starting our family. While kids were a game changer, we mostly continued our life and just towed the kids along. Our lives are quickly becoming more kid-centric. I also started a long graduate program (PhD in Financial Planning and the study of Behavioral Economics) that added an additional four or five years of clarity to our plans. But now the mini-stage of life is coming to an end. We are having new discussions. We are trying to decided how many kids to have, to remain in the city center (vs. suburbia), considering possible career changes, deciding about school systems, family friendly homes, and who we need to become to be great parents. I feel like our big decision making pants have been on autopilot the last few years and it is all coming to a climax.
The Toughest Part
Making a big decision is tough when it feels like the choice will change the direction of your life. I currently love working in academia but I’ve had many different solicitations and opportunities in the private sector. I like our simple, bike-friendly life in town but our priorities are changing a little bit. I like the way we spend our time and the percentage of income we save each month. But all of that is up for discussion. And I’m not sure I’m ready to make all of the changes at once. I think, in this case, it is probably wise to delay the big decisions. Have conversations with people who are a few years older and wiser. Collect more information and take each component one at a time. I like making hard decisions. But sometimes it is worth it to take a little time and slow down the decision making process.
I’m forcing myself to take things slowly. It is pretty hard. For some reason, I’ve entered into the hurry up and ‘grow up’ stage. I feel like I’ve been living in the middle of ‘college student’ and ‘family man’ for years. I really enjoy both and I plan on both being a parent and a student for the rest of my life. I’m also influenced more than I would like to admit by close friends and peers. I notice the choices other individuals make and it certainly influences how we approach the process.
When to Make the Choice
I suppose the hardest part is just determining the order and collecting as much information as possible before making big decisions. I’ll never have all the information I need to make every decision risk free. And almost every decision comes with trade-offs. Instead of making a ton of different decisions at once, I’m trying to prioritize them. However, it seems like they are all intertwined and they all affect each other. I’m also spending time with people who I admire and asking them about the process they used to make decisions in a similar stage of life. I’m not sure all the additional information is making the process easier, but it certainly provides clarity into the benefits and challenges of each step along the way.
The Wealth Effect
I think money actually makes decisions more complicated. Having money gives you choice. However, it also means there are often a lot more options. When I was an undergraduate student, I had about $150 a month to spend on rent. The number of options was pretty limited so making the final decision was simple and temporary. However, if you have $2000 a month to spend on rent/mortgage, that puts almost every option on the table in a small town. With increased financial outflow, I feel like I’m turning up the speed on the hedonic treadmill. Almost any way we cut it, I feel like I’m moving into a stage of life with higher consumption. A bigger house? More stuff for the kids? A job that requires a vehicle? I can see the price of life changing and I mentally push back. As a family, we have been really conscientious about how we spend but I’ll be curious to see how consistent it is especially as income changes. I’m convinced that we will adjust to whatever level of spending we decide and our happiness will be relatively unchanged after the initial adjustment, up or down. Even knowing that, I’m still tempted to spend more and more even if I’m no better off in the long run. The best news about making hard decisions is its possible to change. If we act conservatively in our choices, the most inconvenient part of making change may be the financial transaction cost. If we buy an undervalued house and do lots of work to it, even if we do not like it, it is highly reasonable we can come out ahead if we decide to make a change.
Slowing Down the Process
Our life is changing. It is a really exciting season to experience. We still have plenty of big decisions to make and I’m excited for the possibilities on each side. Part of my brain wants to make a bunch of choices then see where they take us. But I’m also okay with slowing down the process and taking them one at a time. The good news is I’ll continue to share the journey as life moves along. Also, I’m always up for reading books or hearing from readers before we make big decisions, so feel free to comment or email if you have any advice or suggestions.