A relationship with money as a quest

Over the years, I have noticed that it's difficult to talk about money without allowing goals to enter the conversation. Dentists tend to connect money to their goals. Some have the goal of becoming debt-free. Others have the goal of fully funded retirement. Goals are great, but somehow they seem to miss the larger issues of our relationships with money.

Brian Hufford, CPA, CFP

Over the years, I have noticed that it's difficult to talk about money without allowing goals to enter the conversation. Dentists tend to connect money to their goals. Some have the goal of becoming debt-free. Others have the goal of fully funded retirement. Goals are great, but somehow they seem to miss the larger issues of our relationships with money.

I'm currently reading Chris Guillebeau's fascinating book, The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life. A quest, for Guillebeau, is a journey in which "a hero sets off in search of something elusive that has the power to change both their life and the world." Guillebeau contrasts the characteristics of a goal with the life-altering nature of a quest. He states that a compelling hobby goal would be to complete a round of golf at the St. Andrew's course in Scotland. A quest, in contrast, would be to play a round of golf at every course in Scotland within a specific period of time.

Quests involve compelling human virtues, such as sacrifice, courage, and a deep sense of calling or purpose. How does one convert a relationship with money into a quest? My mentor in the financial advisory world starts each client relationship with a question: "What's important about money to you?" An example of a response might be: "I want to replace my 10-year-old car." One of my clients once voiced a questlike response to that question. His purpose with money was to always have a net worth that exceeded the entire income he had earned over his lifetime. Each year he carefully documented in a chart his annual earnings since his first year of work and compared it to his net worth. He has succeeded in maintaining a net worth in excess of his lifetime earnings. From where his dream came, I haven't a clue. Perhaps I should have asked. What I did notice was that he displayed an incredible amount of intention with the annual charting of his progress, with his frugal nature in spending, with his handling of debt, and by always seeking the best wealth-building strategies. Every interaction that he and I have feels like a board-of-directors meeting for his quest. He is always focused on his current year's goals as they relate to his larger mission with money.

What about you? What dreams and behaviors would transform your relationship with money to turn disembodied goal setting into a much larger, life-altering quest? In his book, Guillebeau defines five criteria for a quest.

1. A quest must have a clear goal and a specific endpoint. What are the highest purposes, related to money, that you are trying to accomplish? Do you know where all of your money goes, compared to where it should go?

2. A quest presents a clear challenge.By nature, a quest demands a level of intention for removing barriers that would prevent the accomplishment of the quest. What financial sacrifices would you need to make? What goals would you need to set? What support would you need in pursuit of your quest?

3. A quest requires sacrifice of some kind.Among the dozens of quests documented in Guillebeau's book, it was the heroes' single-mindedness toward the necessity of sacrifice in pursuit of their dreams that felt both daunting and inspiring at the same time.

4. A quest is often driven by a calling or a sense of mission.Professions are demanding, and dentistry may be one of the most demanding of all professions. One of the challenges of the demanding dental profession is that a dentist can lose his or her own sense of personal identity along with a connection to compelling personal goals. Perhaps this is the reason that so many dentists are satisfied to simply break even with income and expenses each year.

5. A quest requires a series of small steps and incremental progress toward the ultimate purpose.This book has challenged me to examine the highest objectives to be accomplished with the money that I earn. It has also shown me how important it is to set annual milestones and document progress toward those objectives.

Perhaps you need a quest at this point in your life - or like me at times, maybe just a vacation.


Brian Hufford, CPA, CFP, is a wealth advisor and dental practice thought leader with Buckingham Advisors, a national, independent wealth and financial advisory firm with a specialty in helping dentists achieve their most important goals. To connect with Brian and Buckingham, visit BuckinghamAdvisor.com, call (866) 545-8816, or email huffordinfo@bamadvisor.com.

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