How Book Endings Are Like Personal Finance Goals

I read a lot of books.  Reading fiction has always been one of my favorite pastimes, both as a kid and now as an adult.  Few things are more relaxing than settling into a good book.

But, as I’ve read more and more books, I’ve realized something.  When I start reading a book, I can usually judge partway through whether it’s good, great, or not worth continuing.  Out of all the books I start reading, very few fall into the ‘Great’ category.  I don’t keep statistics, but say 5%.

That judgment, as I said before, is usually made about halfway through.  But, by the end of the book, that percentage is usually much lower.  By the time I’m done with book, most fall back into the ‘Good’ category.  What knocks them down?

The endings.

For some reason, authors have the hardest time finishing the books.  I was reading a book recently, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, and I was so engrossed during the first and second half that I was ready to proclaim it one of the best books I’d ever read.  But, alas, by the time I was done, it had fallen off.  I certainly enjoyed it and I would recommend it to anybody, but the ending for me kind of fell apart.

As it often does.

I asked myself why?  I think it’s because, just like when we establish a personal finance goal, we concentrate on the parts leading up to the ending.  An author that comes up with a story can come up with the characters and the problems that make the story interesting.  A lot of thought and effort comes into developing those things, and many halfway great books show the diligence that the author put into them.  But, actually solving the problem is another issue.  I think many times the author has a general idea of how they expect to get the characters stories wrapped up, but forget to put as much time into that part of the story, so many endings feel forced.

In the case of the book above, things seemed rushed.  Several characters did things in the ending that did not match anything they had done in the book.  It just didn’t match.  It was still enjoyable, but not up to the same level as the earlier parts of the book.

I think many of us often fall into the same trap when it comes to personal finance goals.  We set goals to change a behavior.  Either to get out of a bad behavior (e.g. continuing to accumulate debt) or to encourage good behavior (e.g. saving for a house).

Relating that to the book analogy, we are the characters and we identify the situation that we want solved.  But, we don’t spend enough time on the ending.

We say, “I want to get out of debt.”  But, what’s the ending?  Even if we get out of debt, what happens next?  Do we do that so that we can get back into debt again?  So we can retire?  The good goal-setter will say they want to get out of debt and will tell you how they plan on doing so.  The great goal-setter will spend as much time developing what they do after the goal is set as they do on the goal itself.

What’s your personal finance ‘story’?  Are you writing a great one that will fade to good at some point or are you going to  make sure that it’s great, cover to cover?

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3 thoughts on “How Book Endings Are Like Personal Finance Goals

  1. I really like this post; and fully agree with your observation about books and the analogy with financial goals.

    For my part, I am really set on writing a great one – including the ending and the opening for a series.

  2. Sure, an undefined ending (or PF goal) will not be a complete wrap-up. A different approach would be to early on define success, and set up milestone goals along the way that mark progress.

  3. As another way to look at how PF is like reading books, if I'm reading something that I really enjoy, I sometimes put off finishing it because I don't want it to end. Similarly, we may enjoy all the planning aspects of getting out of debt or saving or whatever, but we don't actually finish them because it may be more fun to plan than to do.

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