The Serenity Prayer Of Personal Finance

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A few months ago, I was interviewed on this podcast by Benjamin Brandt of Retirement Starts Today.  We had a great 20 minute discussion on the topic of contentment, and avoiding regrets in life.  During our chat, Benjamin brought up The Serenity Prayer, and how it was important to focus on things we can control.  Too often, many of us waste effort trying to influence things we can’t control, and it can lead to less contentment in life.

Following our interview, Benjamin and I chatted about doing some potential collaboration around The Serenity Prayer.  The result is this article, written by Benjamin as a follow-up to our podcast about contentment.

The timing of this post is intentional.  As you go through this Christmas season, take some time to reflect. I trust you’ll find some things to think about as you read Benjamin’s words.

 serenity-graphic

What Does the Serenity Prayer Have to Do with Retirement?

If you’ve read the popular Serenity Prayer before, you already know just how wise and profound these words are. It’s true we can’t change everything we don’t like about our lives, but it’s also true we have some power.

By focusing on areas where we have control, we can improve our lives in ways we might never expect.

Beyond the meaning of its words, however, this prayer means so much more. Let’s start with the definition of serenity itself:

Serenity: The state of being calm, peaceful and untroubled. Click To Tweet

When you think of serenity, what mental image do you have?

[Fritz here] I remember a hike I took with a friend on a portion of the Appalachian Trail called “Blood Mountain.” The hike up was brutal, but the view from the top was the exact opposite – calm, serene, beautiful. Some folks imagine a walk on a deserted tropical beach, some folks a mountain lake. What does serene look like to you?

Accept

(Back to Benjamin) The Serenity Prayers asks that we accept the things we cannot change, but what does that mean? To me, acceptance is bending to God’s will and believing that everything has a purpose. I may not like the way things are, but I’m willing to accept them since God made them that way.

The Serenity Prayer also talks about wisdom and why it’s important.

Wisdom: the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgement. Click To Tweet

We may not be born with wisdom, but perhaps we can achieve it over time, and by accepting God’s will. And eventually, we’ll have the wisdom to realize what is and what isn’t negotiable in our lives.

The Serenity Prayer of Personal Finance

As a Christian, I recognize everything comes from God. Regardless of your religious beliefs, however, I believe the Serenity Prayer could have a profound impact on your future. While the Serenity Prayer itself isn’t about personal finance, there’s no reason we can’t use it to improve one of the most important aspects of our lives – our financial health. After all, there are many, many financial situations we simply cannot change ourselves.

We can’t help it if we get laid off from our jobs, for example, nor can we help who is elected as President. We cannot predict or change the normal market movements that cause our investments to boom and bust over time.

We can’t help it if our parents need our help in old age, and our work hours must be cut in order to help. We have no control over whether our bosses give us the raises we deserve, or whether our health insurance costs spiral out of control. We can’t change our CEO’s mind if she decides to ship thousands of jobs overseas.

But, you know what?

We can change the factors that are within our control.

We may not be able to change the way our employers treat us, but we can change our own attitudes. We may not earn as much money as we wish we did, but we do have some control over our spending and how we budget our money.

You might not get along with your family that well, but you have the power to extend an olive branch and mend old fences. You may feel like the economy has taken a turn for the worst, but no matter what, you can decide to be content.

In this wonderful country called America, we can take any numbers of steps to change the aspects of our lives we don’t like. We can strike out on our own to start a new business, pick up part-time work to earn more, or start a profitable side hustle that lets us control our own hours.

And when it comes to the future, only we can decide to craft – and stick with – a realistic investing plan that will help us enjoy retirement. Nobody can do it for us – not our mothers, or our brothers, or our bosses.

Final Thoughts

The Serenity Prayer may not be about money, but I can’t think of better financial advice. When it comes to our finances, the vast majority of us would be better off if we focused on the areas we can control.

We can’t change everything, nor should we try. But we should try to be our best selves, and achieving that goal requires knowing where to focus and spend our time.

If you’re struggling with money or simply want to get ahead, look to the Serenity Prayer for wise advice anyone can use. If we can learn to accept what we cannot change and get serious about the financial decisions that could really impact our lives, we will all be better off.

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12 comments

  1. Thanks Benjamin and Fritz! A very timely post, given that Mr. Groovy and I are two months into retirement (and given my comment on your last post, Fritz). Those of us with many goals push for the things we want, yet we also need to accept things we cannot change, exert our efforts over only the things we can influence, and accept life as it unfolds. It seems like it should be easy, right?

    1. Mrs Groovy, ironic that your “It” was serenity, hope this guest post from Benjamin had special meaning to you! I agree, it sounds easy. Amazing how difficult it can be….I really like the reminder to not waste time/energy/worry/effort on things you can’t control. Guilty as charged!

  2. So cool to see you boys use “she” when talking of a CEO…even if she did send the jobs overseas. 😉

    Marrying finances and the Serenity Prayer – genius. As humans we think the sheer power of worry will change an outcome. It doesn’t. Of course, it is difficult not to worry in a lot of situations but it is best to feel it and move on from it. The extra 20-30 minutes (or years) of freaking out does no good. I learned this during my hard times with the housing market. I could worry all day but I was still in the same position at the end of the night. That wisdom helped to focus on m changing the things within my control like my attitude which made all the difference in getting through it. This is a great reminder of that. 🙂

    Great work, gentlemen!

    1. Hey Cuz! Brandon gets the credit for this one, I agree he was “genius” for linking The Serenity Prayer with Personal Finance. Good reminder to not waste your time and energy “freaking out” over things you can’t control. Pleased to see it “hit home” (get the pun!?) with you!

  3. Great point that you need to focus on the things within your control, and not so much on those outside your control. That’s why setting net worth or specific investment amount goals can be difficult-your health, your job status, the direction of the stock market, and inflation are all outside your control. But you can control your savings, what you do with those savings, your travel choices, etc. And you can always revisit your goals if something in your life substantially changes during the year. I’m working on my plan for monthly/annual goals this year right now and this is a great reminder to focus mostly on the items within my control.

  4. The Serenity Prayer is a very nice way to think of personal finance.

    In this world where so very many things are out of our control, and it is easy to feel small and insignificant, adrift in a tiny boat on a vast choppy ocean, taking control of what we can, and focussing our energies on that can make an enormous difference to our day to day happiness.

  5. Some wonderful and wonderfully timed stuff here, Fritz and Benjamin!

    It’s that part about the “wisdom to know the difference” that’s tricky… and I think you guys did a great job touching on some of the ways to reframe things we don’t like from stuff we can’t change into stuff we can change.

    Thanks much for facilitating some great end-of-year reflections. Happy New Year!

  6. I’ve heard the Serenity Prayer before, just did’t know it was called such. Words I try to live by and try to teach my children. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t control. Great post.

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