The details are important, but they’re not everything

Ramit Sethi

Do you ever notice how on The West Wing, they say things like “send that to my office” and “take the meeting and fix it”?

They don’t say “my office is in room 314 and my assistant’s name is Donna Moss and her extension is x4685.”

That’s because as we get more experience, we don’t worry about logistics as much. It becomes less relevant for us to specify email addresses, dates, etc.

Have you ever heard a CEO speak? Those fools have to have a gun to their head to force them to talk about anything operational. Instead, they talk about strategy, values, vision, and other high-level stuff. Sometimes I want to stand up and scream “TELL ME YOUR MARKETING PLAN PLEASE YOU BASTARD!!!!” (I love marketing) but I don’t. I guess I understand that CEOs have a necessarily higher-level perspective.

Personal finance is the same way. As you get more familiar with the logistics, you won’t have to worry so much about them, leaving you to focus on even bigger-picture money questions. Let me be even clearer: There are a bunch of personal-finance sites that spend lots of time talking about the logistics of setting up a budget, finding the hottest coupon deal, or saving $0.50 on a piece of cheese.

No problem–the logistics are important. But they’re not everything, and you’ll never get rich by just reacting to the logistics. That’s why it’s ironic that some of the people on those sites think they are personal-finance experts because they got some free paper/soap/whatever, or they got a deal on a car rental.

Even though I like to make most of my stuff on this site action-oriented, I’ve never been interested in just covering personal finance at the details level. If you look at my past postings, you’ll see that.

And that’s because as you get more experience with your personal finances, you’ll start to transcend the mere logistics of money:

  • What did I spend this week?
  • Did I contribute enough to my retirement account last month?
  • Is this loaf of bread cheaper at Safeway or Raley’s?

All of these are really important. But there’s more to being financially secure than just answering the day-to-day questions. As another example, check this out:

Have you ever gotten so good at a video game that you didn’t even have to think about what buttons to push? I have–it was called Mario Kart (SNES, please, can we keep it real) and I guarantee I can beat your ass any day. Seriously, I won my dorm’s award for Most Likely To Be Found Playing Videogames. My Indian parents were not pleased.

Anyway, one of my goals is to help get you to a level where you’re so comfortable with the nitty-gritty details of personal finance that you can be more intuitive and strategic (just like a master gamer). Plus, that’s where it gets really fun.

How? I can try to help you by taking steps like creating an infrastructure that allows you to manage your finances more easily and automatically. And we can talk about making a plan up front so you don’t have to think about what to do when you make/lose unplanned money. And a bunch of other things like that.

So keep this in mind as I continue to post in the upcoming weeks. The goal is to make us more strategic. We’ll do it by handling the logistics, getting really expert at them, then going from there.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you how I set up my bank accounts to make it easier to manage my finances.

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  1. Nikki

    Well put. I just started the site in the link and I have to keep reminding myself to take a step back and not assume that everyone is doing personal finance on automatic.