Don’t ‘follow your heart’ when it comes to finances

Follow your heart.

The expression can be found on magnets, bumper stickers and inspirational posters. Well-meaning friends and family members dole out these words of inspiration to teenagers and the retired alike. However, following your heart isn’t smart when it comes to managing money.

In fact, following your heart when it comes to choosing employment, taking out loans and making major purchases is downright dumb. Navigating life choices requires more than a T-shirt slogan. Your future and your finances depend upon sound decisions, not a catchy phrase.

Our hearts deceive

The No. 1 reason why you shouldn’t be following your heart when it comes to money decisions? Our hearts tell big fat lies. Just ask anyone who has given up caffeine or sugar for a season. While standing in front of the refrigerator, opting for fresh veggies and water, the heart begins to whisper.

“Just one bite won’t hurt anything.”

“It doesn’t have that much sugar.”

“A quick cup of coffee doesn’t really count.”

Our hearts are sneaky, often telling us exactly what we hear especially in situations of high stress or seasons of discipline. When it comes to making, saving and spending money, the deception amplifies. Personal finance is just that — personal. And money decisions driven by our emotions rarely lead to stability or happiness.

Math doesn’t lie

Before we paid off $127,000 in debt, I viewed budgeting through a deeply flawed lens. I thought the entire process complicated, beyond my reach, and, if I’m honest, no fun. However, through years of learning to manage money well, I came to the realization that budgeting amounts to a simple formula: money in, money out. A definitive amount of money comes into our possession each month and then we manage the outflow of that income.

While our hearts might lie to us about what will make us happy or bring true success, the numbers don’t. If there’s not enough in your savings account to cover the vacation, it doesn’t matter what your heart says, you can’t afford it.

Taking on extra debt never brings more peace or satisfaction to anyone (believe me, I’ve tried), no matter how closely you’re following your heart. If the new job opportunity won’t cover your monthly household expenses, whether you’ve wanted that gig your whole life long or not, it isn’t up for debate.

The equally as catchy, “Follow your heart, but take your brain with you” proves to be more sound advice when it comes to all of the above. Your choices when it comes to money can take into consideration your emotions but must remain grounded in the math.

Now how shall we live?

I suppose it might be a little discouraging to think that we’re not ever able to chase our dreams or follow life’s passions. You probably think I walk around all day crushing people’s deepest desires and hopes, just for fun. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I love seeing people come fully alive in what they were made to do. However, I will always push back if you try to convince me that following your heart means putting you or your family in a precarious financial situation.

Your money situation may limit some of the desires of your heart entirely. Some desires may need to remain, but as “not yet” sorts of goals. Still others might be achieved if you choose to find other ways to make money in order to support them. You don’t have to be miserable, but you do have to be smart.

Simply acknowledging following your heart can get you into trouble is the best first step. Next, you need the help and wisdom of others who have achieved similar dreams and goals to guide your decision making. Finally, you need a strategic plan to work toward those dreams.

Making wise financial decisions doesn’t suck the joy out of life. Far from it, sound money choices provide the breathing space you need to truly live out your passions.

You’re worth more than merely following your heart. You can have a greater impact on your finances and this world if you consider more than your emotions or temporary happiness when it comes to decision making.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. She is the author of “Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.” Send questions, column ideas and comments to