making time for the details

ownerlessA couple of years ago my car’s air conditioner had some problems and stopped working. To be more exact, the fan quit working except on the 5 (high) setting. I could have the A/C off, or blowing like a hurricane. I didn’t think about it too much – or rather I did, but decided I was far too busy to attend to a problem like this.

Some other things broke down a few months later and I decided to take the car in for an overhaul. The mechanics were mystified by the fan problem, and ended up keeping the car for an extra day. When I picked it up, I found out that a non-standard part had been substituted at some point in the car’s repair history and the result had been that the fan had shorted out not only itself, but a lot of the wiring in my ignition. I didn’t follow all of the technical details, but the mechanic summed it up this way: “you were lucky the steering column didn’t burst into flame when you turned the car on.” I let out a “whew” and decided that in the future I would try not to let “little” repairs go too long without checking them out.

The same is true for most aspects of your life. Think about all the areas where you need to check out the “little things” to make sure the “big problems” aren’t lurking:

  1. Your health. Going to a doctor once a year is a must, but if you’re lucky enough to have insurance, that insurance probably also covers vision, dermatology, podiatry, etc. Make an effort to work visits to specialists in occasionally to make sure that no problems are lurking (for example, getting a glaucoma test once a year from an optometrist or checking out that new mole that might be the warning sign for skin cancer).
  2. Your financial future. Check on your insurance policies and your will. I am up-to-date on insurance, but Bubelah and I still don’t have a will. I wonder how I can really offer much financial advice when I haven’t gotten that one piece of critical financial planning done myself, but do as I say, not as I do in this case. Put money away in savings somewhere.  Don’t waste too much time worrying about Roth IRAs versus 401(k)s, for example – just start doing it.
  3. Your family future. Make sure you check on the little things with your family. Understand what’s going wrong with your relatives, your spouse or your kids before it becomes a bigger issue. This could be health, school, social life, finances, etc. Anyone you feel responsible for needs a “checkup” from you once in a while.
  4. Your home. If you own, making sure your home is in good shape is no small exercise. From alarm systems to air systems maintenance to just checking out the drafty places around the window, fixing little problems now can prevent big problems tomorrow.
  5. Your political future. I know people get more excited about presidential politics in America, but let’s face it – your Senators and Representatives (both federal and state) and even your local officials have more day-to-day influence on your life than the President does. I know worrying about who gets elected to the state senate isn’t as “big a deal” as presidential politics, but it matters.   The people who sit on your local school board probably have more influence over your daily life than you imagine, even if you don’t have kids.
  6. Your life, the universe and everything. Little things that bother you today can become a bigger problem tomorrow. If you’re unhappy about something today, don’t let it fester. Even if you can’t fix it today, take one tiny step toward correcting it.

I am often more worried about the long-term, big-picture issues and grand questions about life and history and whether the Jets will win a Super Bowl in my lifetime, but little things like avoiding a fiery steering wheel column through dumb luck remind me that I need to pay attention to the details in life, too. Don’t wait until the little problems become big problems; I don’t know of many problems that disappear on their own.

photo credit: swambo

<a href=”http://www.bripblap.com/what-is-better-from-a-tax-perspective-a-roth-ira-or-a-401k/”>What Is Better from a Tax Perspective: A Roth IRA or a 401k?</a>

4 comments

  • Nice series of analogies! It really is true we should take care of potential problems while they’re still small. More or less. But where health care is concerned? Good luck getting access to a doctor. Even those of us with so-called “Cadillac plans” can’t get a doctor’s attention long enough to convince him or her that there might be a real problem.

  • No WILLLLLLL?????? and you have children?
    This is really bad. Just jump on line and go to a simple legal site and download one. In fact- write one yourself and take it to your next party. Line up four people to sign that they saw you sign it. Do the details later. Appoint guardianship!
    Do it- TODAY!

    • I know, I know. It’s funny you say that, though – after writing that piece, we did go get wills done, so as soon as we get them in the mail and signed we’ll be in good shape. 🙂 But you’re right – thanks for the slap to my face, I richly deserved it.

  • Good read. Very informative. This can help a lot of people who are having a hard time with their personal finances.