The Road Trip Analogy of Personal Finance

I’m a big fan of analogies. While they can be cheesy and seem superficial, I think they offer little nuggets of life truths that might otherwise be missed.

Not all of you have families, but indulge me for a few minutes while we go on an adventure.

Imagine that today is the day you’re setting out on a road trip with your wife and children, to whatever destination seems appropriate for your location. It’s not too close, but not too far away.

You pack your suitcases in the car, get the kids buckled in, enter your destination in the GPS, and back out of the driveway.

After driving for a few hours, what’s the one question every kid will sooner or later ask their parent?

Are we there yet?

It’s not their fault they’re impatient, but on an extended trip and without something to distract or motivate them, kids will get restless.

Doesn’t personal finance feel this way, too?

Are we spinning our wheel on the daily rat race, constantly looking up to see if we’ve arrived? Who are we asking, exactly?

If you consider the parallels between road trips and and the money road of life, you can draw some important lessons:

  1. The most reliable way to get to your destination is slow, consistent progress. You can adjust your speed or take breaks, but unless you’re driving forward most of the time, it’s tough to arrive.
  2. You can only maintain forward progress for a period of time. It’s important to take frequent breaks to recharge, even if it means that you’re not moving ahead.
  3. There are many roads that lead to your destination. Highways are the most frequently traveled, consistent and most reliable. Side roads can be dead-ends or slow, but they can also shorten the time and distance of your trip if they’re a shortcut.
  4. Your GPS can estimate the time it will take for you to arrive, but it cannot predict red lights or heavy traffic (some can, but stick with me here). You need to remain flexible and allow for room in your estimates.
  5. Most families have a consistent way of preparing for long trips, when you might be away from the usual comforts of life. These systems and routines play an important role in determining the success of the trip.

I trust that my analogies are clear enough for those of you who decided to play along. What else can you notice about road trips?

Finally, in case we forget why we’re trying to make money in the first place, here’s an interesting quote by Tim O’Reilly that I’d like to share with you:

Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations.


2 thoughts on “The Road Trip Analogy of Personal Finance

  1. Good points! I particularly like your last statement of “Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations.” Many people feel that more money will solve all their problems, but learning to live within their means is so much better.

  2. I love this analogy! I often personally wonder when I’m going to just get there already. Although striving to reach financial goals is important, it is equally as important to not let it be the only thing you ever think about or work towards. Great quote!

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