Do You Play “What If?”

by Kevin on May 11, 2009

My wife will occasionally make fun of me because I say some of the most random things. Things like “What would you do if we won the lottery…” or “Where would you live if you could pick anywhere in the world to live?” These type of questions aren’t generally tied to a conversation we’re currently having. They’re running through my head, and occasionally they pop out into the real world. To her it seems really random and quite funny.

(And no, we don’t play the lottery. There isn’t one in our state and even if there were we wouldn’t play!)

To me the “What If?” game can be a powerful tool in personal finance. The “What If?” game forces us to think about questions we may have been avoiding. It can help us realize gaps in our financial situation that need resolving. It’s a mental game that can help you test your preparedness.

Playing Financial “What If?”

What if…

  • one of us lost a job?
  • we won a million dollars?
  • one of our parents got sick?
  • we wanted to go on a European vacation?
  • (she)/we were unexpectedly pregnant?
  • we paid off the house?
  • all of our investments became worthless?
  • we only bought things we had saved for?

“What If?” Leads to Deeper Questions

Playing this questioning game leads to deeper questions that help us start to answer the original question.

Original Question: What if one of us lost a job?

Follow up questions: Could we handle that? For how long? What would we do? Do we have a plan? Have we saved up an emergency fund? How many months can it cover?

Original Question: What if one of our parents got sick?

Follow up questions: How would we react? Do we have a plan in place to assist in their health care? Are we emotionally prepared? Have we even thought about it?

Original Question: What if she was pregnant?

Follow up question: Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

Original Question: What if we paid off the house?

Follow up questions: Is that possible? How would we get to that point?

“What If?” Makes You Think Ahead

For me this is a great game for testing out our plans for the future. It doesn’t have to be structured event where we ask ourselves a certain set of questions every day. Sometimes you just have to let things pop into your head.

But to answer many of the above questions you need to have thought things out. If you lost a job, do you have an emergency fund? If you want to pay off the house, are you willing to sacrifice to do that?

In our situation I feel pretty good about most of our potential answers to these questions. But that’s just this set of questions. I’m sure tomorrow I’ll think of something else that I’m not ready for — that’s good, because then we can start to address it.

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Kelly May 11, 2009 at 7:30 am

I love to do this as well. You are right it helps you think about what your priorities are, and definitely can help keep you and your spouse on the same page.

I love your follow up ? to your wife becoming pregnant. Speaking from experience, you’d only feel that way for a week or so. 🙂

Alan @ Saving For Serenity May 11, 2009 at 8:02 am

Thanks for sharing how you initiate conversation about difficult topics through a fun “game”. I know that I would have the exact same reaction to the pregnant question. Made me laugh!

Do You Dave Ramsey? May 11, 2009 at 11:44 am

Asking “what if” is a powerful question. It’s important not to ask with a spirit of fear but with an interest in being prepared.

Moving towards having positive answers to the financial side of these questions will improve your security and comfort on a day over day basis even if you never need to deploy these contingeny plans.

Great stuff, thanks for helping folks dirent their thinking!


MLR May 11, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Mine has to do with quitting my job to do things I would reallly enjoy.

There are a bunch of what ifs that branch off of that question, though.

A good thought exercise to go through, for sure!

Abigail May 12, 2009 at 1:44 am

I play this game in my head a LOT. I think it’s actually a problem with anxiety. I am working on it.

But it also has a little something to do with how our luck runs. My husband and I both have chronic health problems. He’s not employed, I’m only working a few hours a week. So it’s important for us to stay on our toes, to a certain extent.

Of course, I do also love to daydream about what we’d do if we won a bunch of money. That one is a lot more fun to contemplate!

Kevin May 12, 2009 at 7:33 am

@Kelly: I don’t know… I think I might feel like that for a long time, especially since our plan is several years out for the start of that…

@Alan: Glad you could get a laugh 😉

@DYDR: It’s such a simple thing, but it an be entertaining and keep you on your financial toes.

@MLR: Man I definitely can relate there. Quitting to blog full time, for example…

@Abigail: Yea it can definitely have something to do with anxiety and worrying about what might come next. Hope things improve for you.

Matt @ My Financial Recovery May 12, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I am pretty much always playing this game. Frequently thinking about what I would do if I no longer had to work a real job or if I could get all my student loans paid off!
I am trying to get better about thinking things through and asking follow up questions when I start day dreaming too.

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