The first question you should always ask yourself before making any personal financial decisions

Whether you’re aiming to start a business, expand an existing venture, retire early, or just upgrade your lifestyle, the essential first step is getting your financial home in order. There is no shortage of tools available to help you. Showcasing a million retirement calculators, budgeting apps, and handy rules of thumb to guide you toward long-term safety and success.

Many of them are excellent. But according to a recent interview with Ramit Sethi, a finance expert and author I will teach you to be richyou should still not touch any of them until you have completed one basic step first.

Your financial goals can be dire.

In an interview with Charlotte Cowes’s The Cut’s, Sethi explains that many people shy away from financial planning because it feels bleak. There are very few people who would like to be lectured about not buying a latte or to enter the $1.57 they spent on chewing gum into a spreadsheet. As a result, many of us ignore financial issues or switch between the obligation to do good and the denial of ostriches.

If this sounds like you, you don’t need more information or another tool. What you need, according to Sethi, is a vision for your personal version of financial success. “Most people are never asked what a rich life would be like for them,” he claims, and when asked, they often give the same simplistic and unsatisfactory answers.

Many people will say something like, “I want to do what I want,” according to Sethi. But when pressed about exactly what they want, they can’t answer. Another unlucky group is only dreaming of getting out of debt, which is understandable but not very inspiring.

Finally, many people have the dollar number in mind. They’ll say to Sethi, “I want a million dollars,” but when he asks, “Well, where did that number come from? What gives you that?” He gets “Silence, because of course a million dollars in Brooklyn is different from a million dollars in Kansas City. It’s different if you’re 30 or 60. Most people don’t know what to make of that.”

What should you ask instead.

Goals like this are not well thought out nor particularly actionable. If this is how you envision personal finance, you are probably acting out of a fear of poverty or a sense of obligation. Sethi claims that letting your specific dreams draw you toward wiser financial decisions is much more motivating. And this can only happen if you abundantly imagined financial goals.

Which is why Sethi wants everyone, before delving into the nitty-gritty of financial planning, to ask themselves: “What does a rich life look like to me?”

“I want people to apply a creative vision to their lives. I want people to ask themselves questions like, ‘If I could have a perfect month, what would that look like?'” These answers are often very simple, like, “Oh, I like to eat outside once a week,” or “I really like to go out as a family on Sunday morning and go to the park.” That’s cool. Write it down. Which garden? What are you going to do in the garden? ? ” Advise.

The more specific and sensual your responses are, the better. “I want to travel” is very generic. Instead, aim for something like, “I want to go to Bali or Bangkok or New Delhi. I want to fly on this seat on the plane. This is the dish I want to eat at this restaurant. I want to take these people with me so we can have This experience together,” says Sethi, adding, “You live a life rich in details, and that level of privacy is what allows you to inspire yourself and then build a plan to make it happen.”

Of course, visualizing your end goal is only the first step on a long journey (the lengthy interview offers plenty of advice for the rest of the process). But defining your vision is an essential first step. If you don’t know where you’re trying to go, how will you be able to muster the motivation and strategically plan to get there?

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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