Certain tools are extremely useful in making our lives easier. This makes intuitive sense since a tool was likely invented in the first place in order to solve a problem. I’ve been intrigued by a particular language tool of late; the idiom. An idiom is an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words, but has a separate meaning of its own (thanks, Merriam-Webster!). Case in point: ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other.’ I’ll bet we’ve all said it at one time or another, but what does it really mean?
On its face, the meaning is easily understood; when considering two very similar options, we reason that they’re close enough to warrant very little thought. “Hey, six of one, half a dozen of the other…” and we move on with our lives. What strikes me about this particular phrase is the fact that very few of us likely reason this way in our own head. Instead we use a phrase like this only with others, and as a compromise. It’s a way of quickly deciding something and wrapping it up in such a way as to avoid really unpacking the two options more fully. An example might be deciding which route to take to get from home to Aunt Sally’s house for the birthday party. Thus, it’s a very useful tool for minimizing conflict with others and getting on to seemingly more important choices…like the choice of who our next president should be? Moving on…
When we’re discussing retirement income planning options with families, rarely do we hear, “Eh, it’s six of one…” Instead, we discuss why one spouse may be much more open to building a risk-based income plan (that will fluctuate with the markets) while the other spouse will sleep much better at night with certain elements of their retirement income guaranteed. The thought that this doesn’t matter enough to warrant further discussion isn’t often considered, and that’s a great thing. However, we invented idioms to allow us to quickly move on to more important decisions.
So, idioms serve a wonderful purpose. On a macro level, human beings benefit from idioms as shortcuts by helping us reserve our decision-making capacities for the big, important decisions. In much the same way, I have purposely reduced the number of colors in my wardrobe so that less thought is required when dressing each morning. Steve Jobs wore a black shirt and jeans every day; a certain US President wears only two suit colors. Narrowing our choices in the more trivial matters frees us up to invest more thought in the important matters. The idiom does the same for us.
So the next time you find yourself saying things like “the ball is in your court,” or “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” know that you’re unconsciously shortcutting the trivial to allow yourself the energy and focus to invest in the meaningful. If you haven’t made those meaningful decisions in your financial planning, like how you’ll generate retirement income, how you’ll pay for a nursing care need, or how you’ll handle protecting and passing on your estate to the next generation, consider how we might help you. After all, you may have planned to cross that bridge when you came to it, but maybe that time to cross is right now.
All the best,
Adam Cufr, RICP®