Financial Physics: Why the Lock Unlocks

Why does the lock unlock?

That was the question asked of our Health Physics crew one evening when I was co-op student working at a nuclear power plant when I was in college. (I was a Chemistry major in those days.)

One of the technicians on the crew had earned his doctorate in Physics, and gave us this question as an example of the types of questions he had to answer to earn the title of “Doctor.”

You may be asking “which lock?”; that’s what we were asking.

Doesn’t matter…any lock.

As I am prone to do, I went straight to analysis mode. At this point in time, I used a physical key to enter my home and car. To get to my workstation for this particular job, and into several areas of the plant, I had to use a key card to unlock those doors. Back at school, there was a keypad that unlocked the exterior doors to the dorms at certain times during the day. What answer was true for all three of these types of locks?

For that matter…

  • Mechanical locks with physical keys
  • Combination locks
  • Touchpads
  • Keypads
  • Key cards
  • Push-button power locks on vehicles
  • Bio-metrics like fingerprint and retina scans
  • Near-field communication like the use of key fobs on many of today’s vehicles (didn’t have those back then)
  • The kinds of locks I don’t know about because I’ve never heard of them or they haven’t been invented, yet

What answer would be true FOR ALL TYPES OF LOCKS past, present, and future?

You may have figured out that I drew a blank on a possible response. Never fear; I know the answer, now.

One of the other full-time technicians offered up “you have the right key” as a response to the question; it turned out he was as close to the correct answer as we would get (though that answer implies a physical key).

Why does the lock unlock?

“The lock unlocks because the correct sequence of events occurred for that lock to unlock.”

The “most correct answer” according to our favorite rocket scientist; circa 1994

And, now, we’re going to talk about our money again!

When I think about a correct sequence of events to unlock something, there are three main points that come to mind.

  1. All of the events in the sequence must occur.
  2. There cannot be any additional (unnecessary) events.
  3. The events must be carried out in the correct order.

If one of the three items above isn’t true, the lock won’t unlock.

Of course when we buy a lock from a store, or are given access to a lock when we buy a house, rent an apartment, or start a new job, et cetera, et cetera, the specific “how to unlock this thing” is graciously given to us. When we set a goal around the various areas of our lives, that is usually not the case.

In terms of money, there are countless books, blogs, and other media available to you. And, if you’re like me, all of them are useful to a degree, but none of them fit you completely. The result ends up being that you try the system out and it doesn’t completely unlock your lock. You may be encouraged to a point, but ultimately you still feel like you’re on the wrong side of the door to success.

I want to be clear; there are some general steps of personal finance that are tried and true. And, just like I’m pretty sure that there is a lock out there somewhere that has the same combination as this one…

…there are some steps that are a part of every system. (Here’s looking at you “spend less than you earn.”) Some of you may have even come across a personal finance system that worked for you and completely unlocked that lock for you.

For the rest of us, there always seems to be one event in the process that is just a little off.


So, What Do We Do? Don’t Rush It.

I think in my younger days, I wanted to have everything money-wise to happen all at once. I saw things as if I were simply sliding a key into the hole on a door knob and turning, ignoring that there were some events occurring inside the barrel of that lock that I couldn’t see.

If only I could have seen the key as more of a touch pad; you can’t press all of the buttons at the same time if you want to unlock those locks.

That mistake cost me a lot of time and money.

Taking everything one step at a time, I think, is the way to go. And, before long, working this out will feel more like a simple turn of a key as you work through the steps. You’ll just be more aware of the inner workings of your lock.

The key here (pun sort of intended) is to take the next step in your process to move forward. Some questions that come to my mind are, in a sequence of events:

  1. Am I earning more than I spend (or spending less than I earn)?
    • Can I spend less? If so, how?
      1. What do I need to spend money on?
      2. What do I like to spend money on?
      3. What do I spend my money on that doesn’t really matter to me?
    • How can I earn more?
  2. Is my income going where I need it to go?
    • Retirement Accounts? (Can I increase this amount?)
    • Emergency Fund – Savings? (Can I increase this amount? If so, do I need to increase this amount?)
    • Spending Account?
    • Discretionary Savings Account – Savings for bigger ticket items? (Can I increase this amount?)
  3. What does my insurance situation look like?
    • Do I have all of the insurance I need?
    • Am I paying for any insurance that I DON’T need?
  4. Do I have an estate plan/will in case something should happen to me? (FYI I’m really weak in this category as I write this.)

You may have some other financial questions that fit into your life. If so, feel free to work on those.

The main thing we need to remember is to pick one and get started. Will you get some of the steps wrong? Yes, but it’s not the end of the process. Each step you take, whether it leads to a success or a failure, will inform your next step or attempt.

Always move forward, willing to fail and ready to succeed.

If you do that, you may be surprised how quickly all of the unnecessary clutter you need to leave behind, the correct steps you need to take, and the order you should take those good steps will reveal themselves. And, the lock on your financial plan, or any other plan for that matter, will begin to unlock.


Thank you for visiting Finunciate. Come back soon.

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