What a 10-day Traffic Jam Can Teach Us About Money

You probably saw something in the past few weeks about the alarming volatility of the Chinese stock market, and more recently its currency devaluation. If you didn’t, the short version is that things are a bit messy there these days.

That being said, I’m not going to focus on either of those stories in today’s Brief. Instead, I want to bring your attention to another piece of news in China: a 10-day (yes DAY) traffic jam that began on this date five years ago on the Beijing-Tibet Expressway. What started as general congestion due to an over-capacity road got worse with construction attempting to alleviate the capacity issue, and then reached absurd levels with all the little things you might imagine: traffic accidents, broken-down cars, etc. Before long, the line of cars and trucks stretched longer than 60 miles, as officials attempted to get drivers off the Expressway and on to alternate routes.

But what can this story teach us about money?

The first lesson I see is a cautionary one: delayed action can lead to serious consequences. This particular road in China had experienced increased traffic to the tune of 40% year over year and was 60% over-capacity before the government began construction. Undoubtedly this delay played an integral role in the traffic jam, and created a significantly more costly project than it should have been.

Likewise, when we delay addressing problems we see in our finances, they almost never take care of themselves. Maybe it’s growing debt, or a savings plan that’s been crowded out by spending habits, or prolonged exposure to too much risk.

Is there a facet of your finances that’s over-capacity? Why not commit to beginning the alleviation of that capacity issue by Labor Day?

The second lesson I see is an encouraging one: small, seemingly inconsequential decisions can add up to meaningful impact. In the traffic jam, “the little things” like wrecks and break-downs contributed to the mess, but the little things can also act in positive ways in our lives. This is a really good thing, because whether we’re acting to alleviate a problem (see above) or striving toward a goal, these small decisions made over time can make the process less daunting.

What small tweaks can you make in the interest of meaningful change? Are your beneficiary designations current? Did you stop payment on that service you stopped using? Are there surpluses you could put toward savings, and more importantly, what could you DO with those savings in the future? Have you made time for the people you love?

Hopefully none of us will ever be stuck in a 10-day traffic jam (although my sister lives in Houston and I think it gets pretty close there). But next time you’re in traffic of some sort, consider using that time to reflect on the areas in your life that need action, and remember that over time, little choices can make a huge difference. As always, let us know how we can be helpful!

Jared Korver
[email protected]

A product of small-town North Carolina (Carthage, to be exact), I’m proudly married to my best friend and co-adventurer, Amy. Together, we have two sons–Miles and Charlie–and could more or less start a library from our home. I love being outside, can’t read enough, am in the habit of writing haikus, and find food and coffee to be among life’s greatest treasures.