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What Is Your Life “Litmus Test”? Ask Yourself These 3 Questions

By Marie Burns January 09, 2023 Lifestyle

Chemistry class is where I first heard the term “litmus test” used where it is literally a test (usually a paper strip) that determines if a solution is acidic. In politics, a litmus test is a question asked of candidates to determine if their nomination proceeded.

A Definite Way of Deciding Something

A litmus test is a definite way of deciding something. In life, if you need to decide should or shouldn’t you do/say/spend something, a litmus test can help you make that decision.

I like to think of a litmus test as waving a red or green flag to myself to stop or proceed. For example, I have heard litmus test questions related to spending like, “If I don’t buy this today, will I miss not having it next week?” “If I make this purchase, will it bring more joy to my life?” “If I sleep on this decision, will I still go that path tomorrow?”

Decisions, Decisions…

Right now, in your life, you may have various decisions you are considering. “Should I work, quit, retire, work part-time/start or continue a business?” “Do I want to buy/sell this or that?” ‘Should I enter/stay in this relationship?” “Do I want to travel/move/live here or there?” “What should I do in my free time?”

Perhaps, as a starting point to making those decisions, you pause and ask yourself a series of litmus test questions. I don’t mean to oversimplify, but I believe these questions can help you remind yourself of what is important to you in life. Then, those questions you might be asking yourself, are a valuable guide in finding your answer.

Three Important Questions

When I help families with financial planning, after the typical financial discussion of the current financial situation, I often ask three questions. These are meant to help each person stop to identify what they value in life. Often, we have not thought about these things ourselves let alone discussed them with anyone else.

The first question is related to money and is a good segue into the discussion. It is one that many of us may have daydreamed about, but we have not spent too much time really thinking about the future details.

How Would You Change Your Life If You Won the Lottery (Assume It’s Millions of Dollars)?

Thoughts about work, home, travel, “stuff” and people you know often come to mind. Those are the top-of-mind decisions. Then I press, “And after that?” “And after that?” “And after that?” in order to help with longer-term thinking. It can reveal current money worries, unspoken concerns, relationship situations, personal dreams, and interest in specific causes.

The second question gets more time focused.

If You Only Had 5 Years Left to Live, How Would You Change Your Life Now?

We tend to begin to prioritize in answering this one. “What would I stop doing or at least do less of?” “What would I start doing or do more of?” The urgency of a time constraint reshuffles our To Do lists, creates a bucket list if we didn’t already have one, and laser focuses our intentions.

The last question feels super negative but is intended to help avoid remorse and disappointment.

If You Knew You Were Going to Die in a Month, What Would You Most Regret Not Having Done in Your Life?

We may find there would still be time to do some of the things that come to mind. But other goals would take more time than available to accomplish. Or perhaps some couldn’t happen until the future, which you no longer have.

Use Your Answers

If you were to write down your answers to those three questions as words, phrases, thoughts, and ideas, I think you may find that you have created your own litmus test. When you are asking yourself, “Should I do this or that,” maybe part of the answer is, “Well, will it help me…” and insert your words, phrases, thoughts, and ideas from the three questions you answered.

If the action you are debating does not meet the litmus test of getting you closer to accomplishing the feelings, values, ambitions, or relationships you wrote down, then is it really worth doing right now?

Identify Your Intentions

I heard this the other day in church and totally agree with it: Life is like vapor. If you aren’t intentional, you blink, and it will be gone.

We can’t live intentionally if we don’t first identify our intentions. This month, I hope you take a Gawk Walk or breathe in some hot tea on the back porch or treat yourself to a few moments of your favorite way to enjoy solitude and discuss these three questions with yourself. Write down your thoughts and use that as your new litmus test, for now.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you have a litmus test question that has helped you in decision-making? What can you share to help others on this topic?

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I appreciated this excercise. I think one thing that i struggle with is not what my bucket list is, or lottery/5 years/ 1 month (my answers are extentions of each other) but more about how my general personality, as an introvert who can muster up extrovert characteristices on occasion, impacts my goals. For example, travel. Or making new friends – again.

Marie Burns

Robin, I guess the good news is that it’s your life and you get to decide and embrace the fact that being an introvert is who you are most comfortable being. So maybe travel and making new friends requires you to put yourself in settings where being with other people more frequently will naturally facilitate both of those goals IF that is what you want. Otherwise, don’t let others judge you if you prefer or are comfortable traveling alone or having a small circle of friends. Sometimes I find that if I reframe my “struggle” mindset to an “adventure” mindset, whatever I need to do becomes more palatable :)


Wow! That phrase life is a vapor, wow, really hits home! A thought not taught, If your not INTENTIONAL, I blinked and my life slipped by without my even taking notice beyond the daily grind. Now at this stage of life I see all I never saw, and I’m saddened, but my face doesn’t show it, can’t get it back but I’m reaching out and grabbing all that I can before the door closes on me!

Marie Burns

A thought not taught, what an absolutely crucial statement Tammy. I continue to be shocked at what our education systems don’t teach us about life. And if our family never learned it, we can’t even reinforce it from the home side of life either. Good for you for not focusing on looking back but instead being grateful for the realization now and the focus forward on maximizing whatever time is left. Stay excited about that open door, keep grabbing life, and ignore the closing behind you part!

Dorothy Thuku

Thanks for the advise.I will do a litmus test .

Marie Burns

Sometimes I find it really helps me get to a decision much quicker and more clearly, hope you find it helpful too!

Marie S

My answer to all 3 questions was the same….go visit Italy!!!
This has been the only thing in my bucket list for years.
I have the time, I have the money, I just don’t want to go alone.

Marie Burns

Nice to have clarity, sounds like you should connect with Barbara Tuzzeo :)

Barbara Tuzzeo

This is a great way to handle some tough decisions. I like the ‘vapor’ analogy and mostly how to apply a litmus test to every important decision. My main concern is meeting like minded people that like to travel and socialize. It is not that easy to find as I am already 72 and that vapor is catching up with me fast. People in my age group generally stay home and enjoy the friends and family they have developed over the years. Since I just moved into my area in 2020 I don’t have that base. Plus I really like to travel and see new interesting people and places. Any thoughts on how to increase my base of friends?

Linda Kline-Lau

Try looking at Meetup to find like minded people, or start your own Meetup group

Jan Cullinane

Volunteer, play a team sport, and/or join committees in your community. For example, I am on the Board of Trustees of our local library, I play tennis, I joined a book club, and I’m on the social committee within my community. Lots of opportunities to meet people, get involved, and make the work a little better place. If you’re single, join a Singles’ travel group – just search for “women travel” on the Internet. Lots of opportunities! With some, you can even share a room if you’d like.

Jan Cullinane, author, The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life, 2022.

Marie Burns

Sounds like you are motivated to make your “vapor” a rainbow mist of memorable adventures with new friends, good for you! I think there are more women out there similar to you than you realize, definitely consider using the internet to find and connect with them.

SixtyandMe has a smaller group of women who stay in contact weekly and have started traveling together as well that you may want to consider:

I know nothing about any of these additional websites but they sound worth checking out too: › travel › traveling-women

The Author

Marie Burns, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), advocates for women’s financial health. She is an author of a financial checklist book series, speaker, podcast host and partners with clients to offer friendly financial advice in her independent practice Visit her at or

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