I know exactly what I need to do in order to better my financial situation. I need to save more, spend less, and contribute to my retirement plan. Every few months, I set goals for myself but I’m having trouble keeping on track. The day to day tends to get in the way and I end up pushing finances aside, when it’s one of the most important things! How do I keep my financial goals top of mind when there are so many other things fighting for my attention?
Thank you for your wonderful question.
So many of us can relate to this struggle, even those who know better (wink wink, myself included.)
What I’m hearing you say is you value your financial health, yet the energy behind it feels like obligation. As you’ve experienced, that usually isn’t very successful.
So how do we change this? The answer to your question actually lies in your question!
Remove finances from being something that you need to fight for at all.
What if they could be a thing of ease, automation, and even, enjoyable?
They can be!
Step 1: Get clear on what’s really important to you
When I work with clients to make financial changes, we never start by looking at the nitty gritty of the numbers. If this was effective, you would have already done this!
What’s needed is to tap into the energy of inspiration.
What do you really, really desire in life? What gets the juice of aliveness flowing through your veins? Is it to own your dream home, travel the world, write books, become a philanthropist?
Until you become crystal clear on what deeply matters to you, every shiny thing will distract you and compete for your attention.
Once you connect to the natural excitement of your dream, you have powerful leverage to make awesome day to day financial decisions. Even seemingly insignificant choices automatically become impactful because every dollar affects how soon you reach your goal. Every time you’re tempted to buy something, train your brain to ask the following question: is this purchase worth delaying my dream?
Step 2: Look at the numbers and break them down into short and long term goals
Now that you have your big picture end goal in mind, you can work backwards to break it down into clear, small action steps.
Let’s say you want to save $20,000 towards a down payment on a home in 2 years. What exactly do you need to do in order to reach your goal? Are the funds coming from cutting specific expenses, earning more income, or something else? How does that look per year, month, week, or even per day?
While that might seem really detailed, energetically you are committing to making your goals happen. There’s no guessing what you need to do or relying on hope to magically work for you. This will eliminate a lot of stress and guilt, and clear the way for you to spend on pleasure because you have a plan to meet your goal(s).
Lastly, you’ll want to spend some time setting up a budget that really supports your life. Effective budgeting is all about becoming aware of how you spend money so you can cut out the stuff that isn’t really meaningful. Then you can strategically redirect this to saving, investing, debt, or contributing to retirement.
To get started with a user-friendly budget spreadsheet, get the new stnce budget template by signing up here.
Step 3: Set up a system to automate as much of your financial life as possible
When you think of finances, do you imagine having to sort through piles of bills or financial statements?
Fortunately, technology has made this a thing of the past. We now have access to numerous user-friendly online tools, schedulers, and mobile apps that allow us to literally set it and forget it!
I recommend following this simple rule:
Automate all of your outgoing bill payments, but when it comes to spending, try to use cash. Studies show that our brains don’t see plastic cards the same way. Having to part with cold, hard cash causes more pain, so you can use this to your advantage to curb spending.
Let’s revisit your 3 priorities and see how you could automate them.
Just about every bank/financial institution offers something called the ASP – Automatic Savings Plan. You’ll need a separate savings account. Answer a few questions online to tell your bank how much you want to save and how often. It will do the rest. I suggest transferring funds the day after you’re paid so you don’t ever miss the money.
While conventional advice suggests you should save 10% of your salary, it doesn’t mean that you should. Start with what feels manageable to you and increase it over time. The last thing you want to do is destroy your motivation by trying to do something that is too ambitious! That’s like going on a diet and not allowing yourself any cheat meals. We’re aiming for healthy, sustainable habits that allow you to enjoy life.
You can set these up in a similar way either through your bank or HR department, although you might need to talk to your employer or do more research to understand your investment options. You’ll want to review your needs after major life changes, for example, getting married, having a baby, or approaching retirement.
This activity actually has the greatest impact on financial health, so what can you do to reduce temptation and spend less money? The answer is…
Step 4: Play with spending hacks!
It’s all too easy to get lured into unplanned spending, so here are a number of suggestions to help rein this in. I encourage you to experiment with a few ideas to see what works for you!
-Mandating a 24 hour waiting period before buying anything over a certain amount, for example $250. Do you still need it the next day?
-If you struggle with impulse buying, snap a picture of what you’re eyeing and text it to your bestie or partner so they can help you make the right decision.
-Printing out a colour picture of your dream goal and place it in your wallet over your credit card, as well as somewhere visible in your home or workspace.
-Opening a bank account just for pleasure and allocating a monthly amount. Spend that money guilt free, but once it’s gone, it’s gone! It’s like cheat meals for your wallet.
-Trying the cash envelope system. Each month or week deposit your variable budget via cash into physical envelopes organized by categories. You won’t be able to spend more than what’s inside, unless you transfer from one envelope to another.
-If you are using cash, withdraw larger bills. You will find it harder to part with them for small items.
-To really supercharge your savings and eliminate major spontaneous purchases, commit to saving part or all of your future bonuses and salary increases.
Best of luck and have fun with this!
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of Equitable Bank. Any information provided is for information purposes only and Equitable Bank makes no representations as to the validity, accuracy, completeness or suitability of any content. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional or undertake your own research before making financial decisions.