July 13, 2020
From my research interviewing millennials across the country about their spending habits and financial behaviors, I see a common pattern emerge. They make a decision to "be better with money" and then spend time crafting the perfect financial plan, but within weeks, the initial fresh optimism fades along with the plan.
The truth is, the best financial plan is one you can actually stick to from the beginning. Expert information and advice is everywhere but only you can decide if it aligns with your values and is realistic for your lifestyle. Also, understanding your emotional triggers and planning for inevitable setbacks will further bring your plan into reality.
Consider the following pillars as you evaluate your financial life:
Focus on what you truly want out of life
Avoid getting caught up in what others are doing or what you think you should be doing; instead, define what you ultimately want to achieve for yourself.
The exciting thing is that you can choose the lifestyle you want to lead. Whether that involves a stable life focused on building a family or a spontaneous life traveling the world (or some combination of both), design your life and your financial plan to reflect your goals.
Finish this sentence "With this plan I will have the freedom to…"
Perhaps you want to change careers or relocate or prepare for a family. This is your why.
Understand your deeper beliefs around money
We all have a deeper self-narrative that drives our life decisions and money matters are no exception. From my interviews, I hear from individuals who are unconsciously caught in a negative feedback loop. "I'll never be good with money," they tell me. But if you believe that you're awful with money, you will inevitably be awful with money.
It's critical to understand your own self-narrative around money and how it impacts your financial decisions. I've found that those who have this deeper understanding are able to create and stick to healthy financial habits.
Start here: If you find yourself being driven by a negative mantra, realize that money is nebulous. It's not a winner-take-all sport. Replace the thinking with a specific action such as "I am learning about my spending habits."
Factor in your spending triggers
Step one of any financial plan is monitoring your spending. You'll need to uncover your hidden spending; you can't manage what you can't see.
Try to remember your purchases over the past 48 hours. How many were on auto-pilot? In fact, when you examine your spending patterns, you'll likely notice that there are external triggers that drive a lot of your spending. Once I reviewed my transactions I realized that every time I had a bad day at work, I would order take out followed by ice cream. To disrupt this pattern, now anytime I have a bad day at work, I go through a checklist of 10 free items I can do to alleviate my stress.
Include provisions for those patterns in your plan and find ways to disrupt your spending triggers.
Start here: identify one spending habit you usually regret and determine the trigger. Is there something you can do to disrupt that feedback loop?
Build a plan with forgiveness in mind
From my research, people are driven to make a financial plan in desperate moments to solve "stuck situations." Maxed-out credit cards or a large vet bill for a sick pet, for instance. In these circumstances planning happened in a scarcity mindset, resulting in an overly-constrictive and unrealistic financial plan.
Go ahead and be ambitious with the amount that you're looking to save or be ruthless with spending cuts, but regardless, for a plan to stick you must be honest with yourself. Build-in forgiveness to reduce the shame around failing. We're all human and failing isn't a possibility, it's an inevitability. Have slack built into your plan so you can quickly bounce back into recovery.
Start here: Think about your last financial misstep. Did the world end? It didn't and you learned something from it. Refer back to your learning mantra. Making a mistake is how you learn.
Money is more than net worth; it is self-worth. The most effective financial plan is one that speaks to who you are: your values, your behaviors, and your mindset.
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