All right, 2017, let’s get down to business. If you followed my advice in December and set your goals for the year, it’s time to take the next step and talk about becoming more mindful with your finances. There are a plethora of helpful how-to books and blogs on personal finance, but far more important to your financial well-being is improving your relationship with money. The behavioral side of money is much harder to understand and control.
Here are the top five things you can do today to become more mindful with your money.
Step 1. Build Awareness
How much money do you make each month and what are you doing with it? Awareness of your cash flow is fundamental. The more clarity you have over your cash flow, the more control you’ll have of your money. You cannot achieve financial mindfulness without first understanding your cash flow. Think about how powerful awareness can be. If you decide you want to work toward a goal faster, then you have a starting point for understanding what’s possible and where you can tweak spending. Often I see clients change spending habits simply because of increased awareness. They finally take stock of where their money is going and realize it’s not at all aligned with what they value most.
Make it Happen
- Find a system: Use Mint to track spending and aggregate your accounts or review credit cards and bank statements.
- Settle into a frequency: Review spending at least monthly, or even weekly in the beginning or for categories you are most prone to overspend. Take a big picture look at spending quarterly and annually (especially important for categories like travel, gifts, or home improvement that are more annual in nature).
View cash flow in light of your goals: Every time you sit down for a big picture look at your finances, remind yourself of your goals and ask yourself if you are spending, saving, and giving in a way that aligns with these goals. If your goals reflect your values and priorities, the more you align your cash flow with your goals the more satisfied you’ll become with your wealth. Over time you’ll see your relationship with money become healthier and you will be in control of your money — not the other way around.
Small efforts matter: Often times we need to make big life changes in order to see progress, but there’s power in small efforts. They add up and, more importantly, jumpstart a healthy mental shift. The specific dollar amount you’re able to save is not as important as the actual act of saving. As an advisor, I'm most interested in shaping behaviors and creating better habits rather than growing a client's net worth. Money for the sake of money won't satisfy.
Step 2. Create Goals
Review my six steps for creating more successful goals and then ask yourself the following questions. Remember, goal setting should be fun. It’s about what’s important to you and what you want life to look like for yourself and your family.
- What are your values and priorities?
- Why does money matter to you?
- Where are you headed, and where do you want to be headed?
STEP 3. Think Deeply
Our culture does a poor job of thinking deeply. We absorb vast amounts of surface level information on a daily basis. More than ever we demand immediate gratification. Mindful finance requires deeper thought. Slow yourself down and occasionally read a thought-provoking article or book about money. Start with 10 or 15 minutes a week. Below are some suggestions for reading material. Provoking deep thinking and discussion around finances is the primary point of my fiscal therapy newsletters, so subscribe and I’ll share a few articles or money thoughts with you on a monthly basis.
- Ron Lieber NYT Column
- Behavior Gap Blog
- Fiscal Therapy newsletter
- One Page Financial Plan
- Opposite of Spoiled
- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
Step 4. Invest in Community
Things get wonky when we manage our finances alone. There’s no one to give objective feedback, remind you of your goals or tell you you’re about to do something stupid. Let’s change the norm in our culture and talk a little more freely about money. I don’t mean asking your colleague how they invest their 401k and copying their fund allocation or comparing their performance to yours. That’s entirely unhelpful and not advised. I’m talking about the vulnerable, qualitative aspects about money:
- How you do decide how much is enough?
- I’m really struggling to pay off my student loans. Do you ever stress about money?
- How do you resolve disagreements about money with your spouse?
- I’m really trying to pay off my credit card debt this year. Can you help remind me of this the next time we’re out shopping?
Choose a select group of close friends or family members and be humble, seek advice, give encouragement, and ask for accountability. You don’t have to share specifics about income, mortgage payments and the cost of your vacation for this to be helpful.
Step 5. Seek Counsel from Experts
When you’re not able or just don’t want to do all of this alone, a professional can help. Financial planners can add a layer of accountability and objective advice that takes into consideration your entire financial world. If you’re interested in finding a financial planner, here’s my advice on where to look and what to keep in mind. You can also read this Forbes article.
I would love to hear your stories about becoming more mindful with your money. Please share them with us at email@example.com. Please also share with us what money questions weigh heaviest on you and we’ll address these in future blog content.