Sticking to a budget, like sticking to a diet is almost impossible because in both scenarios we set ourselves up for failure. We say that we’ll NEVER eat sugar again or that we’ll NEVER go shopping or NEVER buy that amazing smelling $30 candle at the farmer’s market (true story). Who can possibly live up to those expectations?! Certainly not me.
That’s not to say that following financial rules isn’t important, the rules just need to be ones that you believe in and are manageable. Which do you think would work best for you? I’d love to know!
1. Limited Cold Turkey – once I’m really entrenched in a habit (i.e. buying my lunch instead of making it, online shopping all day long, going to the more expensive grocery store) it can be really hard to break it, even if I’m really motivated. This is when I use my limited cold turkey system. I pick an amount of time – usually one month, but sometimes slightly more or less depending on my goals – and commit to a NEW habit that will replace my old one. For example, I had gotten into a pretty dangerous online shopping habit recently and realized that not only was I spending money that I wanted to use for other goals, I wasn’t actually buying things I was excited about (double whammy!). The real reason I online shop is because I need a break from whatever else I’m doing and love looking at pretty things. So for my new habit, I committed to spending time researching art museums that I want to visit -- who has the collections I’m most excited about? Why? Is it the color? The scale? Whatever it is, it is better than buying a cropped cardigan I’m going to regret owning tomorrow. I mean, really, why did I cut the tag?!?
2. Gradual Shift - This is my go-to when I know that moving too quickly will put me right back where I started, pronto. I especially love this for reaching savings goals -- slow and steady wins the race, friends! I also use this for completely non-financial habits. For example, I used to be a pretty intense morning person. I would happily get up at 5am, go for a run, shower, eat a sit-down breakfast and read the news all before heading off to work at 7:30am. This system worked wonders for me for YEARS. Then I started living in two time zones and it all went to hell in a handbasket (pause -- can we talk about how incredible that saying is?!). I now live mostly on the West Coast and work with clients who live on Central, Eastern and Pacific Time. My husband works in film and tends to have more late nights than early mornings. Since I love him and would like to see him ever so often, I gradually shifted my sleep schedule to be more aligned with West Coast norms. I now usually get up between 6:45 - 7:45am and workout in the evenings. To make this shift I worked in 10 minute increments -- going to bed 10 minutes later, waking up 10 minutes later until I got to a better place. WARNING: to do this without killing yourself you need to be willing to take it SLOW, so this only works with something you feel really committed to.
3. Pick-a-Day - I have found loads of success with this system, especially when I’m trying to do something that is time consuming, like researching investment options, rolling over retirement accounts or finding the perfect life insurance. When it came time to rollover old 401(k)s and 403(b)s a couple years ago, this system was my lifesaver. Instead of pretending that I was going to spend time on it 5 times a week (I wouldn’t and won’t) I committed to one hour per week. One hour per week. Think of the long term task you’ve been avoiding tackling -- you can absolutely commit to doing it for one hour a week and it will seem a lot less daunting this way. If I had a more regular schedule, I would have picked one day and time and kept it the same each week. That doesn’t work for me, so instead each Sunday I look at the coming week and schedule it where it makes the most sense (NOTE: I put it on my calendar with an alarm and do NOT move it/delete it/ignore it).
What works for you?!