Updated: Jul 8, 2019
Money is a tough subject to deal with in life. It’s a “necessary evil” some will say; “can’t live with it, can’t live without it”. There are countless resources providing information, knowledge and opinions about what you should do with your money.
It is exhausting.
In this constant barrage of never-ending information and opinions of our modern world, we often experience two things:
1. We lose confidence in any decision we make because more options are constantly presented that make us doubt ourselves and reconsider.
2. We are afraid to make the wrong decision, so we don’t act at all. In essence, our decision is deliberate indecision.
We confront these realities in many of facets of our existence as well; relationships, lifestyle, political affiliation; take your pick. 100 years ago, they didn’t experience these problems, at least not to the same scale and intensity that we do now.
Not even close.
We are blessed in our time with increased availability of opportunities and information now, which is a
HUGE benefit, but one with diminishing returns.
So how do we get anywhere? How do we keep from falling behind?
Here are 4 fundamental reasons you are falling behind with money, and what to do about them so you can reverse the downward trend and move in the right direction.
1. You don’t know what you want
“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.” Maimonides
Take a step back from money for a moment and consider the following:
Most people never define what they want their life to be like. Most people live day to day without thinking about the big picture. This might be you.
If you want to get anywhere in life, that needs to stop. “I’m too busy” is the worst excuse of them all. We let whatever is right in front of us right now take precedence over what is important in the long-term.
We continue to spend countless hours bingeing on Netflix instead of gaining knowledge or skills, creating experiences with loved ones, or serving others. We feel guilty about it, but the behavior continues.
Why do we do this?
You may think you know what you want, but do you really? If you think you do, then write it down. Write down what you want out of life and what you want your future to look like.
I bet you struggle to articulate it. It’s harder than you think, but only because you haven’t decided what is important to you.
So, what do you do?
You must decide what you want.
“Once I made a decision, I never thought about it again” — Michael Jordan
This goes way beyond money, so we are going to take a small, but necessary detour to discuss this. It is fundamental to your life.
If you haven’t defined what your highest values and beliefs are in life, then you have big problems. Problems that make it hard for you to decide what you want in any part of your life: your career direction, your relationships with a significant other as well as family and friends, where to live, how to spend your spare time.
Not knowing your deepest values puts you on a never-ending journey to find happiness without knowing where to find it or how to recognize it if you happen upon it.
That is a journey destined for widespread disappointment and disillusionment.
So, in order to know how to spend your money, you need to know what things have more value than other things. Money is a tool to help you live a better life, so you allocate your dollars to things or activities or people that are most important to you and therefore make your life better.
Without knowing what things are more important to you and less important, how can you decide where to allocate those dollars?
That’s the problem. Most people don’t. They just unconsciously follow the trends.
Is that you?
Are you just being swept along by every trend that hits society or Pinterest or Instagram? Or do you intentionally chart your own course through life. Which do you want?
If you don’t know what is good, better, or best, then how can you invest real dollars into anything? It is necessary to establish, or more clearly define, a value system for your life.
You need to figure out what is truly important to you. I can’t tell you what those things are, and neither can anybody else. You get to decide. That is great news.
Here are some books you can study that have helped me:
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
How will you measure your life? by Clayton Christensen
Willpower Doesn’t Work by Benjamin Hardy
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
For me, I have developed an acronym that is simple and helps me stay on track: D.O. I.T.
Decide Organize Implement Track
Decide: You must put in the time to decide what is really important to you.
Write down the 3–5 values that are most important to you in life. With each value, describe why it is important to you (dig deep on this one) and what your life would look like if you lived in harmony with those values.
Write out what the aspects of your ideal life based on your most important values especially how you spend your time and with whom.
Do this in painstaking detail. The clearer your writing and imagery, the more powerful and motivating this exercise can be.
Example: One of my top values is family. One simple, but ideal thing that would continually strengthen my relationship with my wife is to go on a date weekly.
Organize: Now you need to organize your life. Get a grip of what your reality is and figure out how to start living your ideal.
Write down what your life looks like now and compare that with your ideal.
What are the differences in how you use your time and energy and attention?
What is holding you back from living your ideal right now?
Craft a plan to make those adjustments and overcome the obstacles to bring you from where you are now to where you want to be.
Example: I go on a date monthly with my wife currently. The biggest obstacle to going on 1 date a week is planning; scheduling a babysitter, deciding what to do on the date, what day to go, where to eat, etc. One way to get around that is to schedule time in my calendar each week (maybe Monday) to plan the date and schedule the baby-sitter. If I set aside the time in my calendar, then I will probably do it.
Implement: Implement the plan from Step 2.
Schedule what you need to in your calendar.
Shape your environment to make it easier to live your plan.
If you have too many changes you need to make, start with a few and work until you are consistent with those, then move on to others.
This is not a sprint. You don’t need to do it all right now.
It is better to make a few changes consistently over a long period of time, than be overwhelmed in the short-term and just give up (i.e. New Years Resolutions).
Example: I schedule it in my calendar every Monday to plan and schedule all of the details of our date that weekend.
Track: Now you need to keep track of what you do.
It doesn’t matter how cool your plan is, no progress will come unless you do it.
Look at the elite in any field, they track progress and adjust course as needed. Tracking your behavior is going to make you more aware of what you do day to day. It takes you off of autopilot and makes you conscious participant in your decision making.
Making small poor decisions consistently can sabotage you in a big way, and the reverse is also true. Substituting those small bad decisions for good ones can make a tremendous positive impact in the long run.
Example: I track on my calendar how many dates we go on each month and determine if it is strengthening our marriage. If it is, then I continue, then maybe make another change, like making dinner once a week and follow the same process.
Your plan is not going to be perfect. These are all experiments.
Trial and error.
Don’t worry if your plan doesn’t work, now you know and you can move on to find what will work for you.
As one very successful entrepreneur taught me, “there is no one path to success, it is just trial and error. You just have to do that as fast as you can until you find the right answer.”
After some experimentation, if it is working, then keep it up. If not, then adjust. Simple.
Don’t stress, just press on. You’ve got this.
Be sure to follow the next part in the series
Dave Lowell is a financial advisor and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional that has advised everybody from college students to multi-millionaires. He recently left the investment management industry to hone his focus on financial planning and education, especially to those that can’t get financial advice elsewhere. He believes that money is only a tool to help you live a fulfilled life and specializes in helping individuals create a strategy and framework for their wealth that supports the life they want to live. He does this through a combination of education and one on one coaching. Dave loves learning languages and traveling with his family. To learn more visit davelowell.co