“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.”Thomas H. Huxley, English biologist (1825 – 1895)
Often, the biggest challenges people face in reaching their objectives, financial or otherwise, are not external, but internal. For reasons we can’t entirely comprehend, great plans and good intentions are undone by our poor behavior.
We may blame it on a lack of willpower, a character flaw, or even a psychological condition; regardless of the explanation, we find we are our own worst enemy. And even the best among us feel the frustration.
Paul the Apostle once wrote:
“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.”
At one time or another, we’ve all been there. So if some of the biggest obstacles are internal and psychological, what can be done to fix them? There are many ways to resolve these issues, and many people to help you. Yet when it comes to achieving your financial objectives, there is one simple, practical thing anyone can do to improve their chances for success:
“GET IT IN WRITING.”
Whether you use a pencil or your smartphone, getting things out of your head and onto ‘paper’ increases your chances of achieving your objectives. As Will Ferrell would say in Anchorman, “It’s science.”
First, the physical act of preparing a paper or digital document requires a greater level of engagement. Thoughts and words are vapors that can easily dissipate when new distractions emerge. However, getting things in writing usually forces your brain to focus on the task at hand and encourages clarity.
And the physical act of writing (or, to a lesser degree, typing) engenders another level of reinforcement—your thoughts take on a visual aspect, and even gain some “muscle memory.”
Second, putting your thoughts in writing leaves a trail, one that is visible to others. You’re saying “on this day, this is where I was and this is where I wanted to be.” And when you put it in writing before a spouse, partner, or financial advisor, that document becomes a common point of reference. Others can use it to understand you, help you, remind you, and challenge you.
What Should You Get in Writing?
1. Write (or type) your present financial condition.
Most people believe that they have a good idea of their current financial situation. They can tell you if they’re current with their bills, whether they’re saving money, and roughly how much they earn in a year. Yet move beyond the generalities, and you’ll find most people don’t have a good grip on what’s really going on—it’s all sort of fuzzy.
Consequently, it’s difficult to make new financial decisions with any degree of confidence. Are you sure you can afford a new car payment? What about refinancing? If you start a new life insurance program, will you be able to make the premium payments? When you’re not sure, you either make guesses or put off any decision-making, and neither of those options has a high success rate.
A Cash Flow Statement
Imagine what could happen if you committed to preparing an accurate cash-flow statement every month. First, just attempting it would improve your financial organization. Automated credit card payments could be made from the right accounts, receipts would be kept in digital files—if nothing else, you would have a record of your transactions and financial situation.
For some, making an accurate monthly cash-flow statement might be a challenging task. It might take a lot of effort to sift through various accounts and sort out your transactions, bills, and payments. If you find a cash flow statement requires too much work, start by picking one or two financial categories that need the most attention, like tracking your debt reduction progress or monitoring the monthly accumulations in your savings and investments. Focus your efforts on collecting accurate information and writing it down (or type it up).
There are a variety of tools available today that make tracking your finances a breeze. Alongside writing your goals, you can use banking apps to track your purchases and automate payments. Third-party financial apps also allow you to track all of your credit cards, other bills, and incoming and outgoing cash flow, making it very easy to check your progress on the goals you’ve set for yourself.
In fact, some even remind you of your subscriptions—which could be costing you without your knowledge.
2. Write (or type) your financial objectives.
In general, everybody wants more money. Yet how much do you want, and for what purpose?
Everyone knows the job of the sales and marketing departments is to convince consumers to buy their products. And most people understand that these experts use a range of psychological ploys, both blunt and subtle, to compel people to make a purchase. If you’re not clear on what you really want, you are much more susceptible to being sold on something else.
Writing down what you want to accomplish makes it easier to resist the daily bombardment of sales pitches. You’ve embedded your own financial values, which allow you to see which items align with your objectives and which ones don’t. Clearly articulated objectives help you recognize that a flat-screen TV priced 50% off is a great deal—yet only if you were already planning to purchase a flat-screen TV.
By writing your financial objectives and the current state of your finances, you can also develop a savings strategy. When you know how much you allocate to bills and necessities, it’s easier to determine how much you can save, and still have some fun money left over.
We recommend saving 20% if possible, though identifying where you’re at financially will help you determine what’s possible. Then you can use what’s leftover to enjoy however you wish.
3. Write (or type) your plan of action.
The default option for contemporary American culture is often “the tyranny of the urgent.” What’s immediately in front of us demands our attention. We deal with one momentary crisis after another, then either collapse in exhaustion or seek some recreational escape. And then we do it all over again the next day.
At some point, we may notice the track we thought we were on is really a treadmill, but those moments of recognition are fleeting. There are new items hitting our in-box, and each one seems to be stamped “urgent.” Even if you decide to get off one treadmill—by changing careers, moving, etc.—you may find yourself on another treadmill, running just as hard, yet still staying in the same place.
Taking the time to write down a course of action for your objectives gets you off the treadmill; first to reflect on, and then to redirect, your activities.
Does Getting it in Writing Really Work?
Intuitively, most people know getting it in writing would help them make progress.
Of course, there are caveats. Making a direct cause-and-effect connection between writing it down and success is difficult because so many other factors are involved. You may have some financial issues that will not be resolved by simply writing them down (like back taxes to the IRS or a low credit score).
At the same time, outside influences may attempt to derail your progress. When COVID-19 hit, millions of people lost their jobs, faced pay cuts, and had to rely on the savings they had built up.
Writing down your financial goals won’t fix everything. Yet the very act of deciding to get your financial life in writing means you’re giving it a higher priority and a higher likelihood of success.
The Billion Dollar Secret
Rafael Badziag interviewed 21 of the world’s 2,200 billionaires and compiled the results in his book, The Billion Dollar Secret. Badziag studied the traits shared by these powerful people and found that many of those traits centered on smart spending and fighting for success regardless of the circumstances they faced.
Many of the most famous billionaires are famously frugal. Warren Buffett, the world’s fourth-richest person, still lives in a home he bought in 1958 for just $31,500 and eats breakfast at McDonald’s for less than $5 each morning. By prioritizing his investments and savings—rather than flashy material goods—he’s built a literal empire from the ground up. His story isn’t unique either; British billionaire Peter Hargreaves drives a Toyota Prius that’s eight years old and Bill Gates wore a $10 watch.
Changing your perspective about what’s important enough to spend your money on and what you can live without may not make you a billionaire, but it can help you reach your financial goals. Writing down those goals is the easiest way to stay focused when the temptation to spend money strikes.
Take Your Finances Further
You can find a lot of information about financial recording and goal-setting on the internet. Those details may help you, but the basic issue is this: When it comes to your finances, do you have it in writing? If you don’t, you have a simple question to answer: Are you going to get it in writing?
Do you have your finances in writing, and want to go to the next level? Contact us to learn how you can automate your savings and make your money more efficient. We’d love to hear from you at email@example.com.