I think most of the advice I dispense is common sense. Spend less than you earn. Make plans. Set goals. Document the progress. For most people (me included), it’s tough to stay motivated. Here are some tactics I used to keep my goal in sight and my financial avatar galvanized.
Tip 1: Email your future self to celebrate and recognize how far you’ve come
One of my favorite websites is Future Me. Here you can write a letter to yourself and pick a date to have it delivered to your email account. I try to do this every month or so because I LOVE receiving emails from the past. Here is an excerpt of one I received a few days ago from 2011-Thriftygal.
You’re sad and you’re frustrated. Because it’s past 3 am and you’re still at work and you’re rather an incompetent little fuzzball.
Are you out of debt yet? Does it feel awesome? $42,685 left.
I wish I were you.
I don’t mean to brag or harp on this, but I love my life now and all the Future Me emails I currently send are optimistic and cheerful. I wake up when I want. I go to bed when I want. I eat. I bike. I walk. I swim. I travel. I read. I hammock. I write. I meet friends old and new. I look forward to every day. I’m sure that your ideal post-work life will differ from mine, but the point is that money gives you the freedom to make your life what you want it to be. Don’t waste it on things and stuff and junk.
Set small mini goals and remind yourself of the victories along the way. It’s all about the progress.
Tip 2: Place a motivational quote on your phone.
I know. I know. Cheesy! But I had a quote on my Blackberry so I could read it every time I had to unlock my phone — an action I performed several dozen times a day. Big Law is lucrative and I am extremely grateful for my time at my firm, but I always felt shackled to that device. That world came with many many perks, but in return, you give up your life. You agree to put work first. Before family. Before friends. Before vacations. Before sleep. Every time I saw that little red light flash signalling a new email, I would first get to read this –
“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.”
– Ellen Goodman
Tip 3: Take Vitamin D
You’re right; this has nothing to do with personal finance, but I couldn’t think of a third financial tip that I actually did and that I haven’t already written about. And since taking this pill has made such a mindbogglingly enormous difference in the quality of my life, I would feel remiss not to pass on this tip.
I receive a physical every year and the only major comment my doctor ever has is to note my cripplingly low levels of vitamin D. For years, I would buy a big bottle of the pills and then neglect to take them after a week or so. I now keep a resolutions chart and I give myself a smiley face when I remember to take it. When I do take it regularly, I feel like a different person. I can get up in the morning with ease. I’m not tired during the day. I have energy.
Obligatory lawyer comment: I’m not a doctor and this is just anecdotal! If you’re tired all the time, consider asking your doctor to check your vitamin D levels.
Tip 4: Create challenge months for yourself
Okay, I just thought of another of my financial quirks. Over the past five years, I would occasionally think up new “Operations” for myself and add them to the resolutions chart I mentioned in tip 3. These challenges usually lasted a month and had ridiculously long names. I used this exercise to entertain my financial avatar and to understand myself better. Here’s a list of some of my operations.
- Operation Use Only Cash Except for Rent and Utilities, Of Course
- Operation Use No Cash and Charge Everything
- Operation Buy Whatever Even Briefly Tempts You, But Evaluate the Purchase Two Months Later to See if it Made Your Life Better
- Operation Don’t Eat Out Except If You’re Ordering In and Eating at Your Desk
- Operation Don’t Eat Alone
- Operation Don’t Buy Anything New
- Operation Shop Every Weekend
You can do anything for a month. I started to recognize what worked for me after trying these experiments. I understand that I’m lazy and can’t track cash. I can now predict better which of my Wants are fleeting and disregard it quicker. I also now immediately buy whatever Want I feel would make my life better. I found out that I used to eat a lot of meals at my desk. I reinforced my belief that shopping sucks.
I initially drafted this tip as its own post, but I think the operation names are pretty self-explanatory. You learn about yourself by going outside your routine and your comfort zone. Try it. Make up your own operation and tell me about it.