Most people don’t associate personal finance with fun and it’s hard to blame them. There’s a lot of doom and gloom, especially these days. Writing out a budget seriously stinks. Really, who wants to find out they can’t afford the things they want and see it on paper? And it’s certainly no fun to do the things you have to do like make a will, shop for insurance, designate your power of attorney, and create a trust in the event of your incapacitation. Who wants to think about their own mortality or the disasters that my befall you? Not fun at all.
I am not a numbers geek in any form, but despite all of the above, I find personal finance fun. I hear you asking, “How can this be fun? There are a thousand other things I’d rather do than figure out my 401K, get out of debt, or do my taxes.” (Well, I’ll agree on the taxes part because even I don’t find that fun. With tax season looming, I’m hiding under the bed with the rest of you.)
Disclaimer: I haven’t always found personal finance to be the entertainment I do now. Because I had to learn about it to plan for my future and start a business, I decided it would be better if it were something I enjoyed. I’m all about fun and not very big on pain, especially not self-inflicted torture, which is what it looked like personal finance would be for me. At first I worked very hard to make it fun. I went out of my way to find the fun in personal finance. But the more I learned, the easier it became to find the fun, and the more fun I found. It became a continuous cycle. Learn more, have more fun. Repeat.
I’ll admit that not everyone is going to find finance fun, no matter how much they learn and what they do to make it fun. Some people have a phobia of numbers (or reality) that makes personal finance sheer torture. But for those willing to give it a try, to attempt to escape from the world of finance that is all about doom and gloom, hard core stock trading, and branding you a failure if you have debt, no emergency fund, or whatever your obstacles might be, here are the ways I’ve transformed finance into fun in my own life.
1. Try sanctioned couch surfing. Tune into to networks like CNBC, Bloomberg, and FoxBusiness. When loved ones accuse you of wasting time watching TV, you can honestly declare that you’re educating yourself. And you will be. These channels used to be the province of the hard core investor and a lot of the material was over the head of the average Joe. However, they’ve all made great strides in gathering information that’s relevant at the personal level and presenting it in a way that’s easy to understand. The more you watch and form your own opinions about financial matters, you’ll find your fun increasing as you yell at the TV and throw things at the boneheaded announcers who’ve got it all wrong, in your opinion. What could be better than watching TV? Throw in some snacks and you’re well on your way to fun.
2. Find others like you and form a club. It’s not hard to find other people who want to learn about finance but are intimidated. Gather up a group of people and have dinner. Talk about finance in a non-threatening environment. Watch documentaries like “Maxed Out.” Trade tips and ideas. Learn from each other’s experiences and challenge each other to reach financial goals. Tackling things that aren’t much fun is automatically more fun if done in groups.
3. Read. Okay, so I’m the rare bird who finds reading enjoyable, but maybe you’re like me. There are personal finance books for every taste and agenda. Some authors are charismatic and entertaining to read. Some are dry and stuffy. Pick your poison. Head for Barnes and Noble or your library and cruise the shelves. You’re sure to find something that speaks to you. The benefit of reading lots of different books is that you’ll be exposed to a lot of different ideas and methods, all of which you’ll get to form opinions on and then spout them to friends like you know what you’re talking about. To make reading social, start a personal finance book club or introduce books to the group you gathered in number 2.
4. Make it a game. Games are fun, chores are not. Turn your financial chores into games or competitions and you’ll make them more fun. Have to shop for insurance? Then try racing the clock. Set a time limit and see how many quotes you can get in that period of time. Actively compete to get the best coverage for lowest price. If you get a low quote from one vendor but really want to use another, brazenly declare the other quote you got and ask them to match it. Repeat until you get what you want. Then do a victory lap around the room. Play buzzword bingo. Every time and agent/accountant/lawyer spouts off some overused buzzword, mark it off on your card until you get bingo. Paying off debt? Draw up a thermometer like the ones charities use to track giving, except draw yours so that the money “fever” goes down rather than up as you pay down debt. Or do this for savings and draw it the correct way. Every time you reach a goal or finish a chore, do a victory dance. You earned it.
5. Compete against people you can’t see and don’t know. There are literally thousands of personal finance message boards on the Internet. Many of these offer challenges (cut your grocery bill, reduce your debt, etc.) that you can compete in, either actively by posting your own successes and failures, or passively by lurking on the forum and doing the challenge on your own. There are also lots of great tips to be found in threads like this.
6. For some “lift your spirits” fun, try comparing your situation to other posters on Internet forums. (Silently, in your head, please-never, ever be mean or judgmental where people can hear or read your thoughts, that’s just mean.) You’ll probably come out feeling downright superior. There’s always someone worse off than you and it can be strangely fun to revel in misery that’s not your own.
7. Set it to music. Create an iTunes playlist that is full of peppy pop, angry heavy metal, or soothing classics-whatever gets you ready to tackle your finances. Play it when you have financial work to do. It makes it less painful than total silence, trust me.
8. Invoke your creative and playful sides. Personal finance can be highly creative and playful. Why settle for a boring black and white spreadsheet for your budget when you can do something more colorful on the computer? Throw in some fun pictures, colorful text, print it on neon paper, and the whole thing doesn’t seem like such a downer. Hang out in the office supply store and get colorful notebooks, files, or paper to make record keeping fun. Give in to your inner child and get some stickers or other artwork for your filing system. Label it in crayon if you want. Fun check styles are available for probably less than the boring ones your bank sends out. Get some fun stamps to make bill paying more entertaining. Get a cool novelty bank in which to keep your spare change. (Think favorite comic book character, car, or animal. There are all kinds of banks to choose from. Some even talk!)
9. Deal with it. Part of making finance fun is dealing with it in a timely matter. The longer you put off balancing the checkbook, dealing with the bills, or reducing your expenses, the more out of control and painful it gets until it’s almost impossible to find any fun, anywhere. Part of keeping finance fun is staying on top of things. It makes things easier, which is automatically more fun. It also makes it possible to turn things into games or challenges because the stakes aren’t so high. When it’s not so overwhelming, it’s easier to laugh and smile at the whole business. (See number 10).
10. Don’t take it so seriously. Yes, your financial life is serious business. It requires serious attention to make sure you can retire comfortably and that your loved ones will be taken care of if something happens to you. But really, it’s not that serious every single day. Unless you’re living in poverty, then most likely you can relax and have at least a little fun. If you screw up, so what? Who hasn’t? Chances are good it can be fixed. If you’re in debt, you can probably get out with some effort and sacrifice. If you’re facing a mountain of chores like taxes, insurance quotes, making a will, etc., take them one at a time, work on it until you can’t stand it any more, and then move on to something else. Don’t know what to do to solve a problem? Educate yourself and ask questions of others.
There are lots of things in life that can and should trigger a good panic attack. Finance generally isn’t one of them. Most financial stuff falls under the heading of “Hassle,” rather than “Life or Death,” although some media people and advisors try to make it feel otherwise. Make everything as fun as possible and relax. What you don’t do today you can do tomorrow. Don’t take it all so seriously, lighten up, laugh, and move on.
If you’ve managed to carve a little fun from this list, great. Sorry I can’t suggest anything to make those taxes more fun, but that’s stretching it, even for me. If you are a hard core fun seeker and can tell me how to make even taxes fun, I’m all ears. Otherwise, I’ll be hiding under the bed with all you other tax payers.