I’ll be perfectly honest. Even though I make a living writing about personal finances (and enjoy reading and writing about the subject), I have to make a concerted effort to stay financially motivated with my own finances. For those that have little interest in personal finances, but still want to get their finances in order, the power to stay financially motivated is many times more difficult.
One of the most difficult aspects for anyone wanting to get their finances in order is finding the motivation to do so. Just the thought of tackling it can stop many from even beginning. It can seem like a massive endeavor to undertake and even if you manage to jump-start yourself into action, it can be even more daunting to maintain focus.
The following are my methods to help me stay financially motivated. While they work for me, not all the steps may work for you. I think it’s worthwhile to give each step a try before dismissing it outright and in doing so you should be able to put together a motivational system that helps you stay focused and works well for you. Even better, this system can be tweaked and used to help motivate you in many other life goals you have once it has been established.
Write a list
I hated lists and thought they were worthless for the longest time until I learned to create lists that worked well for me. While writing down what your financial goals are may seem obvious, I know from personal experience that it’s often the hardest step to take. Thinking about all of the different financial steps that need to be done can paralyze you into doing nothing at all, but once have written them all down, you have a master list from which to begin tackling the tasks. Simply having them there to read and refer back to makes it easier for me to motivate myself to work toward them.
Set financial goals
Once I have made a list of all the financial tasks I need to accomplish, I take some time to turn these into specific financial goals. One of the most important points when setting goals for me is to make them specific and to place a time limit on them. If I’m fuzzy with the goal or fail to place a time limit on it, there is a much greater chance that it will not be met. For example the goal, “I want to fund my retirement account” is doomed to failure for me. There is no time limit and it it’s fuzzy in that it doesn’t give a specific number. On the other hand, “I want to add $25,000 in my retirement account within five years” is a goal I’m much more likely to achieve since it is specific in the amount of the goal and time frame. The more specific I can be with my goals, the easier it is for me to take the steps needed to achieve them and to monitor and record my progress.
Create concrete and personal reasons
If I don’t have a concrete reason as to why I want to achieve a financial goal, it won’t get done. If I know why the goals are important to me and why I want to achieve them, I have a reason to stay motivated in reaching them. The more solid and exclusive the reasons I can list for each goal, the more motivated and dedicated I end up being in my motivation to achieve them. “I want to have the resources to fulfill my dream to travel to Europe with my wife” is a more concrete and personal reason for me to want to save for retirement than “my financial adviser says it’s important.”
Create mini goals
One of the biggest problems I had with my goals in the past was that they were too big. My goals tend to be rather large and I often gave up because they simply seemed too far off and impossible to achieve. Once I learned to break the major goals down into smaller, mini goals my financial motivation skyrocketed. Saying that “I want to have a $5,000 emergency fund within the next 4 years” seems much more difficult than if I break it down and say “I need to save $25 a week for the next 4 years to reach my emergency fund goal.”
Keep a daily financial journal
I actually don’t keep a financial journal anymore, but I found it extremely helpful when I first started getting my finances in order. I know people who do it as part of their overall journal while others write it specifically about finances. Some do it online while others choose to write it by hand. The reason I found a journal so helpful was that it allowed me to look back and see that I was actually making progress toward my goals during those times when it seemed like I wasn’t getting anywhere. Going back through it and seeing where I had started and what I had achieve up to that point put things back into perspective and made me realize that although things seemed not to be going correctly at that moment, overall I had made major strides toward my goals.
Don’t keep it a secret and involve the entire family
I used to keep my goals to myself and worked on them by myself. Although it is a bit uncomfortable, I soon figured out that I was much better off when I let others know my goals. The discomfort comes from knowing that I had committed myself much more thoroughly than if I had kept the goal a secret to myself. I was now accountable to others as well as myself making it much harder to back out or give up on my financial goals. What I also learned was that letting others in on my goals created a support network that would help motivate and encourage me when times got hard.
I also share all my financial goals with my wife and encourage her to do the same with me. Involving my family in my financial goals works in my interest since we have much better chance of completing our goals as a team than if we each tried to accomplish them entirely by ourselves. I have found that the more people I involve by letting them know my goals, the more input, advice and ideas I receive to help me reach those goals.
Keep goals visible
I can see my main financial goals as I write this post. They are sitting above my computer pinned to a cork-board on small square pieces of paper so that every time I look up, they stare right back at me. I used to write my financial goals in a book, but what happened is that the book would sit on the shelf, closed, and the goals would slowly fade as I attended to other things. I would periodically open it and think that I really needed to work on them more, but then the goals would fade as the book remained closed until the next time I opened it. By placing all my goals prominently in a place I see them everyday, it ensures that they don’t slip my mind and reminds me what I’m working toward.
Do the most difficult goals in the morning
There are always some goals that are easier to get motivated about than others for various reasons. I used to avoid the harder ones leaving them for last, but that basically guaranteed that they would not be accomplished. My solution developed over the years has been to do the things I like least first. When I look at my list, I start with whatever is my least favorite thing. I usually have more energy in the morning and this at least allows me to begin working toward it. I also have the motivation that I can work on things I enjoy more once I am able to complete it.
Chart your progress
Although I no longer keep a daily journal, I do continue to chart my progress on a monthly (sometimes weekly) basis. Doing this allows me to see how accomplishing the mini goals adds up over time and that doing a little bit on a consistent basis gets me closer to my financial goals. It also shows me areas where I may not have been placing enough effort so that I can refocus and place more energy into working on them.
Join financial communities
Just like with friends, being part of a financial community has helped me stay focused on my goals and gives me another support layer when my motivation is down. It’s a place where my true identity can remain anonymous, but I still can be held accountable through my online identity. I’ve learned that no matter how hard things have been for me, there are a lot of other people who have been in the same position or are struggling with the same problems. With every one aiming for the same goal of bettering their finances, I can learn from those that have already gone through what I’m going through and get support when family and friend aren’t giving as much as I hoped.
I’ve never been a patient person and this has been one of the most challenging aspects for me to stay motivated. I like to see instant progress even though I know that most progress comes from doing things slowly, but surely. I have to constantly remind myself that everything is not going to change overnight, and that it’s going to take a long time at a steady pace to reach my financial goals. Understanding this and knowing that progress is being made even when it doesn’t necessarily appear to be happening (again, a great reason to have a journal and monthly reviews) keeps me from giving up.
I would never be able to remain motivated if I didn’t give myself small rewards as I made my way toward the financial goals I have. I find that giving myself rewards is important to help keep myself motivated and helping me get through some of the harder times. My favorite foods are always great rewards to help keep me motivated and they don’t cost a lot. Reach a mini goal, go get some ice-cream and cookies (now what could be better than that?) You know yourself best, so choose anything that you and your family enjoys doing together to reward everyone for helping to make progress toward your goals.
Be prepared for setbacks
One of the first financial lessons that you will learn is that no matter how well you prepare and how many precautions you take to avoid trouble, there will be times when unexpected setbacks occur. Even though I don’t enjoy them, I understanding that these setbacks will come about, and I have in place support mechanisms that will help me overcome these obstacles and stay on track toward my goals. For me, it’s when these unexpected setbacks occur that being part of a financial community really pays off. It’s a place that I can let out my frustration and realize that it is only a temporary setback and not a permanent one.
These are the steps that I take to help keep myself motivated toward my goals. If you have other steps you take that help you stay motivated, I encourage you to share them in the comments. It’s through learning new ways that people motivate themselves that you can best cherry-pick those ideas that work best for your situation and personality. I’m always looking for new ways (as I believe most are) to keep myself motivated during those times when it’s not often easy to do so.