Budgeting, Personal Finance

Overcoming Financial Procrastination


Most people know that they need to actively manage their money. That means reconciling statements, reviewing investment choices, paying bills or making sure that auto-payments are happening, periodically checking for deals or better plan options on services, and learning about money topics so they can be informed consumers. Unfortunately, many people don’t do this. It’s not because they don’t want to, but because there are other things that seem to be more fun or important. They sit down at the computer or desk and jump back up again, eager to do anything but work on their money. Even cleaning the house can look good in comparison to sorting through the figures. It’s a form of procrastination and it tends to only get worse. The longer you put things off, the messier they get, and the more impossible they seem to deal with.

Since it’s difficult to make money matters as fun or thrilling as the newest blockbuster, you have to learn to get past the procrastination. While having some personal discipline helps, you can get around procrastination by making money management a habit. When something becomes a habit, you tend to do it without even thinking about it. Do you argue with yourself when it’s time to take a shower or brush your teeth? Do you look for other things to do to keep from performing these basic tasks? No, because it’s a habit you’ve ingrained in yourself. They aren’t fun things to do but you do them out of habit.

To make money management a habit, you need to create an appointment for yourself and then honor that appointment no matter what. Say, for example, that you will work on money matters for fifteen minutes every Saturday at 7 PM. (You can set the time for longer, if you wish, but when you’re just starting out hour-long blocks can seem intimidating and just lead to more procrastination. Smaller chunks of time are easier to take.) Then sit down on Saturday night and pick a money task to work on. Maybe you record new transactions in your checkbook, or you research insurance options. Maybe you review your investments to see how things are going or set up some auto-payments for your bills.

Whatever you decide to tackle, do it without interruption for those fifteen minutes. When your time is up (a timer can help) you can keep going if you want to, but if you decide to stop you can get up feeling virtuous that you kept your appointment with yourself. If you need to give yourself a little reward (like a piece of candy or something else you enjoy) you can do that, too, to give yourself a little more reinforcement.

Even if you don’t think you have a single money-related thing to do that day, keep the appointment. Read a financial article you’ve been meaning to get to, or visit a forum and see what kinds of experiences others are having. You may learn something from them. Keep that appointment, though. Once you’ve mastered fifteen minutes, you may want to try thirty minutes, or two fifteen minute sessions a week. Keep increasing the time until you’re taking care of everything you need to do. Eventually, when your money is more under control, you’ll find that the time required will go down. Still keep the appointment, but feel free to cut it down to ten minutes if that’s all you need.

The idea here is that, the more often you keep those appointments and leave the table with good feelings because, “Hey, I did something!” the easier it will become to sit down the next time. You’re forming the habit of managing your money. You’re incorporating it into your life, just as you’ve incorporated showers, eating, and other things you do on auto-pilot. You’re giving yourself positive reinforcement by patting yourself on the back and giving yourself a small reward. Eventually, these appointments will become second nature and you won’t feel the need to do ten loads of laundry rather than handle your money.

(Photo courtesy of hang_in_there)

7 thoughts on “Overcoming Financial Procrastination

  1. A lot of personal finance is about habits. It was hard to initially get around to setting up and recording all our spending in an Excel spreadsheet, but now that we do I have been fairly diligent about getting it all entered, and even find enjoyment doing it. Listing out a finance “to do” list can be very helpful as well so that you know what you COULD be doing in relation to your personal finances. I find career-related/money-making activities as essential to personal finance as well, so setting aside time to network, update your resume, research opportunities, etc. is also a good thing to regularly set aside time for.

  2. Part of handling finances is making it a habit. I think they say that most habits take 3-6 weeks to stick. When I first had health problems, I literally would forget to do anything. I had to leave myself post-it notes to remind me that I had laundry in the washing machine otherwise I would find it days later and we all know what kind of joy that is. Anyhow if I was forgetting laundry I was also having trouble remembering balancing checkbooks and paying bills, so I picked the day that my disability check would come on and Thursdays became my finance day every week. I would leave myself a post-it and would then do all paperwork necessary that day before errands and grocery shopping was done. I don’t need the Post-its anymore, but my habit is doing my financial paperwork every Wednesday now. It is an ingrained habit. I know before going grocery shopping how much money I have in my account and I know what big bills are coming up in a few weeks, like our estimated taxes that I pay on December 31 so I can get credit for having paid them in 2012. Other than finding a way to have enough money, I know I’m not forgetting things and no late bills.

  3. I’ve done a lot of structuring to make our money management easy. I have a “budget” that’s basically a “fill in the blanks” which I do as soon as I know the paycheck numbers. Bills are all on autopilot, except a few occasional, local ones which I -definitely- procrastinate on paying. Luckily those are just a phone call, so still only one step instead of several. Investments are all automatic, solid, long term, so better to ignore anyway (our choice). Finally, my financial software automatically takes care of downloading, reconciling, etc. I briefly check the numbers nightly, before shutting down the computer, and am aware enough of what we spend, that there are seldom surprises.
    I have to say, though, that my most dreaded task is preparing and filing for FSA reimbursement. There’s just something about the forms and the overall bureaucracy that makes it dreadfully dull, and just a pain. If I had to file for all insurance payments, I’d be sunk for sure!

    Oh, and tax time. ARGH!!!!

  4. For a lot of people, once you start savings, it can get addictive. You start to challenge yourself to see how much money you can save or by how much you can juice your return.

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