Spending habits that make you proud require a combination of mental energy and planning
I close the Illumint office between Christmas and New Year’s Day each year. I really value spending that week with my wife and kids. So I make sure to set aside time in November and early December to complete any necessary end-of-the-year tasks.
Whether we travel or stay at home, this off-week often includes a few slower, quieter days. I like to devote these periods to replaying the past year and mentally planning for the year ahead. The end result looks a lot like a fresh set of new year’s resolutions. Yet, I’ve found that being married and a parent has changed the goals that I set.
From Making to Keeping Resolutions
Approximately 93 percent of adults set resolutions each year. Most people pledge to improve their financial habits, travel frequency, or physical appearance. And most people fail, especially if we measure success over an extended period of time. This statistic is well known at this point. Online articles probably offer more advice about sticking to resolutions than actual resolutions.
For me, the goal-achievement strategy on which I’m most focused now is how I direct my attention. Like many people, I burn too much mental energy on distractions or trivial subjects. We criticize e-mail and social media as the main sources for our mental fatigue, but the list of culprits is long. I believe that I can get closer to the life I want if I concentrate my mental energy on the thoughts and decisions that matter most to me.
My budget meetings with clients inspired my increased focus on attention. Spending habits that make you proud require a combination of mental energy and planning. When you’re stressed or tired, you lose some ability to think critically about financial decisions. Everyone has these moments, though, which makes the planning so important. When you’ve thought in advance about what purchases you value and what you want to limit, you have a framework in place for your most vulnerable days.
Even an Imperfect Budget Can Help
I often meet with couples who have never attempted to create a budget. Or they feel that their spending habits are so variable that a framework seems impossible. But spending money without intention or a budget is like checking e-mail all day. Each individual transaction may not be egregious, but you still hamper your ability to work toward more meaningful goals.
Creating the Conditions for Strong Spending Habits
My personal efforts to prepare for fatigue start with creating a buffer between work and my time with my family. I need a scheduled break — a bicycle commute, a workout, or some light reading — to become more mentally present at home. Otherwise, a decision or question that I’m mulling will stick in my thoughts even after I’ve closed my laptop. I may be in the same room as my wife or kids, but I wouldn’t be giving them enough of myself.
Similarly, the key to achieving financial resolutions depends on channeling your attention in productive ways. Many people have good intentions and set well-defined, achievable financial goals. Yet, they haven’t also created the conditions necessary to make progress on a consistent basis. Ultimately, we may reach important life goals sooner if we focus on making good use of our mental energy, rather than the actual goals.
Kevin Mahoney, CFP® is the founder & CEO of Illumint, a Washington, D.C.-based financial planning company for young couples. He specializes in navigating the new financial decisions that arise during our late 20s and 30s, such as repaying student loans, buying a house, & investing savings. Kevin also works with companies and brands on a variety of Millennial-driven personal finance events and projects, including speaking engagements, financial wellness programs, and sponsored campaigns.