As I write this post, we are 21 days away from the start of the new year. Whether you are for, or strongly against new year resolutions, psychologists make a good case for fresh starts, and the new year is one of “temporal landmarks” that we can use to improve our lives. I also bet that whether you believe in resolutions or not, with the year we have had, you are already thinking how 2021 will be different. It is human to take the lessons we have learnt and to apply them moving forward.
The purpose of this post, as the title states is to make it easier for you to achieve your money goals in 2021. I want to be ambitious and say that if you read this post carefully and action on the tips I share, you will no longer resolve “to be better at managing my money in the coming year”.
Why resolutions to be better at managing money rarely work
Whenever the topic of personal finance comes up with friends, and even acquaintances (this will happen often if you write about money), most people will say this:
” I would like to be better at managing my money”
“I really should be better at managing my money”
“I will reach out to you so you can teach me how to be better at managing my money”
The above and other similar sentiments are a good starting point. Knowing that you need to get better at something is good. But the sentiment is not enough, and expressing this sometimes can get in the way of actually doing something about it. When you tell me (or your friends) that you want to get better at managing your money, we will congratulate you, affirm you, and encourage you. This feels great, and it often will trick your brain out of actually doing anything substantial about your intentions. Social psychologists call this social reality. This 3-minute video by Derek Silvers explains it further and has references to research done on this.
So there you have the first step. If you intend to do something about your money, keep it to yourself especially at the beginning. There is a time to share your goals, keep reading and we will get there.
Intentions are good, but what do they really mean?
Once you realize you intend to change something about the way you manage your money, you need to set a vision. The word vision may sound lofty and intimidating, but it does not need to be. To me, your vision states where you want to end up at. If you are starting out on this, keep your vision simple and clear. Here are some examples of a vision:
- I would like to have an emergency fund in place so I can stop feeling anxious about money
- I would like to start off on the path to save up for retirement
- I want to buy some agricultural land
Think about 2021, and state the one thing you would like to achieve money-wise. Keep your vision positive. “I want to stop xyz” is not a good vision statement, as it focuses on the negative, as opposed to envisioning a positive thing you want to achieve. This kind of statement comes in handy further down on this guide.
Quantify your vision into a goal
So far, we have intentions, we have a vision, but we do not know exactly how much it will take to make our intentions become our reality. Converting our vision into a measurable goal gives us a clear and defined target to work towards. I like the timeless acronym SMART that is used to what a good goal should look like:
Let us take the emergency fund example. How do you convert this vision into a goal? By;
- Being specific: My goal is to have an emergency fund in place; then
- Making your goal measurable: In the next 12 months, I would want to have set aside 3 months worth of my basic living expenses as an emergency fund. Note the words I have highlighted. The sentence highlights the quantum of my goal (3 months worth of living expenses), and the time it will take. You can even get a bit more specific and state how much in total you want to have set aside by the end of the period.
- Ensuring that your goal is achievable. This means making sure you have the capability and/or the skill to do this successfully. Do you know how to set money aside? This is not an inane question. The ability to set money aside and watch it grow does not come naturally to most of us. If you are not one to do this, then what do you need to put in place to make this goal achievable? We will talk about this in the next step.
- Checking to make sure your goal is realistic. Can you achieve the goal you have set for yourself, or is it too lofty, similar to my new year resolution to get abs that I am yet to achieve 10 years after I made it? Can you realistically save 3 months worth of living expenses in a year? How much do you need to set aside every month. Is this amount achievable? Are you clear what you need to change about your current lifestyle to achieve it?
- Timely: This is about ensuring that the goal aligns with your reality. For example, if you are struggling with debt and can barely make ends meet, then maybe a more timely goal would be towards paying off a specific debt, to free up the repayment amount so you can start setting up an emergency fund. Yes, I believe you should have an emergency fund even when you have debts. This post explains why.
Decide what needs to change
Money habits are a lot like healthy eating, or exercise habits. When you resolve to start exercising and set a goal, it does not end there. You have to change things, for you to move from the non-exercising you, to the exercising you. There is something exercise has to replace in your life. Money habits are the same. You have failed to achieve your goals before because there is stuff you are doing with your money (or time) that you need to stop doing, so you can start doing the things you need to do, to achieve your goals.
This can be changing your spending habits. For example if you order food a lot because you hate cooking, it could mean setting time every Sunday to cook for the week, so that you are not tempted to order food during the week. It could be that your choice of socialisation involves overspending on your entertainment budget, in which case you have to think of alternatives that do not cost as much.
If your goal is to earn more money, it could mean hiving off some time off your Netflix time to work on a new art, or to build something. It could be being more deliberate in looking for job options out there, if you have been saying you need a better paying job but have not done much about it because you are comfortable at your current job. It could mean setting a calendar appointment with your boss to discuss a plan to promotion.
Something has to change.
Set yourself up for success
This is the final step, and it involves removing decision making, and willpower from the equation. Why? Because willpower is not reliable when it comes to building habits and achieving goals. Motivation is great to get us started. For example, it is motivation that has gotten you this far on this post. But it will not keep you going. What keeps you going is having systems that remove motivation from the equation, such that every day, you do not have to make a decision for you to work towards your goal. There are a number of ways you can do this:
- If your goal is to save KES xxxx off your pay cheque every month, set up a standing order of that amount to either a limited-access savings account or a money market fund account. This standing order should go out as soon as your salary checks in.
- If your goal is to meet with your boss and discuss a pay rise, right after this set a calendar date and email them to set up an appointment, even if this date is six months from now. This means that when the day comes, your feelings will not matter, you will get it done.
- If your goal is to stop overspending, open a spending account, and convert your income account into a limited-access savings account. Set up a standing order of only what your spending amount is per month, from your income account to this spending account and stick to the budget.
Those are some of the ways you automate your goals. If you have some goals but cannot think of how to automate them, email me to set up a 30-minute session where I can help you think through your 2021 goals. I charge a small fee for this (KES 2,500 or $25) and at the end of the session you can expect to have an actionable way forward in achieving the goals you have for the year.