New year, new perspective (on your financial future)
The new year can set the stage for new beginnings. For those of you looking to better manage your finances, here are three strategies rooted in behavioral science.
The new year can set the stage for new beginnings. For those of you looking to better manage your finances – and, specifically, anxiety about your finances – here are three strategies rooted in behavioral science. Given the potential volatility and unpredictability to come, equip yourself with the tools to take care of your goals and your outlook, regardless of how the market performs.
Using these strategies can help you feel safer, more secure and happier in 2023 and into the future.
Focus on what you can control
One reason market swings impact our emotions and outlook so dramatically is that experience can feel like a loss of control. Money influences so many emotions because it represents things that are important – taking care of one’s family, giving a sense of safety, and providing the means to achieve aspirations. The thought of losing those things is scary and can send one’s emotions into a tailspin.
The standard advice is to accept the uncertainty and sit with discomfort. While learning to wrangle your emotions can help, it’s also hard to do. Here is some supplemental advice – focus on your personal goals, not just your “finances.”
Take just 10 minutes to mentally go over the big, important “buckets” of needs and hopes you have for next year. Ask yourself a few key questions:
- What are the essential expenses you can’t ignore and must be in your financial strategy?
- What important milestones and events can you already foresee?
- How much financial “slack” (for emergencies and unexpected expenses) will make you feel mentally and emotionally safe?
Then take each of these buckets and translate them into individual financial goals. Consider four fundamental components for your goals: a desired dollar amount, time period, priority level and a description.
If you’re stuck, work with your financial advisor to create a goals-based plan that’s custom to your needs. It's a financial strategy that can help you achieve what’s most important to you. Your advisor will spend time getting to know you – understanding your needs and desires, financial situation and what you want to accomplish with your money – then help you create a strategy that’s aligned to your intentions. Together you’ll build in space for unexpected ups and downs, and evolve the strategy as your needs change. A financial advisor’s priority is to help you take intentional steps toward the future you envision, despite market conditions.
Whether with an advisor or on your own, by redirecting your attention to making sure you have enough for your personal goals, you may have more peace of mind and achieve what you intend.
Develop habits and routine
Not knowing how things will pan out is scary, but creating structure and setting small, attainable, automatic goals can be powerful pillars to keep you going. Think about how you automatically transfer a portion of your paycheck each month to a 401(k) account. You investigated, made a decision and now “habit” takes over. A significant benefit of this is that you do not have to do the hard work of deciding – with each paycheck – whether and how much to save. Past you has already decided that for present, and future, you. It can prevent you from worrying every time. It makes it easier to weather the storms.
Automating important or aversive financial tasks (like saving for retirement or paying bills) frees up your mental space to focus on other things. Using technology can make you more efficient and simultaneously push you forward.
Similarly, by taking certain repetitive actions, you can establish routines to achieve important goals. Even something as simple as a daily coffee can provide a feeling of normalcy and agency. That feeling becomes even more powerful when it involves financial goals with larger, broader impact on life goals.
Write it down
After considering what you – and your family – want to achieve in the coming year, write it down.
Putting your collective resolutions on paper, being as specific and as detailed as possible, makes it more likely you’ll pursue that vision with a sense of shared purpose and accountability.
People generally can find it easier to stick to goals that are written down.
Why? As behavioral science explains: Creating a document that all family members share eliminates ambiguity, creates impartial accountability and eliminates the challenge of repeatedly having to conjure up everything to which they have agreed.1 The easier a plan is to remember, the easier it is to achieve.
The key is to stay focused on small, achievable goals. Following a routine and articulating a plan to achieve your goals can help you and your family create a sense of stability, especially in uncertain times.
These three strategies will help you carve out the time and mental space to focus on you and manage your finances. Time is a scarce resource, and after a year like this one it’s good to take stock of what matters to you. Happy New Year!