When it comes to your finances, it’s kind of like the nature vs. nurture debate. You can have all the financial knowledge in the world, but if you don’t have a handle on your behavior, you aren’t any better off than someone who doesn’t know a mutual fund from a credit union.
In fact, I think that behavioral techniques are more important than knowing which investments are best, or which stock broker to use. You can definitely reap some benefits from proper investing, but you can do a lot more damage by out-of-control behavior.
I think we all know the basics – pay yourself first, save 10%, pay your credit cards off every month, spend less than you earn, etc. But those things aren’t always easy for everyone to stick to.
The thing is, if you can manage a few of these basic behaviors, you can end up being as financially successful as someone who knows all the secrets of savvy investments. It’s kind of like dieting. Everyone goes for all the gimmicks and the quick and easy fixes, but if you can just manage your basic diet and exercise behaviors for long enough, you WILL lose weight – it’s inevitable.
So, what are some strategies to to get your financial behavior focused in the direction you need it to go? One thing you can do is to make it a game – set some goals, set some measures, make it highly visible with a big scoreboard and even some prizes you can win.
I put big post-it notes on my bathroom mirror to show my credit card balances each month so I can watch them go down, and then I have a big PAID OFF section where I can move them once I pay them off. It’s very satisfying to see them every morning as I’m brushing my teeth.
Another strategy is to get your friends and family to help you. Share your goals with them and ask them to be your cheerleaders as you take positive steps. You don’t have to share the specific numbers with them if you don’t feel comfortable, but you can share percentages or just the fact that you’ve set up an automatic savings plan or created a snowball plan to pay off your credit card debt. Once they understand that you’re serious about making changes, they can be really supportive.
Another thing that might be helpful in managing your spending behavior is to create some boundaries to keep the worst temptations at bay. Cancel your catalogs, unsubscribe from store Emails, and stop leafing through the sales inserts in your newspaper. Those things are all very carefully designed by marketing specialists to make items that you may not even need seem completely irresistible. Better yet, write something embarrassing on your store credit cards, so you won’t want to hand them over for a purchase.
Then once you’ve made some progress in the behavior area, then you’ll have the time to brush up on your investment strategies and give yourself the financial education you deserve. Then you’ll really be in the winner’s circle!