3 Steps to Get Your Finances Moving in the Right Direction

There are three laws of motion. Today I just want you to remember Sir Isaac Newton’s First Law. From Newton’s Laws of Motion: “The first law says that an object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion, with the same direction and speed. Motion (or lack of motion) cannot change without an unbalanced force acting. If nothing is happening to you, and nothing does happen, you will never go anywhere. If you’re going in a specific direction, unless something happens to you, you will always go in that direction. Forever.”

I think this law of motion applies to personal finances. Your finances are like a stream that, if uninterrupted, will continue in the same negative direction. The force may increase, but the direction will remain the same. Many of us need to have some way to stop the downward financial spiral. Are you ready to figure out how to change the direction of your personal finances?

How to Get Motivated to Take Control of Your Finances

Step One: Identify why you have not previously taken control of your finances.

When it comes to financial decisions people are often paralyzed by indecisiveness and fear. The options, choices, and language is overwhelming -– Roth IRA, Traditional IRA, 401K, 403(b), Coverdell ESA, and the 529 Plan. You wish there were a Rosetta Stone edition for personal finance language.

You might say, “I really should be saving something for retirement”. But then after entertaining the thought for a moment you automatically begin to feel overwhelmed. So you do nothing

I recently read the book I Will Teach You To Be Rich and the author Ramit Sethi introduced the “85% Solution”. The 85% solution essentially says that it is better to start and know 85% and do it 85% right than to not start at all.

Here is a helpful illustration (adapted from what Sethi provided). Numbers are for illustrative purposes only.

  • If you invest in a Roth IRA you would have $600,000.
  • If you invest in a Traditional IRA you would have $525,000.
  • If you invest in nothing you would have $0.00.

It is better to do something, even if that something is not best. Sometimes we become so consumed by trying to do the best thing that we do nothing.

Step Two: Be prepared for a period where you will need to devote more time and energy to your finances

The book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich also introduced a key point in regard to establishing a financial plan. Most of the work involved in developing a good financial plan is on the front end. As a result, once the plan is in place the effort required to maintain it will decrease over time.

The following chart has been adapted from the material in I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

time-effort-matrix

The initial requirement of time, attention, energy, and intensity increases dramatically. There are changes to be made. Decisions to make. Articles to read. New skills to learn. Paperwork to fill out. People to call. It all seems overwhelming. However, you need to remember that your financial momentum has been going in an opposite direction. You are now trying to swim upstream. You will feel overwhelmed. You will feel discouraged. You will feel like you will never be able to accomplish your goals. But, once you adjust the momentum in your favor and you pass beyond the time, energy, attention, and intensity demanded, things will start getting easier. The easiest thing is to do nothing, and the worst thing is to do nothing.

Step Three: Start some new financial practices

At this point you will have set up some new practices. You may need to establish a debt reduction plan. A budget may be on your horizon. You may be looking at a meeting with your HR manager. You might need to meet with your financial adviser.

Remember that once all that initial leg work is done, you do not need to remake those same choices. In the future you will not making major changes or decision changes — only tweaking things occasionally. Before you know it, your investments are being automatically drafted and you are doing better financially than you ever have without the effort. At this point the effort will simplify, but your positive financial change will continue. This is because you have stopped the negative financial direction and are now starting to enjoy the downhill part of your financial plan.

What do you do to get past the hard part?

Well known proverb: “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time.

  1. Cut yourself some slack. Rather than trying to come up with the perfect financial plan, just try and come up with a good one. For now you are just trying to get things moving in the right direction. Take care of the major things and tweak later.
  2. Set small goals. What if you don’t save for retirement because you have always been overwhelmed by the options? Decide that in one month you will start investing towards retirement. This week read one article about the Roth IRA. Next week read one about he Traditional IRA. The next week read one on your company plan (403(b) or 401K)… On the last week commit to asking someone knowledgeable what they recommend. Here are more than 50 small financial goals you can choose from.
  3. Schedule appropriately. During the initial stages of trying to get your finances in order, commit a few hours on a Saturday or an evening in the week. Things will not change without your time investment.
  4. Find a like-minded person. There is probably someone at work or at church who is striving for the same goals as you. Locate a person who will ask how you are progressing.
  5. Look to the future. Remind yourself that this is a temporary time of commitment. In the future once the momentum has shifted you will get to ride back down the hill you are currently traveling up.


Author

By , on Apr 16, 2013
Craig Ford Craig Ford is a fulltime missionary in Papua New Guinea who writes Money Help For Christians and Help Me Travel Cheap, a frugal family travel blog. He is the author of Money Wisdom From Proverbs, has a Masters of Divinity degree, and (most importantly) eats homemade pizza with his family every Friday night.

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