The New Year is upon us, and I’m sharpening my pencil to outline my aspirations for 2016. I love talking to others about their goals, and I’ve recently been asked a few times, “how should I think about my finances in the new year?”
There is one goal that transcends individual circumstances and is universally relevant. It’s a goal I want to practice more in my family life. It’s transformative for anyone who wants to improve their finances (and shape the world around us). This goal is the driving force behind our work at Tiller. Simply put: become more aware of your spending.
We are what we spend.
Our closets, attics and garages are filled with our spending choices. The buildings in town, the design of your shoes, and the produce options at the grocery store are a response to our collective spending choices. Every dollar we spend is a vote. If we want to change ourselves, and if we want to change the world, then we should focus on where we vote with our dollars.
Technology makes spending easy. We can swipe or click and spend with ease. For most of us, it’s challenging to say with any specificity where we actually spend our money. Spending is as easy and mindless as using “um” or “like” in a sentence. We speak these words, but we’re not always aware. I do this all the time.
So how do we build awareness of our spending? It’s concrete and simple: sit down each day and review the money you spent. If you share finances with someone else, do this together. There are many tools that make this easy. You can do it with a pen and pad of paper. You can do this with software. A spreadsheet works well, and Tiller eliminates the data import hassle.
Next, think about how that spending aligns with what’s important in your life. As part of this resolution, jot down your values and priorities on a sheet of paper. Don’t get stuck on trying to make this perfect. This is a living document. Over time, you’ll cross some out and add others. You can bring out this page each night when you review what you’ve spent.
The three minute daily spending review.
Reviewing your spending doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes. In exchange for those minutes, you’ll find that you rapidly build awareness about your money. You’ll start to pay attention to the flow of what you spend. You’ll see trends. You’ll notice changes. You can ask, “how does my spending align with my values?” The more you think about it in terms of what you’ve spent, the more you’ll think about it before you actually spend. Then one day, magically, you’ll find your spending starts to shift. Your spending begins to align more closely with your priorities and values.
We’re all busy. Where do we find three minutes? Good question. Even a few minutes can be hard to spare, but think about how much time you make earning that money. Let’s say you spend 40 hours or more a week working to generate income. Three quiet minutes focused on reviewing your spending each day is less than 1% of your work time. You’re still spending 100x more energy making money than paying attention to spending.
Awareness leads to progress
Yesterday I talked to James, who is now 50, and he expressed his disappointment that his family had not yet bought a house. He sells cars for a living and makes a good income. He rattled off all of the dirt bikes, road bikes, cars, and things he’s bought over the last 20 years. Owning a house is really important to him, but he and his wife don’t own one yet. If James writes down what’s important to him and watches where he spends, he’s much more likely to make progress towards those priorities.
Do this for a week, and you’ll become more aware. Do this for a month, and you’ll notice small changes. Do this for a year, and you’ll notice big changes. Do this for several years, and you’ll transform your relationship with money.
What are your goals? I’d love to hear about them. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And good luck with a great 2016!