Want to hit your financial goals in 2024? Don’t try so hard
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Just three weeks from today, we will be well into the first week of 2024.
The new year’s resolutions will still be fresh. People will be starting a new gym, a new diet, a new budget, or maybe all of them at once, with the hope that this time, it will stick.
People tend to make a raft of resolutions each New Year’s, often including some money-related ones.Credit: Simon Letch
Today I’m sharing three things that will help increase your likelihood of hitting your goals in the new year.
1. Ditch the ‘overnight success’ mindset. So many of us fall prey to the idea that we can wake up tomorrow and be a whole new person.
You are bad at saving money, but somehow you think writing up a budget will inspire you to finally become a fantastic saver overnight.
You’re sick of being in debt, so you think starting on the 1st of the new month, you’re just going to force yourself to not spend as much anymore. You’re finally going to be disciplined.
What if the real key to achieving your goals was not how hard you try, but how simple you make it?
That’s not how the brain works. There isn’t a switch that you can just flick. Your current behaviours are supported by years of repetition, and likely an entire lifestyle, thought-process and environment as well.
Maybe you overspend because you have a social circle that engages in that behaviour, or your lifestyle makes it harder to cook at home, or you use spending to satisfy emotional needs.
If you don’t take the time to review how and why you have arrived at your current position, simply hoping you will be able to brute force a dramatic change overnight is a recipe for failure.
2. Stop trying to do more of what isn’t working. One of my earliest money mistakes was not setting up a separate savings account. I had one transaction account. I just thought that whatever I didn’t spend would sit in my account as savings.
I let this go on for quite a long time. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my system. I just thought there was something wrong with me: I wasn’t trying hard enough or wasn’t disciplined enough.
This is a mistake that keeps people stuck the longest. They keep trying what isn’t working, thinking that they just need to try harder. Here are some common examples:
- The hopeful budgeter: It goes well for a month or so until you lose momentum. Quickly, you’re out of control again. Your savings are going downhill again. So, you think you just need to start budgeting again. This time, you tell yourself, you’ll stick it out. But it never lasts.
- The guilty spender: You want to be responsible so you hold yourself back from spending, until eventually the dam bursts and you overspend. Now you feel guilty so you tell yourself you just won’t spend much for a few months. And the cycle repeats itself.
The problem is that you’re likely trying the wrong system or strategy, and there’s probably a much simpler and more effective approach than forcing yourself to try harder.
3. Focus on what will make the biggest difference. Often, financial goals fail because you’re focusing on too many small things all at once, instead of focusing on a few big things one at a time.
For example, people who are trying to save money may start: chasing savings hacks, hunting for bargains, trying to bulk buy items, buying second-hand on Facebook marketplace, tracking every expense in an elaborate colour-coded spreadsheet.
Does this stuff work? Sure. Is this stuff sustainable? Usually not.
It lasts the month of January, and then once the year starts ramping up and work gets busy, kids are back at school, your mum gets sick, then you struggle to maintain your focus on 65 different saving strategies.
Instead, focus on the 20 per cent of things that make 80 per cent of the difference (the Pareto Principle). If you could only take one action to move your finances forward, what would make the most significant difference?
For example, things like consolidating your superannuation funds, or making sure your superannuation is invested in the right portfolio are actions that are relatively simple but will have a much bigger impact on your long-term financial health than spending 15 minutes searching for the cheapest pasta-sauce.
You might have noticed that a common thread in this article is that people often mistakenly believe that the road to achieving goals has to be really hard, effortful, painful and complicated.
That’s why it is so hard to achieve the goal. That’s why they struggle to maintain the enormous effort that they think is required to achieve their goal.
What if the real key to achieving your goals was not how hard you try, but how simple you make it? What if trying hard was hiding simpler, more effective, more sustainable paths to the same destination?
So, next year, don’t try harder, try simpler.
Paridhi Jain is the founder of SkilledSmart, which helps adults learn to manage, save and invest their money through financial education courses and classes.
- Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions.
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