Written by: Corey Janoff
Financial planning is really a lifelong challenge of self-motivation. Nobody can force you to do something with your money. You can be convinced, persuaded, coaxed, etc., but you ultimately are the final decision maker. It is a lot easier to direct money towards things that make you happy (or think will make you happy). Therefore, if you can reverse-solve your financial goals for happiness, it can be easier to motivate yourself to achieve them.
It can be challenging to set financial goals and put money towards a somewhat arbitrary thing. Retirement planning is an easy example. Save 20% of your income for retirement. Why? Most people don’t even know where they’ll be working in 5 years, let alone what life will look like 30+ years from now, nor do they care to really sit down and think about it. Without a vision of what you want the future to look like, it can be hard to motivate yourself to achieve that goal.
What Makes You Happy?
When it comes to setting financial goals and developing a financial strategy, focus on a core set of values that make you happiest. Really think hard about what brings you the most joy in life. Sure, the new TV gives you a temporary dopamine hit when you buy it and the first time you watch it. But eventually you get used to it and there will be an even fancier TV out in six months that will make your TV appear obsolete and the temporary happiness boost is gone.
Everyone is different and has different things in life that are important to them. I have found that most people experience the most happiness when they have time and autonomy. The ability to do what you want and the available time to do it. Spending time with family. Being outside. Traveling. People who love their jobs are generally the ones who can work on their own terms (and sometimes end up working way more than 40 hours a week).
Start by sitting down and really thinking about when you are happiest. How can you work your way towards being able to do more of that?
Maybe you do a family game night once a month where you all gather around the family room and play board games together. Being able to play games with your kids brings you a ton of joy. Watching them grow, learn, and develop their skills. Maybe you also carry a lot of debt and feel pressure to work extra shifts to pay down some of the debt. Between all the extra shifts and other obligations you have in life, it can be hard to really be present during those family game nights. Well, if you can hammer away at the debt and not add new debt along the way, that could be a giant weight lifted off you. If your debts are paid off, you may not feel compelled to work extra shifts, which will give you more time and clear your mind to be more present during family game night.
Many people end up working extra shifts to fund a consumption-based lifestyle. This can add a lot of stress and lead to career burnout. Do you think you would be happier if you didn’t have to work those extra shifts?
If you could buy yourself more time, most people would do that in a heartbeat. More time to sleep. More time to pursue interests outside of work. More time to go to the kids’ soccer games.
Well, in some ways, you can buy yourself more time. If you have your financial house in order and live below your means, you could potentially scale back at work. Also, if you make an effort to avoid activities outside of work that don’t bring happiness to your life, you will have more time to do the stuff you enjoy.
This is all easier said than done, of course. But it starts with sitting down and asking yourself the following questions:
- What makes me happy?
- How can I structure my life and financial goals so I can do more of the stuff that makes me happy and less of the stuff that doesn’t?
It may not happen overnight, but you can gradually progress over time and each year do a little more of the stuff you like and a little less of the stuff you don’t like.
It’s OK to Change Your Goals
People change over time. What’s important to them changes. Their interests and goals change.
If you have young kids, the kids are probably the center of your universe. It’s their world, you’re just living in it. Maybe what makes you happiest is balancing spending time with the kids and spending time on the golf course to maintain your sanity.
As time goes on and children fly out of the nest, you may pick up new hobbies or develop a new outlook on life. Maybe you decide you hate golf and develop an interest in cooking and want to go to culinary school when you retire from your normal job. Who knows?! What makes you happy today may not make you happy in the future.
The point it, don’t stress too much about envisioning the exact way you want to live the rest of your life. Take your best guess and revise as time goes on.
The Process vs. End Result
One thing that may help bring you joy and motivate you to achieve your goals is the ongoing process of working to achieve those goals. If you are monitoring your progress over time and can see if you are on track to hit your desired goal, that will further motivate you to keep going. If you are ahead of schedule, even better. If you are behind schedule, that could act as a catalyst to accelerate your efforts.
Studies have shown that planning a vacation brings just as much joy to people as the vacation itself. The joy comes from the anticipation. Visualizing what you want to happen and taking necessary steps to make it happen, can be just as enjoyable as the end result.
Maybe you’re planning to run a marathon. Odds are you will develop some sort of training regimen. You will set benchmarks leading up to it. Run 5 miles. Run 10 miles. 15 miles. 20 miles. Start at 10-minute miles, then work to 9-minute miles, 8 minutes, etc. Whatever your goal is, if you can see yourself making strides towards that goal, that process is often just as enjoyable as completing the marathon.
Driving somewhere is easier and likely more enjoyable if you can see where you are going. Can you imagine driving somewhere blindfolded? That’s what most people are doing when it comes to financial planning! No wonder finances give people anxiety!
Invest with a Purpose
Investing just for the sake of investing is fine, but it’s hard to stick with a strategy unless you have an end goal in mind. As mentioned before, get down to the “why” of your financial goals. What am I investing for? Why am I doing this? If you have an end vision in mind, it will be easier to make meaningful progress towards that goal.
The person training for a marathon has an end goal of completing a marathon. They’ll make noticeable progress over time as they improve their distance and pace. The person going out for a weekend jog likely isn’t going to see the same results as the person training for marathon.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with getting a little exercise and maybe the goal is to simply maintain the current physique. Totally fine. That person has already achieved their goal and is merely in maintenance mode. They don’t need to make forward progress.
I can say from personal experience, it’s very difficult to motivate myself to go for a run just for the sake of going for a run. When I was playing sports, it was easier to motivate myself to get in shape for the upcoming season. When I was training to run a 15k a handful of years ago, I was able to motivate myself to run several days a week and gradually increase my distance over time. Nowadays, I find myself pondering whether the additional years I may be adding to my life will ultimately provide more long-term happiness than watching football on my couch with a beer. I know I’m not the only one with this dilemma.
The point is, if you are starting at X and you want to get to Y, having a “why” behind the “Y” (no pun intended) will help you stay on track to achieving that goal.
Bringing it all back full circle, if that “why” ultimately leads to greater happiness, the motivation will be inherent. So start with happiness, then work your way backwards to set goals and develop plans around that.