When you decide to work on improving your family’s financial picture, it’s easy to attempt too much, too fast.
Maybe you want to pay off several debts, cut your monthly spending on non-essentials, increase your retirement savings, or refinance your mortgage. You get all fired up, and put all of these tasks on your “to do” list. And you have the best of intentions to get them all done.
But as you get started, you’ll probably realize that each of these bigger tasks has lots of moving parts: Before you can pay off your debts, you have to free up some extra money to throw at them. So you start looking at your monthly expenditures, to see where you might be able to save a few bucks.
Say you decide to cut the cord on expensive cable and install an antenna to pick up local TV stations. That one choice leads you down a wormhole of other decisions: Where you will buy an antenna? How do you install it? Can you get all the TV shows your family loves with just an antenna, or will you need to consider adding viewing services like Netflix or Hulu?
By this point, you may be exhausted. You might actually end up ditching cable and installing the antenna, but then you lose steam. The debts you intended to pay off? Maybe next month. And the other stuff on your money to-do list? It’s hard to remember: What were those other things you intended to do, anyway?
The answer: Focus on one money “fix” at a time.
- Pick the task that bothers you the most, or the one you think might save you the most money right away. But pick just one goal. Write your to-do item on your ongoing projects list, jot it on a sticky note and attach it to your on your computer or refrigerator, or enter reminders about the goal in your electronic calendar. Use whatever method works best to keep the task top priority.
- Jot down the next physical action you need to do to move this task to completion. For instance, if you’re refinancing your mortgage, your next action might be “Research rates online.” After that step is complete, your next action might be “Call my current lender about rates and refinance options.” Be as specific as you can in listing these next actions. In my experience, it’s much easier to overcome procrastination on a tough task if you know exactly what your next step should be.
- Work on just this task until you get it done. Of course, you have to keep paying your ongoing bills, but I’m suggesting that you don’t add a “new” money fix-it item until your first task is done. That might take a few days, or even a few weeks, depending on how complex it is. It can be tough, but keep yourself from wandering onto your next money fix until this one is completed. You want to laser-focus all of your energy on that one task. If you’re familiar with financial talk show host Dave Ramsey, this “one thing at a time” approach connects nicely with his “Baby Steps” approach. It’s also simpatico with blogger Leo Babauta’s approach to changing habits on Zenhabits.net. He calls it “One Goal.”
- When you’re done, move another “money fix” to front and center. Give it the same kind of undivided attention you gave your first task. By the end of the year, chances are much higher than you’ll have achieved a half dozen or so money tasks, one at a time. If you try to do four or five at a time? Trust me, they’ll all be half-finished and you’ll wonder why you can never get anything done.You’ll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish with a little bit of focus.