Six Weeks to Start Living a Richer Life
Having a budget is an important part of financial success. But, overthinking purchase decisions can quickly spiral out of control. When every expense is a source of $tre$$, your life becomes suspended in a state of analysis paralysis. No fun!
Happiness is an asset that should be protected and actively pursued, including in the context of your personal finance plan. And even though life doesn’t fit neatly in a spreadsheet, there are tricks to systematize smart spending choices that compound into a richer life.
<<PROPS TO PARETO>>
When it comes to effectively prioritizing spending, there’s one guy whose research has helped us immensely: Vilfredo Pareto. The underlying principle is that about 80% of impact come from 20% of effort. Unfortunately, the theory is originally born from observing unequal distribution of wealth. Modern applications of the maxim have made it popular as a general tool for prioritization. We apply the 80:20 rule to so many aspects of our lives.
Since we’re here to talk about financial management, in this case it focuses us on the 20% of our lifestyle choices that make-up 80% of our total spending. Of course we all have different spending habits, but for most of us that 80% goes to the essentials: housing, food, transportation, taxes and (increasingly for Americans) healthcare.
The trick is to put most of your personal finance efforts into judiciously managing these “big 5” categories.
The trick is to put most of your personal finance efforts into judiciously managing these “big 5” categories.A great shortcut to maximize your spending for greater fulfillment while limiting financial stress is to establish intentional spending guiding principles. These principles enable you to effectively control the purchases that have the most impact on your bank account and happiness, while enjoying guilt-free spending on the rest. Follow the steps outlined below and, within 6 weeks, you’ll have a valuable set of commandments that help you to worry less about budgeting and spend more intentionally.
<<WEEK 1-2: BE INTROSPECTIVE>>
The first few weeks are dedicated to self-observation. This is a time to embrace your observing ego and focus on yourself. If you have joint finances with a partner or spouse, you should each complete this step separately (no peeking!).
Gather three pieces of paper or open your preferred digital presentation app and start with three slides. Write these questions at the top of each:
Envision a future commemorative event where you’re the guest of honor: what characteristics or accomplishments are you Most Proud of that you want presented about you?
What actions or activities do you engage in most eagerly?
What are you doing and thinking about during the moments that you feel happiest?
Take 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to jot down any immediate thoughts that come to mind in response to these questions. Now set them aside.
Spend the next 7-10 days paying close attention to your habits, impulses and decision-making process (particularly when it comes to how you spend time and money). Keep a small journal or voice memo to record any important notes along the way. It will probably feel awkward and unnatural, but do it in the name of economic research!
Now revisit those three questions. Update and/or elaborate on your initial answers. Describe your feelings and behaviors as if they are someone else’s. The key is to be objective. Honest reflection is important to form the foundation for your spending commandments.
<<WEEK 3: COMPOUND CONCEPTS>>
Now it’s time to zoom out. Look at everything you’ve written all together. If you have a partner or spouse, compare your notes.
You should notice some recurring themes between your three areas. Highlight where you see those parallels. Hopefully there is also some commonality between you and your partner, but of course it is expected that there will be differences—those can be a beneficial learning experience!
Make a list of up to a handful of overarching priorities and ambitions that tie your thoughts together. Organize the overlapping concepts into those categories. Your guiding principles are starting to take shape!
<<WEEK 4: COMPOSE YOUR COMMANDMENTS>>
Grab another piece of paper or open a new digital document. Label this one “Intentional Spending Guiding Principles”. Feel the excitement building! You’re getting so close (yet still far away). Establishing your (joint) vision will require some creative and emotional exertion.
Now it’s time for another review. Look through your segmented list of themes from week three. Arrange the major categories in order, starting with the ones that are clearest and resonate the most with you (and your partner). Any that are beyond fifth on the list, just file away in the archives. The aim is to hone no more than five guiding principles.
Put your sweatband around your head because this is the moment to transform that bulk of notes into a finely sculpted script. For each of the themes, draft a personal statement that captures the most important takeaways and purpose for that guiding principle. Review, revise and repeat until you have 4-5 clearly articulated bullet points that are a reasonable 28 words (or less).
<<WEEK 5-6: SOCIALIZE (& REVISE AS NEEDED)>>
Finally you can give your cerebrum a break and take your super ego out on the town. As our wise friend Albert has said, “if you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Not only is this a chance to help assure your guiding principles make sense, it will help this feel less like homework and more like a worthwhile investment in yourself.
So get out of your own head and share what you’ve drafted with a few people you trust. Solicit honest feedback. Ask your confidantes questions to confirm they understand your points as you conceived them. The addition of external validation from someone you respect can be just what you need to overcome self-doubt and build the confidence to take action.
<<WEEK 6+: COMMIT & IMPLEMENT>>
You now have the fundamentals to support more intentional spending.
Consistently reference your tenets to prioritize where you invest your time and spend your money. Especially in situations that make you fret over finances, your guiding principles should pave a clear path to a guilt-free conclusion. Optimizing for the weight of that 20% can become less stressful and more habitual.
Incorporating spending commandments into normal routine also keeps us motivated along the journey through financial independence—and all of its ups and downs. Just like the markets fluctuate, and the only constant in life is change, your guiding principles will evolve over time too.
Schedule a full day every year (or maybe quarterly and/or biannually at first) to acknowledge where your commandments have helped versus where they fall short, and realign for greater fulfillment.
The purpose of going through these steps is not to end with a list that is forgotten in a folder or simply hangs on the refrigerator. These guiding principles should help reduce your financial stress by facilitating more purpose-driven spending that rewards you in greater fulfillment.
Need an accountability partner? Consider asking a friend or family member to join your journey—or ask us!—because this is the crossroads where you start putting your guiding principles into practice.
Thanks to Icons8 for the icons used in the Guiding Principles infograph