Let's be real for a minute.
The vast majority of Americans are not saving enough to ever be able to retire and we all spend money in ways that don't serve us very well - at least not in the long run (anything more than about 10 minutes).
If you are like most people, you know you could make much better financial decisions on a daily basis. You WANT to make better money choices, too (at least in theory) ... and yet you don't.
Why? Because you have been indoctrinated to believe that making good financial decisions always has to involve pain, sacrifice and self discipline. It is HARD to be smart with your money - that means giving up the joy of spending money and having fun.
An article posted recently on the MintLife blog (How to Keep Your Willpower Muscle from Wearing Out) is a perfect example of how this lie permeates every article about personal finances. The article starts with the assumption that good money choices have to be difficult ...
... but here's the second reality check. Good financial choices don't have to be hard at all. In fact, when you are making smart financial decisions, your life is better in both the short run AND the long run. Your decisions are easier and you wind up with more of whatever is most important to you - a better quality of life.
The first step to affecting positive change with regards to your spending is to accept your spending for what it is. That actually means you must KNOW what it is, not have some fuzzy idea about it.
Track your spending or use a financial tool to do the work for you, but don't try to put that spending into the context of a "budget." Budgets always involve pain and sacrifice. That means that while you might be tracking your spending, each transaction is also being judged as "good" or "bad."
It is that judgment that causes the problems, not the tracking. Of course, the judgment eventually causes you to give up on the tracking.
BETTER IS BETTER
Rather than focus on the absolute judgment of "good" or "bad," just work to make your spending decisions "better." Even if they are only a little bit better today, you are still making progress. A little bit of progress or a lot of progress is still moving in the right direction so there is nothing for you to beat yourself up over.
Even if you don't make any progress today or even make a slip, it's not the end of the world. The work you did yesterday and the day before still has you on track. Just make an effort now to move back in the right direction.
ATTENTION, NOT WILLPOWER
It's not willpower that you need to take the first (and most important) step towards better financial decisions. You simply need to pay attention ... and be nice to yourself and accepting of the situation for what it is.
Doesn't that seem a lot easier and less stressful than mustering all this self-discipline and willpower to resist the temptation to do what you are naturally wired to do (seek short term pleasure)?
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