Block Women is to the left of the image with a black background cutout overlayed a brown wood wall.

Sometimes Meg’s Musings are just a random collection of thoughts I’ve had, without a unifying theme. Other times, I intentionally sort through my musings (which yes! I write down when they occur to me) for those fitting a particular theme.

And this time, I wrote down a few of my most recent, repeated thoughts and lo! a theme just happened to emerge. How fortuitous. 

The ex post facto theme of this collection is “Managing your finances in this here modern world is hard. Also, here are some strategies to make it easier and more effective.”

Put Time in the Calendar. And Protect It.

I recently glibly commented on social media:

My observation was most recently inspired by a couple I’ve just started working with. The wife was (good naturedly) uncomfortable answering some of the questions I asked. I was trying to better plumb the depths of her financial and life beliefs and desires. The goal of such conversations is to enable us to make better financial decisions, but the questions themselves were often not about finances.

The husband (who is much more into this thing) observed, after I stopped torturing the wife with requests for introspection, that he was really glad she’d answered those questions, because they never set aside time to have these discussions on their own.

So, while I might be able to ask slightly better questions than a non-financial planner would (seeing as how this is a skill I’ve been actively developing for some time now), the real value was the 90 minutes carved out of their day with the intention of talking about this stuff.

You owe that to yourself. You owe that to your spouse or partner.  

Work with a financial planner or not, but get that time on the calendar. Once a month. Once a quarter. Whenever. Put it in the calendar and protect the time.

This is important.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.

One of the parents in my neighborhood growing up, Mimi Zoby (RIP), was hilarious. She’s known in my family for many stories and witticisms, including this one: “If it weren’t for dysfunction, I wouldn’t have a family.”

Why do I bring that up? Well, first, because it’s fucking hilarious and anyone with a family will bear witness to that. 

Second, because it reminds me that we’re always going to have parts of our lives—including our financial lives—that don’t work well. There’s no escaping it. It’s normal. And life goes on.

The combination of personal finance (fundamentally complicated), social media (pretty universally un-nuanced and no accountability for or fact-checking of what you post), and the tech industry (optimize optimize optimize!) can be brutally unhelpful. We’re non-stop awash in messages about things we can or should be doing.

I see this manifest itself in clients’ questions or anxieties about what they should be doing in their financial lives. You will never finish the To Do list of ways to improve your personal finances, so it’s really important to identify what’s actually important to work on and what you can just leave alone.

Though there are 1000 examples, the one coming to mind right now is the questions a couple client has when they’re trying to figure out how best to join finances with each other. How should our bank accounts be set up? How should our paycheck and expenses flow through? Clients seem to think there is A Good Way of doing it, which is manifestly not the way they’re doing it. 

Now, sometimes they’re right! There is an obvious and maybe even necessary improvement to be made. But often not, so I’ll ask, “Is there any part of this that is creating a problem for you now?”

If the answer is, “No, it’s working fine for now,” I respond, “Great, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and (sotto voce) “Cause the fix will be administratively painful.”

You Aren’t Dumb. The World Is Hard.

In this episode of Freakonomics radio, Richard Thaler, a Nobel-prize winning Behavioral Economist, says “People aren’t dumb. The world is hard.”

I love this.

There are 1000 (I underestimate, I’m sure) pieces of the modern financial life that you’re trying to stay on top of. 

Some of them are essential to get right (ex., high enough savings rate, proper insurance, etc.). 

Many are nice-to-haves (ex., consolidating your old 401(k) into your current 401(k) or IRA each time you change jobs).

And a bottomless list (especially if you pay attention to social media) that you either can or should ignore. 

If there are only a few that are essential, what makes modern personal finance so hard?

  • It’s really hard to tell whether the task before you is essential, nice to have, or ignore-able, so we’re just left with 1000 different things we feel obligated to do, and we only do a few of them, and feel stressed out and ashamed about the rest.
  • The essentials are, unfortunately, huge. You know how much money it takes to retire? You know how expensive long-term care is? You know how devastating getting a disability can be? You know how expensive health insurance is (and then the healthcare you have to pay for even though you already paid for insurance)? If you’re not preparing adequately for these, you risk being in a very bad spot (or putting your loved ones in one).
  • Bureaucracies, more often than not, make it painfully, almost insane-making-levels-of difficult to actually implement many of the essentials and nice-to-haves. For example, have you tried rolling over an old 401(k) to your current 401(k) lately? 

I have encountered a lot of people—clients and otherwise—who beat themselves up for not doing their finances right. Or right enough. Some might even self-deprecate a bit about their intellectual ability to handle this.

If you have ever thought this way about yourself, I hereby counter with:

You aren’t dumb. This stuff is hard.

We Humans All Work the Same Way. Just Pick a Framework that “Speaks” to You.

Five years ago, I started training with the Kinder Institute to become a Registered Life Planner®. I had attended only the first training (a two-day session called “The Seven Stages of Money Maturity® Training”) and already I was struck by the similarities between it and the ideas discussed in the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. 

What was the truth that inspired both the training and the book?

Human behavior is driven by emotion not by logic. If we want people to do something, we need to help them find their emotional attachment to that thing, not explain it to them with facts and logic.

The book uses the framework of an elephant (your emotional brain), a rider (your rational brain, sitting on the elephant, trying in vain to change the way the elephant is going), and the path (the direction your rider is trying to get the elephant to go, i.e., the “right,” rational direction).

I remember a couple catch phrases from the book (which I’ll likely get slightly wrong here): 

  • You have to “motivate the elephant” (tap into the emotions) 
  • “Clear the path” (remove obstacles in between you and the desired behavior)

In the Kinder-verse, you use the “Exploration” and “Vision” meetings to explore and define a client’s ideal life. Then you have the “Obstacles” meeting, in which we identify (surprise!) potential obstacles on the way to building that life and plot out how to overcome each obstacle.

Through all of this, we’re looking for what elicits emotion in the client. If you sense emotion, you’ve found “the good stuff.” They even have this slightly corny definition of emotion: E-motion is Energy in motion. Corny, perhaps, but also speaks to the underlying truth of human behavior.

If you start paying attention to (legitimate) people talking about behavior change, I bet you’ll notice that they’re all fundamentally saying this same thing. They just have their own lingo, their own framework, their own technique. 

If you have found a framework that works for you (as I did with Switch and then the Kinder training), wonderful. Work it.

If you want a thinking partner and accountability partner along this complex path we call modern personal finance, reach out and schedule a free consultation or send us an email.

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Disclaimer: This article is provided for educational, general information, and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. We encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Flow Financial Planning, LLC, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.

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