When you first start to save money, pay down debt, or untangle your relationship with money, maintaining your motivation can be a challenge.
Working toward your financial goals can feel too overwhelming (or downright scary to even begin) so instead, you keep ignoring it. Or maybe you feel like you’re not making progress quickly…so why bother? Or, perhaps, you start the month off with the best intentions but after a week or two you haven’t stuck perfectly to your plan. You figure “what the hell, we’ll try this again in a few months.”
I get it. My wife and I have been there. Working toward any goal can feel overwhelming at times. The key is to know when to let yourself rest and when to keep pushing forward.
So, here are six of my favorite ways to stay motivated when it comes to reaching my financial goals.
1.Visualize and Gamify
It can be difficult to stick to a goal if you don’t feel like the progress is tangible in some way.
If that’s something you experience, create a system to visualize the steps you’re taking to reach your goals. It may be keeping track on a chart hung up in a place you’ll see it every day. Maybe you’ll draw a dollar sign on your planner or calendar every time you transfer money to your savings or investment accounts.
I have a chart on my fridge where we keep track of our progress towards our down payment savings fund. Every time we save an additional $1,000, we fill in a bar.
Psst: You can download a customizable, printable version of my savings tracker. You’ll be able to set your own goals and milestones. Yay for visual motivation!
By visualizing how we’re leveling up in some way, we turn chasing our financial goals into a game. Since humans have a natural tendency to be competitive, gamifying your goals can help you stay motivated and stick to the course. By creating a gamified system for your finances, you might even start shifting your spending decisions so that you can get the satisfaction of coloring in another bar.
If you’re a really competitive person, you could challenge a partner or friend to a savings or debt repayment face-off, see who can have the most no-spend days in a month, or who can save the most money couponing in a set time frame.
2. Tell Someone
Sharing our goals with another person can cause us to feel more motivated to achieve them — plus, it builds in a certain level of accountability. Tell a friend what your goals are and ask them if they can encourage you and hold you accountable.
You can text them when you want to splurge on something you know you (maybe) shouldn’t and they can be your third-party voice of reason. In this scenario, peer pressure could be a good thing.
By saying what you want out loud, you’re making it more real and committing to making it happen. Hell, that’s part of why I started this blog.
3. Build in Room for Failure
One of the biggest roadblocks to maintaining motivation is not planning for struggle.
If we begin a project assuming we’ll be able to pull it off perfectly and we don’t anticipate bumps along the way, we set ourselves up for failure. When the first sign of trouble or challenge appears, we panic, self-deprecate, and sometimes even throw all of our hard work away.
I know that has happened to me on more than one occasion.
One way to avoid the ripple effect of “whoops” spending is to plan for the slip-ups. Build a little wiggle room into your budget. When we anticipate that hiccups will happen — and accept the fact that we’re not perfect — we’re able to move forward a lot faster and a lot smoother when we get off-track.
4. Celebrate the Little Wins
No matter the type of long-term goal that you’re working toward, you have to make time to celebrate the little wins along the way. It helps stoke your motivation and can make bigger goals feel more achievable.
Saved your first $1,000? Paid off a credit card that had been carrying a balance for the past few months? Automated your contributions to your retirement account? Crack open a cold one or bake a cake and invite some friends over to celebrate.
It’s important to celebrate you making good decisions for your future self! Just don’t break the bank for your celebration – that will just leave you with a celebration hangover (financial and otherwise).
5. Just Start
Don’t wait for motivation to strike. Create your motivation.
Motivation follows action; it rarely works the other way around. Once we start something we usually want to finish it. If you really want to get motivated, the best thing you can do is pick a direction and start.
Plan an evening to sit down with a cup of tea or glass of wine and get your bearings. Sort through all of your accounts (think checking, savings, investment, loans, and credit) and figure out where things stand. Open that online savings account you’ve been meaning to for months. Make that first deposit, even if it’s only $10.
The key is to just begin. Once you make that first step, the following steps start looking a little less scary.
6. Automate Yourself Out
If you can’t trust yourself to stay motivated, set everything up to be automated. Rather than relying on yourself to make the smart decision every week, why not make a smart decision just once?
If you’re in a solid financial place where you’re paying your bills comfortably, saving minimally (or not at all), and spending your remaining money on extra stuff, then automate a portion of your paycheck to deposit into your savings or investment accounts each pay period. Set your credit cards to autopay the full balance. Increase your monthly contribution to your student loan repayments.
Once you get started and have made decent progress on your financial goals, motivation stops being an obstacle or something you need to work to maintain.
At this early point for me, I feel very focused on the why behind what I’m doing and how my financial decisions are benefitting my life way more than what any higher level of spending could bring me. Getting clear about your “why” will be your best kind of motivation.
I hope that one of these tips helps you tackle your money goals (or anything else in your life). I used number five to write this article!