If you’re thinking about sorting out your money but keep putting it off, you’re not alone – our research shows that financial procrastination is common. After all, doing a budget, setting up automatic savings, comparing the deals on utilities and insurances, or choosing what to invest in probably isn’t your idea of a good time!

We’ve put together a list of what can help. Even if you’re not a financial procrastinator, these techniques will still be useful – they also work when you’re putting off other things in life.

Make sorting your money more fun

We tend to procrastinate things that are not fun and do things that are more fun, right? Financial tasks, for most people, are firmly in the ‘not fun at all’ category, but we can change that. Injecting more fun into personal finance is how many ‘financial gurus’ motivate people to do the ‘boring’ stuff.

For example, Australian finance writer Scott Pape invented ‘barefoot date nights’ for couples – a series of dates with set financial topics to talk about. He goes as far as suggesting the type of restaurant and cuisine for each of the dates, to match the financial topics to be discussed.

In the US, Suze Orman offers finance kits in large gold boxes, and the tools have powerful names like ‘debt eliminator’. Dave Ramsey invites people who have paid off their debt to do a very loud, public ‘debt-free scream’ on his radio programme.

Adding fun does not have to go as far as the examples above. Sometimes all our brain needs to feel better about a task is associating it with our favourite music, a pleasant scent, a comfortable chair or other small pleasures. Be creative and design your personal finance sessions to be fun, or pleasurable, or both.

Get clearer on what each money task will take

We’re more likely to procrastinate when there are unknown factors – like how to start, how much time and effort the task will take, or what the outcome will be. Financial tasks, especially when we haven’t done them before, are often murky and unclear in this way.

If you’re uncertain what the task entails and how long it will take, start by doing research – like reading guides on Sorted. Limit each research session to a set time or number of articles, so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Procrastination can also be triggered by uncertainty about how the task will make us feel. Financial tasks can cause feelings like:

  • Embarrassment (when adding up the spending on takeaways over the last year)
  • Incompetence (when looking at dozens of financial products with complicated features)
  • Sadness (when realising that paying off debt means no nights out for a while).

Again, the way to deal with it is to shed some light on it. Rather than feel vaguely anxious about our unknown emotional reaction, reflect on what those feelings might be and name them. This will make them much easier to face.

To sort your money, boost your energy levels

Budgeting or financial planning requires a lot of mental energy, and a common reason for procrastination is lack of energy. If you are always busy or tired, try to work on the task in small chunks of time, such as 5 or 10 minutes, that easily fit into your day. The feeling of having started and seeing your progress will energise you to find time to finish the task.

A more advanced technique is reducing the number of decisions you make each day to free up extra willpower and mental energy. When I have a challenging week ahead, I decide in advance on as many details as I can beforehand.

I prepare full outfits for each day of the week. I decide on the menu and pre-cook and freeze the meals, or write lists for groceries and cooking tasks, so I don’t have to think about what’s for dinner, etc.

I don’t do this every week (some people with demanding jobs do), but I find this really frees up extra energy at times when I need it for something like a financial planning session.

In each money task, find your ‘why’

It is easy to just see the boring paperwork in front of us. Yet reflecting on why we want to do something can reignite our enthusiasm.

Something I like to do is think about money in terms of hourly pay – like how many hours it’d take me to pay for something I want to buy or how many hours of pay my investments will get me each year.

Depending on what your spending looks like, an hour of identifying and removing unused subscriptions or switching providers can net you hundreds of dollars (or many hours of pay) over the next two to three years.

When it comes to KiwiSaver or investing, the difference can be thousands of dollars. If someone else offered you that amount for a few hours of work, would you do the job? How would you feel about it?

You can also ‘try on’ your new identity as a financially sorted person. How will you think differently about yourself? What will your family think?

The biggest challenge is to start. Dealing with finances gets easier over time once you experience how good it feels to be financially sorted.

Start with our 6 steps – and no need to procrastinate!

Celestyna Galicki is former Research Lead at Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission, where she crunched data and kept across the research on how to be better with money.

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