We all want to be financially secure.
But on the road to financial success, we’ve swerved out of control and smashed headlong into retail temptations that reduce us to mere smoldering scraps of wreckage.
Our brains are wired to spend.
Willpower is weak.
We all fall victim to retail seductions.
It’s hard to think about personal finances when you’re in the store caressing the fine leather handle of a designer handbag or tapping the bright screen of a shining new iPad.
Life gets in the way of the best laid plans to pay down credit card debt, catch up on late bills, and build a nice fat nest egg.
But it doesn’t have to be this way….
Make Your Success Effortless
Let’s face it, we’re only human. Instead of fighting our human weaknesses, perhaps we should simply acknowledge them, accept them, and then create an environment that allows us to succeed despite our human failings.
In fact, we can make our success almost effortless simply by adapting our surroundings to support our goals.
Chip and Dan Heath, in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, illustrate exactly how it’s done.
Remove the Human Equation
Industrial machines claim the lives and limbs of workers every year.
Yes, supervisors spend countless hours creating in-depth training courses. They force their workers to sit through safety videos. Warning signs advise of the danger: KEEP HANDS CLEAR OF THE MACHINE.
Yet accidents still happen, largely because we humans are fallible. We make mistakes. We get careless. We take shortcuts. We ignore the warnings.
But what if there was a better way? What if there was a way to change the environment that guaranteed safety, regardless of human lapses in judgment?
As Chip and Dan Heath explain, industrial engineers change the environment, making it human-proof by designing machines that take human shortcomings into account.
“… one machine was designed so that it can be activated only if two buttons are pressed at the same time. The buttons are positioned so that to press both of them you must place your arms high and wide (like the “Y” in the YMCA dance). The beauty of this arrangement is that, if your hands are pressing those buttons, they are (by design) nowhere near the danger zone. And if they’re not pressing the buttons, the machine is off. Either way, your fingers win.”
Recognize human vulnerabilities, then create an environment that guarantees success despite them.
It’s Time to Make Your Financial Success Human Proof
- We’ve all seen the safety videos – Who hasn’t watched the Suze Orman Show, followed the Clark Howard Show, or sat through a financial news program?
- We’ve read the training manuals – Personal finance books are everywhere, from Personal Finance for Dummies to Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Make-Over. And…
- We’ve encountered the large warning signs – “Don’t Spend More Than You Earn”, “Save 10% of Your Income” and “Avoid Credit Card Debt”.
Yet, our financial well-being is amputated by temptations, inattention, and lapses in judgment. But like the industrial floor manager, we can design our environment to prevent disaster and ensure success, despite ourselves.
Here are a just a few examples …
Pay Yourself First
As personal finance expert David Bach would say, make it automatic. Take the human equation out of your spending. Have money deducted directly from your paycheck into a savings or investment account.
No longer will you be left at the mercy of willpower alone to achieve your financial goals. You’re much less likely to spend money that never reaches your hands.
Ditch the Temptations
Imagine trying to lose weight with kitchen cabinets overflowing with junk food and a refrigerator chock full of ice cream, soda, and chocolate cake. No doubt, it would be difficult.
Yet, we surround ourselves with the same types of financial temptations. Throw out the catalogs. Unsubscribe from the retail e-newsletters and ditch the Groupon notifications. Remember a deal is no deal at all if it’s something you don’t need in the first place.
Shop Without Credit
We can easily change our shopping “environment”. Have you ever considered shopping without your credit cards? Make a practice of leaving them in your car’s glove compartment. I know it sounds drastic, but so are high credit bills and running out of money before the end of the month.
When you see something you “must have”, take a walk back to the car to retrieve your credit cards. I guarantee half way back to the car most of those “must haves” will turn into “didn’t needs”.
Change Your Route
Have you ever been driving home from work only to give in to the temptation to stop by your favorite book store, retail shop, or Starbucks? Take charge. Change the environment. Reduce the temptations by altering your driving route.
Personal finance blogger Trent Hamm of the website Simple Dollar did exactly this.
“If you’re like me, your route to and from work takes you by a lot of temptations. For me, there are two drive through coffee places and a wonderfully cozy diner open for breakfast on the way to work, and on the way home my route takes me by an enormous bookstore and a nice little ice cream parlor, too. These places all tempt me to spend money that I shouldn’t spend, and for the longest time I was in the habit of spending some money at one of these places every day.”
By simply taking a slightly longer route to and from work that by-passed these retail temptations, Trent changed his “environment” and effortlessly kept more money in his pocket.
Reduce Your Plate Sizes
What’s this? Reduce the size of my dinner plates?
Yes, I admit this is not your typical financial advice, but it’s the exact type of shaping of your surroundings that makes creating wealth automatic.
Food psychologist Brian Wansink explains that we eat far more than we need to satisfy our hunger, all because of gigantic dinner plates. Thirty years ago the average dinner plate measured less than 10 inches in diameter. Today it’s exploded to 12 inches. No wonder we can’t sit in airplane or bus seats anymore.
By simply purchasing a 10 inch dinner plate set, your family will consume 20 to 30 percent less food, all without feeling any hungrier.
This is the perfect example of a simple change in the environment that automatically saves you money, all without any conscious thought. And with the average family grocery bill surpassing $6000 a year, saving 20% – 30% is nothing to sneeze at.
BMWK, now it’s your turn. What are some of the ways you’ve changed your surroundings or altered your environment to ensure your financial success?
Great post, as always. I like how your advice is never cookie cutter or generic- it’s always things that one wouldn’t normally think of, such as reducing plate size. Can’t wait to see if some of these work.