I’ve worked with clients for a while now, and one thing I see over and over again is overwhelm. Our lives are so complicated, juggling family, work, leisure time (if we’re lucky!) a second job or business, kids, unreasonable customers… I don’t need to tell you this, you already know it. And the more we pile on, the more we sink into the details and the harder it is to see the big picture.
So we start flailing around. Work on something for five minutes, then spring to the next thing. Shout at our kids while we try to write an email to the boss. We’re proud of “multitasking” yet we’re aware that we don’t really give anything our full focus, so we have this suspicion that we’re really not doing our best work at anything.
Oh my gosh, I’m stressing myself out just typing this! But I’m trying to make a point – if you are chaotic with your time, it is probable you are chaotic with your money, too. You may be tossing dollars at things hoping that you can improve all parts of your life, but there is no focus, so nothing gets better. In fact, things may be getting more chaotic and hard to deal with. And one day you turn around and realize you have ten credit cards carrying balances, and what do you really have to show for it? Are you traveling the way you always wanted to? Do you have the retirement funds you know you should have? What have those dollars really accomplished for you?
There is no simple solution for this, but I can tell you there is a simple first step: pick one thing and work on it. You can see an example of this idea in the Debt Avalanche (or its sister method “Debt Snowball”) method. If you don’t know what that is, allow me to give you a quick explanation. With Debt Avalanche, you list all of your debts. You write down the current balances, the interest rates, and the minimum payments for each. Then you arrange them in order of highest interest rate to lowest. Then, while you are paying for the minimums on all of the cards, you choose the debt at the top and throw all the extra money you have at it. When it is paid off, you take all of that money and go to the next debt on the list, and so on until they are all paid off.
So what you are doing is choosing one debt and creating a laser focus on it. All your efforts go towards paying off that one debt as fast as possible. And this has a couple of benefits. There is never any question of where extra money will go. You already know that, so you don’t have to expend any brainpower wondering or debating yourself. Also, it creates a clear reward path. As you pay off debts, you can see clearly how you are improving your situation.
You can extend this technique to a lot of things. When you understand your Bare Bones Number, you create this focus in your budget. You always know that you have to cover your rent, utilities, and groceries before anything else. That focus creates clarity.
You can also use it for your savings. When you prioritize your savings goals, you can concentrate on the goals that will bring the most value to your life. And again, it creates clarity. You don’t need to wonder where that money is going, you’ve already made the decision.
I don’t want you to think that this is a magic bullet. It takes an understanding of your own values to create clear plans for yourself. And it takes discipline to carry out those plans over the long term. And that is where the rubber meets the road. But I do want to tell you it is possible to create clarity from chaos in your money life, and this is a great way to start!