Every year in preparation for watching the Super Bowl, I get a 1-pound bag of peanut M&M’s to eat by myself. The first quarter of the bag goes down quite smoothly, but it takes real work to persevere through the rest of the bag.
Inevitably, with almost superhuman effort, I finish the bag. I do it, but I don’t feel that good when I’m done.
While this microcosm of my life may seem ridiculous, I suspect that there are aspects to your own financial situation that may mirror this behavior. Let’s look at a few.
Do you really want to achieve the goal that you set? I don’t know the year I established precedent on crushing M&M’s during the Super Bowl, but if I reflect on it, I don’t really want to do this anymore.
I see clients come in with specific objectives for their lives that, when they break things down, they don’t necessarily want. If you aren’t moving forward, you are going backward is a platitude, not a way to live your life.
We have had clients move into homes they didn’t want, leave jobs they loved, and soldier on in positions they hated, simply because it met some image of what success meant for them or how they wished to portray themselves to others.
But if they had instead reflected on the goals they set, maybe even decades earlier, they could have prevented making changes that detracted from their lives.
Has new information come in that should cause you to reevaluate? My M&M target occurred long before the impact of sugar became a topic of health conversation. What have you become aware of that may cause you to consider changing course from the path that you are on?
We often see clients in their retirement take on a day-care role for their grandchildren. Sometimes this works out beautifully; other times it causes resentment because the clients either don’t feel appreciated or are uncomfortable with the commitment they made. But they stew rather than unwind the responsibility.
They didn’t know that they would feel this way when they accepted the task. Now that they have new information, it doesn’t mean they need to endure things as they are, it means they need to problem solve other possibilities.
Am I doing something to distract me from what I should be doing? OK, truth be told, Super Bowls are often boring and I occupy my time by waiting for commercials and force-feeding M&M’s.
But with our financial lives, we can often find ourselves doing things that don’t serve us as a way to avoid doing things that we don’t want to do.
One of our clients is concerned about how much she spends on impulse purchases, yet in her free time, she is often surfing internet stores.
If you don’t want to eat sugar, don’t buy huge bags of M&M’s; if you don’t want to spend money, avoid the internet. Amazon is a $1.6 trillion company because of Prime and one-click shopping.
The best way to resist temptation is to avoid it completely. One solution for this client was to use envelopes with actual cash for her future purchases. When there is no cash, there is no purchase.
Understand the difference between self-discipline and self-control. I can avoid a bag of M&M’s completely easier than I can eat part of the bag. Understanding and accepting your style is more realistic than saying that it will be different this time.
People who tend to build up credit card debt often think that using a home-equity loan to pay it off is a good strategy. It generally isn’t, because when the debt is paid off, they tend to build it up again.
A better strategy is to reduce your credit card usage to one card or none at all. This limits your need for self-control and encourages self-discipline.
If you find yourself constantly bailing your kids out of financial jams you are enabling the kids to live a lifestyle they can’t afford. The child probably knows that you can’t or won’t say no, so they are doing exactly what you trained them to do — get in trouble and get a handout.
Sure, the lecture the kid gets is annoying, but to them it is worth it.
This is not only about the child’s self-control, it’s about yours.
We are each doing some things that we know we would be better off changing, yet for the reasons mentioned above, we continue.
I think next Super Bowl, I am going to replace the M&M’s with massive amounts of sugarless gum. At least it’s a start.
Ross Levin is the chief executive and founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.