Finding Motivation and Meaning in the Drudgery of Personal Finance

As passionate as I am about managing my own finances, I’ll be the first to admit that some of the tasks are rather dull to me. For example, filing away documents is about the last thing on earth I want to do, and I often put it off so long that there is a mountain of bills and statements that need to be sorted and filed when I finally get around to it.

The challenge is that it’s much easier to say “forget it” and do something fun than to do something you consider to be boring, especially in your free time. Sure, there are the essential things that you have to do to have a manageable house – like cleaning the kitchen – and other things like pumping gas, but when it comes down to inessential things like filing papers, the siren’s call is very tempting.

So how does one find meaning in such drudgery? Most of us have found it very affirming to see that our strong financial moves are paying off, but how can we make that positive feeling stretch to more boring tasks? While it’s not realistic to believe that filing is fun, here’s what I do to make boring personal finance tasks less so.

The biggest step is to make connections between the things you’re doing and the improved financial state you’re in. When you’re filing credit card statements, go back and look at the one with the highest balance and compare that to your newest one. It’s pretty hard to not feel good about positive progress when you can make such strong comparisons so easily. If you’re figuring up your net worth, compare that to where you were a year ago at this time and you’ll likely be feeling quite good about things.

Another method is to use drudgery to improve your financial state even more. If you’re filing away your cell phone bill, take some time to look it over and see if there’s anything you’re not using very much. If you’re checking up on your investment accounts, take a moment to see if you couldn’t dump a bit more into retirement or maybe change your allocation around a bit.

Alternately, you can use it as a stick instead of a carrot. Make an agreement with yourself to do the drudgery before doing something fun, or as “punishment” for making a really bad personal finance move. This is often a great way to make yourself get started, while the other suggestions can add meaning during the practice. I often do any filing I need to do before doing something purely fun, like playing a video game or chasing my son around the yard. This way, the boring task is linked to something else, something you can meditate on while doing the task. For instance, if you had seen me filing the last time I filed a bunch of papers, you would have heard me whistling the tune to Super Mario Bros. 3, which I downloaded and played on the Wii for $5 afterwards for a very nice retro experience.

I also find that, as a general rule of thumb, the philosophy of just getting it done now works very well for me for most tasks. When I notice a stack of things to file building up, I usually just realize that it needs to be done – and just do it. That way, it’s not sitting there reminding me of something that I need to do but I’m just too lazy to tackle, and it creates a very positive feeling when I’m finished, giving me a sense of accomplishment.

Adding these ideas together doesn’t make filing or account reviews or paperwork fun, but it does make them more manageable and quite often more fulfilling than before. Instead of utterly dreading it like I used to, I can now usually get started without much prodding and I usually find that I feel much better about the experience, both during and afterward. Plus, by doing such boring tasks regularly, I’m actually keeping up with things, which is the best feeling of all.

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