4 Ways to Put the Fun Back in Finance

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Finance and having fun can fit together, it just takes some creativity. Of course, some strategies are more fun than others.

Example of a lame way? When I was a financial consultant, I’d perch a bowl of candy on my desk as a consolation for those who dreaded coming to see me to talk retirement goals.  "Wish this were more fun?   Here, have a miniature Krackel.  In fact, take three."

Or take my friend Kate Lombardi, who lives in Westchester County, N.Y., and uses a check book that reads “Joke Book” on its cover.  When her husband asks her to use it for bills, she says, “I just pour myself a drink and hope it goes quickly.”

Gulp.  

Have hope, though, says Bill Gustafson, the senior director of the Center for Financial Responsibility at Texas Tech University.  He is faced daily with the unenviable task of speaking to a lecture hall full of non-majors about financial planning (yikes). But he insists that there are ways to make budgeting exciting, without resorting to sugar highs and Scotch.

Here is his four-point plan:  

1. Give Yourself a Reward

An easy trick for couples is to set aside a small amount of money for a monthly bill paying completion celebration.  When you and the missus (or mister) are finished paying all that month’s bills on time, take 50 bucks and blow it on a dinner and a movie.  The point is to turn yourself into one of Pavlov’s dogs, associating your regular financial planning with a reward.  This also, of course, works if you're single.

“You can even celebrate with a walk in the park, which consumes less money,” says Gustafson. “But have it be a special, regular reward, directly linked.”

2. Set Up Countdown Calendars
When it comes to big numbers, don’t count forward, only backward.  Take your mortgage.  If you sit down to pay it with the 20 years or, say $300,000 you have left in mind, it is intimating. That’s a big, nearly incomprehensible nut, and being cowed is never fun.  Gustafson suggests a Great Mortgage Countdown. Make a reverse, tear-off calendar that counts down the months left until you're paid off. Once you make a payment, tear off that sheet and stomp on it in a dance of joy.


3. Involve the Kids
Gustafson once knew a minister who, over a period of time, involved his three sons in monthly bill paying, as well as long-term planning.  Not only did the sons grow into knowledgeable spendthrifts, but the man of God got more than he ever thought possible out of household cash management.  He got a lasting teachable moment.    

4. Think in Bigger Terms
Financial planning can appear very small ball.  Pay out a water bill here and the contractor’s invoice there, all while skirting overdraft.   Unless you have a natural affinity for such details, they will probably induce narcolepsy. But if you are a big picture person, Gustafson suggests thinking in bigger terms, like your goal of financial security or a comfortable retirement.  Gustafson helps run a clinic where financial planning majors help counsel graduating students and even professors, keeping that larger, holistic goal in mind.

“At that level, financial planning is quite altruistic,” he says.  You are taking care of your family, a parent or a friend. At Texas Tech, they are sending people out on the right path in life.  And that, at heart, is a fun and rewarding notion.  

Of course, even Gustafson does not get too taken away with financial planning. 

“Actually,” he said, “I do like the idea of booze.”    

Cheers.

 

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