Financial Planning

Procrastination Doesn't Pay

Waiting for the next stage in your life to get serious about your finances? You're wasting time and money. Here are seven tips to help you get going now.

You know how it is. You'll start investing as soon as you get a raise. You'll pay off your debt after you feel more established in life. You'll get health insurance when you have children. Basically, you'll get serious about your finances ... tomorrow.

In one of my favorite musicals, Meredith Willson's The Music Man, professor Harold Hill cautions, "You pile up enough tomorrows, and you'll find you've collected a lot of empty yesterdays." Not to mention, you'll collect a pretty empty financial future, too.

Fact is, when it comes to your money, procrastination can be downright expensive. If you put off such goals until you have more cash, a better job or whatever your excuse is, you'll waste precious time and money.

Consider this: If 25-year-old Jessica starts investing $100 a month for ten years then lets the money sit, her stash will grow to $174,928 by the time she turns 65 (assuming an 8% annual return). If Lisa waits until age 35 to start saving and socks away the same $100 a month for the next 30 years, she'll have only $135,940 by 65. Lisa will have spent three times as much as Jessica but will end up with nearly $39,000 less. (See how quickly your savings can add up.)

Don't let your foot-dragging trip up your financial future. Whether it's investing, budgeting, saving, digging out of debt, getting organized, landing a better job or some other financial goal, here are seven ways to help you beat the procrastination habit.

Just do it

1. Give up your dreams of perfection. Many procrastinators are also perfectionists, says Michelle Tullier, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Overcoming Procrastination. You think you have to be perfect, and if you can't be, you don't want to do it.

For instance, if you're trying to cut your spending, you might worry about slipping up now and then, so why try? Because trying is still good. Tell yourself you aren't going to let a desire for perfection stand in the way.

2. Rethink your approach. Find a method of managing your finances that fits your lifestyle. Sometimes success comes more easily when you look at a problem from a different angle.

Say you're dragging your feet in setting up a budget. Saving receipts and tracking every dime on an Excel spreadsheet isn't for everyone. Perhaps you'd be better served by putting cash into envelopes labeled with spending categories each month. When the money runs out, you're done spending. Or maybe an old-fashioned pencil and notebook are all you need to keep track of where your money's going. Or you might find that an online budgeting program suits you. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to most money matters.

3. Delegate. If you don't have the time or motivation to complete a financial task, hand over the responsibility to someone -- or something -- else. For instance, sign up for automatic bill paying with your bank or creditors so you don't miss a payment again. Arrange for automatic deposits into your savings or investment accounts, too.

You can, of course, delegate tasks to a real person. If you've been handling your family's finances and things are falling through the cracks, hand over part of the responsibility to your spouse. Or if you put off filing your taxes and make costly mistakes at the last minute, find a tax pro to do it for you. You don't have to do everything yourself.

4. Take baby steps. Sometimes, a task seems so overwhelming that you simply don't know where to start. Say you've got a mountain of debt to remove. Start by paying off a single credit card with a low balance. That small success will give you the confidence you need to move on the next, and so on (see How I Kicked the Credit-Card Debt Habit).

5. Team up. Sharing your goal with friends or family members is a great way to stay motivated because they'll hold you accountable. You might even find it helpful to blog about your goal and have a bunch of strangers on the Internet offer encouragement. When you hit a rough patch or lose your motivation to finish your task, you'll have a support system to help you carry on. See Get a Money Buddy to learn more.

6. Face your fear. Perhaps you're putting off a certain financial task because you're afraid of failure. Or maybe you don't feel money-savvy and are afraid of the unknown. Cowering will only keep you from reaping rich rewards. Instead, face your fears. Think of the worst-case scenario and then come up with a rational way to deal with it. You'll feel better knowing you have a plan.

For example, starting to invest is a scary prospect for many young adults. And the fact that the market has seen better days probably doesn't help to allay those fears. The solution: get educated and choose investments that spread your risk. See Conquer Your Fear of Investing for more excuses and tips to overcome them.

7. Reward yourself. With many financial goals, the monetary reward doesn't come immediately. It takes time to build savings, change bad habits, pay off debt and more. The trick to staying motivated is to break up your big goal into small, short-term milestones and reward yourself when you reach them. Besides, rewards will make working on your task a heck of a lot more fun.

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