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Reduce Decision Fatigue in Your Finances

Last week, I hit a metaphorical wall. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my body was fighting an infection while work required long hours, including weekends. Cue up bone-crushing fatigue.  😴

My husband, who wasn’t aware of all this, pops into my office that afternoon to ask a question:

“What would you like me to make for dinner tonight? I’ll take care of it.”

Me – “Anything at all.”

Him – “I’m happy to make it, but you just have to give me an idea of what you want.”

Me – “I don’t know. I can’t right now. You choose.”

 

Have you ever experienced that?

A moment where your brain is so tired that you cannot possibly make one more decision? Even about dinner?!

Welcome to the reality of Covid World, where the balls you normally juggle have suddenly multiplied like rabbits.

You used to think it was crazy to juggle fourteen balls, until your collection of balls grew , including:

  • How do I work with the kids learning from home during lockdown? Now I have to be a teacher and a baby sitter on top of my professional work.
  • Is there a way to have five minutes of total privacy, with no one around? How can I swing that? Is that even possible? Maybe the car.
  • What can I do to stay connected with my BFFs, whom I desperately miss, that doesn’t involve a screen when we’re under Stay At Home orders?
  • What do I do about the fact that our family’s teeth haven’t been cleaned in more than nine months, but now there are variants running rampant and it doesn’t feel safe to head out for medical appointments?
  • Summer plans? Hello? Will I go absolutely mad if I have to stay inside these same walls that I’ve been staring at for 398 days? Is it a bad sign that I’ve gone from talking to plants to now talking to inanimate objects? (Speaking for a friend here.)

 

I have heard incredible stories from my clients and Women’s Money Group members about the cognitive load they face because of Covid-19. This past year has been really hard.

Today, I want to reach out with a message that I’ve shared with many of my clients and it’s one that I’ve taken to heart, too. It should help in these challenging times.

 

Protect your energy

Do everything you can to protect both your physical, your mental, and your emotional energy.

In today’s post, I’m going to help with one aspect of that by sharing tips to reduce the number of decisions you need to make when it comes to your finances.

Save your all-important cognitive resources for bigger decisions that matter. Let’s get the smaller or easier stuff out of your brain.

The timing is good, because I extended my Spring Financial Decluttering Challenge to the end of April. Consider this part of your decluttering process.

Here, then, are four ideas to free up some time and make managing your finances easier. My goal is to help you reduce decision fatigue.

 

Tip #1 – Automate as much as possible ✔️

Don’t waste a single moment of time and precious mental resources hopping online to take care of things like bill payments. Doing that is inefficient for two reasons.

First, it’s a task that doesn’t need to be done manually.

Second, your bills don’t all come in on the same day, nor are they due at the same time. Dealing with them separately is inefficient.

Every time you put your hands on your computer or your phone to deal with an aspect of your finances is a drain on your resources.

If it’s a high value task, like reviewing your finances or making decisions about investments, then it’s worth it. Paying bills by hand? Not worth your brain power, unless there’s another reason you’re doing it. 

You can set up automated payments right from your chequing account or from the vendors’ websites.

 

Credit card bills?

Automate those. If you can’t swing paying off the balances in full, then automate an amount that exceeds the minimum payment to ensure you meet the card’s requirements, or pay whatever amount you have in your debt repayment plan.

Most credit cards companies have a form called a PAD – Preauthorized Debit form – which you submit to them to tell them a) from which account to draw monthly payments; and b) how much you authorize them to withdraw (i.e. the total amount owing; the minimum payment; or another amount).

The bonus with this system is that you will never again pay late fees.

 

Utilities bills?

Ditto. Automate those, too.

Do this for as many bills as possible. Follow these steps if you’re not sure what can be automated:

  1. Go through your credit card statements and your chequing account statements to see what shows up.
  2. Make a list of all your payments.
  3. Look into them to see if you can set up automated payments. Most vendors allow this.
  4. Put a date in your calendar to address this. Don’t just bury this on a to-do list. That’s just going to add to your stress. Get it out of your brain and into your calendar. Once you’ve done it, give yourself a high five! ✋

 

Tip #2 – Keep separate accounts for Essentials/Priorities and Other  🏦

In this blog post, I explain my values-based system of tracking three key categories of expenses: Essential, Priorities, and Other Expenses.

When you keep all your money in a single account, you have to track expenses carefully to ensure that you have enough money to cover direct spending, preauthorized payments, and spending on credit cards. That can sometimes be a balancing act.

Here’s an idea to make spending decisions simpler: Keep money for Essential Expenses and Priorities in one account (Account #1) and put the leftover money for Other Expenses in a separate account (Account #2).

Be sure to use a chequing account that doesn’t charge fees. The banks don’t need your help getting richer. Simplii Financial and Tangerine have online options, though my vote goes to Simplii for these reasons.

Put the money for all expenses that you’ve set up on a preauthorized bill payment system in Account #1 for Essential and Priorities. This is the pot where the money for everything that either has to be spent or is on a preauthorized payment system lands.

All the other spending goes into Account #2. Once all your Essentials and Priorities are accounted for, don’t worry about day to day spending on other expenses. If there’s money in Account #2, you’re good to go. Use your debit card for those purchases to avoid overspending. If you prefer to use a credit card for Other expenses, transfer the amount spent over to Account #1 to ensure the money is there for the automated credit card payments.

 

Tip #3 – Use your values to simplify decision-making  👍

It’s so easy to get caught up in the “Should I or shouldn’t I?” question when it comes to a purchase. Analysis paralysis is real!

Here’s a simple way to do a quick triage of potential expenditures: Run them through what I call the Values Test: Are they congruent with your core values? Are they in line with your values-based goals?

Don’t know your values or you aren’t familiar with my values-based system? Here’s a primer.

The key is to get clear on what matters most to you. It doesn’t matter if someone else thinks it’s silly or sensible, it’s all about what you want.

It’s your life and your money – you choose.

Once you know your core values, ask a simple question when you’re faced with a spending decision: Is this in line with my values?

If yes, check on affordability. Do you have the money for this?

If yes on both counts, proceed with the purchase.

If there’s a “no” to one of those questions, don’t buy.

Simple.

This strategy alone has probably yielded more impressive results and happy clients than all of my other strategies put together. It really is that powerful and can free up a ton of brain space.

 

Tip #4 – Defer the non-essentials  📅

Do you absolutely need to make this decision right now?

If not, then don’t. Put it in your calendar and deal with it at a later date.

I’m not talking about putting off important decisions that need to be made now; I’m talking about protecting your cognitive energy today and reserving it for the essentials.

Think of this as the equivalent of the triaging process in the Emergency Department. When you head over to Emerg, you don’t necessarily get an automatic pass to the back to see a doctor right away. It depends on what ails you. They only have so much bandwidth, therefore the medical staff start with the most pressing issues and work their way through the rest as they can.

And so it goes for you with your money.

If you don’t need to deal with it right now, put it in your calendar so you can get it out of your brain and deal with it at a later date.

You don’t get brownie points for maxing out your day. It’s about progress, not perfection.

Eliminate mental clutter and focus only on the things you have to at the moment. Your energy needs to be protected.

In these pandemic times, do what you can.

Reach out if you need help or a mental boost. I get it. I’ve been there!

I’m sending you all a dose of great energy. Hang in there my friends.

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2 Responses

  1. Addendum – an important detail was left out of the post. An excellent dinner was made and no more questions were asked.

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