Four Pillars of Financial Health: Pillar #3 – Following the Plan (Discipline)

Four PillarsDiscipline often sounds like an ugly word. According to dictionary.com, there are a few different definitions for discipline. I think most people think of it as “punishment inflicted by way of correction and training,” but in this context, it’s definitely more appropriately either “activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill,” or “behavior and order maintained by training and control.” Whichever definition you think fits best, Discipline and making choices to help you stick to your budget is critical to your financial health.

A budget as a plan is meaningless without action. Really, it’s just a list of numbers on a page. What makes a budget come alive and work for us is the choices that we make to adhere to those numbers.

When we’re talking about Discipline as part of the Math & Discipline approach to financial health, what we’re talking about is making informed choices. For example, if your budget is sound and is a well-made plan that says you have $300 available for groceries, then the Discipline part of the equation is the series of choices you make to work within that plan. That might mean changing the food types you buy. (For example, I went grocery shopping last night, myself, and I skipped buying cookies despite their being on sale. I only had so much grocery money to work with and I wanted fruit more than I wanted cookies. I had to make a choice.) It also might mean clipping coupons to stretch your dollar further. Maybe it means using services like Ruby’s Pantry to help cut costs. Maybe it means switching to a different brand of a certain foodstuff that is cheaper than the one you usually buy.

Whatever you ultimately decide for yourself, the point is that your Math should inform your Discipline. Your numbers inform your decisions. We’re all familiar with the phrase “champagne taste on a beer budget,” I’m sure. Well, that’s what we’re talking about, here. If you’re on a beer budget, you need to live with beer taste. If you’re uncomfortable with the choices that your numbers suggest for you, then I would recommend revisiting your budget and seeing if it addresses your values. What’s more important to you? Being able to shop for organic foods? Or slowly but surely saving money for that trip to Hawaii you always wanted to take? Only you can know that. But whatever you choose, your budget and, subsequently, your spending choices should (and need to) reflect that.

I think one potential hurdle to implementing Discipline could be that most people don’t seem to be active self-improvers. We are often pretty comfortable being who and how we are, regardless of how who and how we are is working out for us. In my post “Work Smarter, Not Harder,” I mentioned that I had some information available on change. Change isn’t something that comes very naturally to people. In fact, there are often some negative consequences to going through change, at least initially. Right-click here and choose “Save Target As” to download a handout that is all about the phases of change and how difficult they can be. As a result, people don’t often begin to improve their financial situations or lives until they have already had significant issues occur. For many people, it’s only when they hit a financial rock bottom that they begin to work things out for themselves. I know from experience– I was the same way.

One thing that can help with that, and give you further motivation to make decisive choices in your spending, is to set up some financial goals for yourself, long before you get into a troublesome spot. This goes back to Awareness, too– what do you want your financial life to look like? How about in five years? If you right-click here and choose “Save Target As”, you can download a goal planning worksheet. Try and come up with a goal for each time frame and see if it can’t motivate you to Follow the Plan.

Ultimately, once you have a plan in place, you’re going to have your best chance at following that plan by tracking expenses. If you’re using the Financial Wellness Suite, that process is made pretty easy. You can read about it on the Instructions tab, as well, but the thing I encourage people to do is start creating new habits. Get receipts for everything. Once you log those receipts, you’re free to toss them. Find a time that suits you to deal with those receipts. Some folks might find that doing them while you’re sorting the daily mail works. You might find that doing them after dinner each night works. Maybe doing them right before bedtime works for you. Maybe doing them first thing in the morning the following day as part of your morning routine is the way to go. It’s bound to be different for everyone. However it works best for you, find a time, create a habit, and watch how it changes your spending for the better.

There are other methods out there, of course, that can help you Follow the Plan, such as using smartphone apps or keeping a ledger or employing the Envelope Method. It’s all about finding the best system for you to stick to your plan, achieve your financial goals, and ultimately get control over your spending. If your Math and Discipline are working together as they should, your financial life is probably in pretty good shape. If you need help working that out, you know where to find us.

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