Seth Godin recently wrote about being stuck. In his post, Seth describes four reasons we run into problems when trying to tackle any kind of project:
- We don’t know what to do.
- We don’t know how to do it.
- We don’t have the authority or the resources to do it.
- We’re afraid.
He proposes four deceptively simple reasons to explain any kind of impasse on whatever you’re working on. I decided to put this to the test and consider examples of each problem within the context of personal finance. My theory was that, if this kind of analysis worked on projects, it could also work to solve problems with our money.
You’ll recognize a few of the items on the list below from my list of 5 things we tend to procrastinate. I selected these issues because I hear about them from friends and family all the time, and they’re usually labeled as things “we don’t want to do.”
As I go through each scenario, seriously consider how understanding where the problem comes from affects your ability to start brainstorming a solution.
Ask someone who doesn’t bank online why they don’t, and you’re likely to get a variety of responses, including:
- They don’t know what to do: They don’t know how to get started with online banking, because they’ve never researched the process.
- They don’t know how to do it: They may be unfamiliar with how to use the Web or have never used online banking before. As a result, they’re not sure of how to translate what they’ve done by hand for years into an electronic system.
- They don’t have the authority or resources to do it: Maybe they simply don’t have an Internet connection or a computer at home, or they are not the primary money manager in their relationship.
- They’re afraid: They may be worried that entering passwords and looking at banking information online is less safe than banking in person. They could be distrustful of technology in general and unsure whether their bills will get paid or their account balances transmit over the Internet correctly.
I have many friends and family members who are unwilling to start investing. Perhaps:
- They don’t know what to do: Many people simply don’t know where to start–it’s not that they aren’t asking the right questions; they don’t even know what questions to ask. They understand that their bank is not providing even close to the returns they could be getting elsewhere, but they’re lost about where to look.
- They don’t know how to do it: Even if they know what they’d like to invest in, understanding how to do it (opening and funding an account, the research required, executing a trade, and managing a portfolio) can be a big challenge.
- They don’t have the authority or resources to do it: It could be that they’re legally prohibited from opening an account in their country of residence, or maybe they simply don’t have the capital to meet minimum account limits at their brokerage of choice.
- They’re afraid: Given the state of the economy, this is probably the most often-cited problem when people face investing. They may be close to retirement or decades away, but in either case, they are worried that their money will lose value sharply and they won’t be able to recover.
It’s extremely likely that you know at least one person in your life without the slightest idea of what their budget is or where their money goes every month. Could it be because:
- They don’t know what to do: Budgeting is like a country they’ve never heard of, and they use their checking account balance to know when to stop (and even that doesn’t always work).
- They don’t know how to do it: They understand that budgeting is something they need to do, but can’t get their head around how to go about setting one up or keep it going, and how to diagnose and fix common problems that plague budgets. Perhaps my budgeting series could help?
- They don’t have the authority or resources to do it: It could be that time is the issue, or that the systems they’ve set up at home don’t allow them to effectively track their expenses. It could also be that their systems are so complex that they actually paralyze their efforts.
- They’re afraid: Maybe they’re afraid to face their limited income and how it compares to their expenses. Perhaps it’s finally seeing what they spend versus where they’d like to be that has them shaking in their boots.
Writing Out the Problem
I don’t know about you, but when I have a problem that’s proving difficult to solve, writing it down and applying critical analysis seems to help in coming up with solutions. Doesn’t it feel like the same thing happened above? Just by categorizing the exact issue that prevents us from taking positive steps in our money life, we could start to come up with more targeted solutions.
What other money issues could you apply this to? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!