Getting your personal finances in order can be daunting. Not many people want to confront how they are spending and saving their money, so they put it off and let problems compound. Wharton marketing professor Wendy De La Rosa has some simple advice to make the process less stressful: take a financial health day.
Like a mental health day, a financial health day offers the chance to disconnect from the daily pressures of life to focus on the task at hand, relaxed and without judgment. Open that college fund you’ve been meaning to set up; increase your retirement allocation; roll over that 401k from three jobs ago; cancel those subscriptions you haven’t used in months.
“The No. 1 thing all of us can do is take a look at the calendar and give ourselves a financial health day,” De La Rosa said in an interview with Wharton Business Daily. (Listen to the podcast.) “We are not our best selves when we’re focused on our financial anxieties and our financial stress. Let’s take, all of us collectively, a financial health day to improve our financial security.”
“We are not our best selves when we’re focused on our financial anxieties and our financial stress.”— Wendy De La Rosa
Don’t Have Time for a Financial Health Day?
If a full day isn’t possible, schedule a half-day or some regular interval dedicated to reevaluating personal finances, said De La Rosa.
Her research centers on consumer behavior, spending habits, and financial inclusion. Several years ago, she helped conduct a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. households, asking respondents what they could do to improve their financial security in the next month. About 92% listed three or more actions — proof that people know what they need to do, she said.
“But when we start to feel overwhelmed and anxious, we tend to just delay, delay, delay,” De La Rosa said. “Let’s just take one step at a time. Let’s tackle one of those things. You can knock it out in a day or less.”
“Give yourself a little grace.”— Wendy De La Rosa
Set Yourself Up for Financial Health Success
De La Rosa encouraged people to recognize that getting control of their personal finances is more difficult in a world designed to make you spend. Companies have invested heavily in both the psychology and the technology of consumer spending. From one-click purchasing to auto-pay subscriptions, buying is easier than ever, and all those transactions add up.
“Give yourself a little grace,” she said. “I think a lot of people feel personal shame and guilt over their financial situation, and those are not helpful emotions to drive actions. Let’s take a deep breath and say, ‘My environment is not set up for me to succeed, but I’m empowered to recreate my environment.’”
The same technology that enables spending can also help you curb it. She suggested some speed bumps to wasteful spending, like uninstalling shopping apps or turning on an ad blocker to avoid temptation.
“Willpower can only take us so far,” De La Rosa said. “When we’re training algorithms for the sole purpose of getting people to spend, we then have to help equip people to have a fighting chance against that and not just white-knuckling it.”