Training Your Mind: Ten Personal Finance Mental Exercises You Can Do Anytime

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There is a George in his eyeOne major part of being financially responsible is to have the proper mindset, and to build the proper mindset can often be quite challenging. Just like anything else, being financially fit requires work, and most of that work goes on between your ears. Here are ten mental exercises you can do any time to strengthen your positive financial behavior and keep yourself on the fast track to financial success.

Imagine in detail the future you would like to have. Many people daydream about great things, but spend some time thinking about the future you want in detail. Let’s say you imagine two children in your daydream. What are their names? How old are they? Where do they sleep? What are their favorite toys? On the other hand, let’s say you dream of a house. How many rooms are there? What is the kitchen layout?

Why is this important? The more detailed the vision for your future is, the easier it is to wrap your hands around a tangible goal rather than a flight of fancy. You’re transforming vague dreams into a concrete goal for your future.

Consider every purchase you made in the recent past. Does that purchase really reflect your values? Does that purchase help you work towards your long term goals? Would you make that purchase again? This isn’t a tool to beat yourself up with, but a way to evaluate whether or not a given purchase was the right decision.

Why is this important? It codifies in your mind the “good” choices and the “bad” choices so that they become more instinctual.

Think of ways to save money when you’re idle. About to pull into a gas station out of habit? Instead of standing there looking around while pumping gas, look for ways to use that time to save cash. You could wash your windshield or, even better, get rid of some trash in your car so it doesn’t fill up garbage cans at home. Standing in line at the store? Look through your purchases and ask yourself if you could skip that purchase, or find something cheaper instead.

Why is this important? It trains your mind to instinctively think in frugal ways.

Evaluate everything in your home. Do you ever use that stereo that stays plugged in all the time? Unplug it (to save phantom electricity drain) and sell it. Does going near the “junk closet” scare you? Plan a time to go through it and get rid of all of the garbage inside. Is your house always warmer than you’d like in the winter? Set that thermostat lower and enjoy the savings.

Why is this important? It encourages you to always evaluate things, even those which are established and “ordinary.”

Visualize how you would live if your paycheck were suddenly reduced. Again, imagine this in detail. What if you brought home 20% less each month? What would change? What would you get rid of in your life? Would you move? Would you eat at home more?

Why is this important? By visualizing yourself in a situation that requires more fiduciary discipline, you can often find things that you can do in your life right now to cut costs.

Recall your fondest childhood memories. What about them made you happy? Was it spending time with relatives? Was it running on the playground with your friends? For me, I usually recall playing basketball and doing stuff with my family. Now, what can you do to feel that way today?

Why is this important? The happiest memories of childhood usually involve joys that don’t revolve around money. By considering these happy moments carefully, things that bring joy to you that don’t cost money are brought to the forefront.

Consider everyone that is truly important to you and your relationship with them. What is the basis of that relationship? Should you touch base with that person sometime soon? Whenever I do this, it usually sets off a wave of letter writing, email sending, and house calls.

Why is this important? The true key relationships in your life are not based around money; they’re based around shared experiences and emotions. Building on those relationships in a positive fashion is an extremely inexpensive way to build your own self-image and self-confidence, enabling you to face many other challenges in life.

Visualize your family in ten, fifteen, and twenty years. Again, add in detail. Will you have a family around you, with children going to college and starting out on their own? Will it be just you and your spouse, or perhaps you alone? Will you have a nice home? What will it be like?

Why is this important? The more detail you add here, the more clear the reasons you may have for saving for your children’s college education or other such purposes.

Picture what happens to everyone you care about if you suddenly get a terminal illness. How will they be impacted? Will they be able to cover your medical bills? What about the loss of salary? Are there things you want to tell your loved ones that you’ve never told them?

Why is this important? The details of this picture can reveal to you how important health insurance, life insurance, and a will and/or living trust can be for you right now. It can also reveal parts of your life that you need to work on.

Imagine your final healthy years of life. Picture yourself as an old man or an old woman and add in as much detail as you can. What will that person have? What will he/she have accomplished? Will there be grandchildren around? Are things ready for when you decline and pass on?

Why is this important? Again, imagining this in detail can show why retirement savings are very important, as are a living will and trust and perhaps long term care insurance.

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5 thoughts on “Training Your Mind: Ten Personal Finance Mental Exercises You Can Do Anytime

  1. Hey Trent, nice post! How often do you post a day/week, seems like all your posts are good, and well thought out.

    “Think of ways to save money when you’re idle.”

    Another question you can ask yourself is, “Think of ways to make money when you’re idle.”

  2. These are all great ideas. I spend alot of time crunching numbers in my head. I’m always coming up with different scenarios and coming up with numbers to fit those scenarios. I can get lost doing that.

  3. Another way to put it is practice makes perfect–in other words, it’s not just about putting our money in investments or living with frugality in mind, but to actually think about that regularly so when the time comes for the “spending of the money” we’re already trained on how to do that well.

  4. Hey Trent; I’m looking for some advice. I do not have any credit card debt (wait a minute, it isn’t all that great!). What I do have is a HIGH $62,000 Home Equity. This is due to putting a child through 4 years of College, one through a two year and then one through 3 years (and hasn’t finished), also renovated our garage into a workshop for my DH who is now in business for himself. UGH!! I’m also older–47. I do have around $500 per month put into an SRA and another $290 per month put into an IRA. Should I be investing more or should I be putting every dime I can get my hands on to the Home Equity. I would love to hear advice on this. I should also mention that I have 3 mortgages. One is our home (GREAT rate, 4.875). One is our camp (a mortgage of $38,000)and fairly low rate. The other is a 4-plex apartment building. All the mortgages are scheduled to be paid off no later than 12 years. The apartment covers the home mortgage as well as paying the interest on the Home Equity +150 extra toward principal.

    Thanks for any and all advice!!

    Mary

  5. It is not simply enough to say I need ot be frugal and save a few bucks here in there. It is about the whole package. That is what you have and are teaching me here Trent. You have to tackle the psychology of frugality. These mental excercises sound fantastic. I love the first step about imagining what you want from the future.

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