Using Social Media to Motivate Personal Finance Goals

When I first started The Simple Dollar, I mostly intended it as a place to log my own personal financial progress and also note any interesting thoughts or findings I discovered related to personal finance and other related topics. My primary goal was to make myself write every day and also to motivate myself to keep going forward with my financial turnaround – and maybe tease out some of the root causes of it.

While it’s grown beyond that original plan, it certainly has fulfilled the motivational part of the goal. I’m motivated every day to keep my finances in line, to the point that it’s become an integrated part of my life. It may have happened without The Simple Dollar, but the motivational factor of putting my situation out so publicly was an enormous motivator.

The best part is such public motivation can be done by anyone and can be applied to any goal. Here’s how.

Define Your Goal

The first step in achieving something is to clearly state what you’re trying to achieve. What are you aiming for?

1. Figure out what you want to change

Most of us already have this part figured out. We know what we want – we want better health, a better figure, a greater financial life, a better job, a business of our own. The problem is that goals are often nebulous and thus are easy to pass through – just like a cloud. So, once you know the change you want to implement…

2. Define exactly what it means to achieve that change

If you want to lose weight, figure out your target weight. If you want to improve your financial state, figure out a target debt level or target net worth. Want a better job? Define exactly what that job is. Know exactly what your goal is and exactly how you can determine if you’ve made it.

3. Devise a plan to take you to that exact goal

Now that you have a specific goal, what steps do you need to take to get there? Let’s say your goal is a specific net worth. That means you need to reduce spending, increase your income, or both. What’s your plan of attack? What about a target weight or BMI? That will likely involve dietary changes and an exercise regimen. What’s your plan of attack?

Define Daily (or Near-Daily) Metrics for that Goal

Once you’ve got your goal specified and have a plan in place to reach that goal, you also need to define very specific microgoals along the way. Losing fifty pounds is not something you can grab ahold of today, but losing one pound is. Exercising for thirty minutes every day isn’t something you can grab ahold of, but exercising just today for thirty minutes is something you can do.

Look at your specific goal and your plan to get there. What sort of regular, repetitive steps will you have to take to get there? If you need to eat better, your regular, repetitive step comes with each meal. If you need to exercise, your regular, repetitive step is a daily (or near-daily) exercise session. If you need to start saving, a spending log is perfect. If you need to start building up your resume or just learn something new, learning something each day and documenting it is a great way to go. A musical instrument? Daily practice is perfect.

The point is to define those tiny steps you need to take each day. Make them small enough so that you actually can take those steps each day and you’ll find yourself walking right toward your goal.

Announce Your Progress with those Metrics to the World

One big problem, though, is motivation. How can you keep motivated to take those small steps? Some people have that internal motivation, but others are often driven to be motivated by others, and that’s when online tools can help.

Twitter is a great way to publicly log your progress

Twitter lets you publicly post quick reports that are 140 characters in length – perfectly long to note spending, eating, a daily weight check, learning, your daily practice, and so on. If you’d like to write longer entries, starting a free blog like the one at WordPress is a great way to go. Putting it out there publicly means that some strangers might visit, but you can cover that up by being fairly anonymous – using just your first name, for example. Even better, strangers often provide great motivation in the little comments that they make.

This daily logging routine is a way to provide a check against yourself. Did you do what you were supposed to do today? Did you take that little step towards your big goal?

Let your friends and family see it

This is the real motivator. When you start, send out that URL to supportive family and friends and ask them to take a look and keep tabs on it. Almost any caring family member or friend will happily do so and probably send you supportive notes along the way. It takes some personal courage to share things in this fashion, but the rewards are great – you’ll find yourself with a support network that’s intimately familiar with your progress, knows what your goal is, and best of all knows you well and cares about you. These people can be the best motivators of all.

How I’m Doing It

I’m actually using Twitter myself for this very thing. Recently, my wife and I made a strong commitment to get into better shape, and I elected to track my progress publicly on Twitter. I set up a fresh new Twitter account and am posting brief updates each day on how I’m doing. To up the pressure on myself, I shared the link with friends.

And now I’m going to up the pressure even higher.

http://twitter.com/trenthealth

That’s my health log in Twitter form. That’s right, I’m revealing my daily BMI, diet, and exercise progress to 50,000 readers. If you’re interested in following along, bookmark it. I estimate it’ll have 5-10 quick blips a day.

My goal with it is to use Wii Fit, the lifetime fitness ladder, and a better diet (basically following Michael Pollan’s guidance from In Defense of Food) to push myself to two goals: a BMI of 22 (which my doctor recommended as a good long-term target for my body build – I’m 6’6″ and have the shoulder width of an NFL linebacker) and to consider riding a leg of RAGBRAI next year. I anticipate both goals taking a year or more, actually.

We’ll see where I get, but I can certainly say this: the idea that there are many friends and readers watching is both an exhilarating rush and also makes me a bit nervous. Having that many eyeballs on my progress is one big motivator.

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  1. Daniel says:

    It never occurred to me to use Twitter for something like this. I went with Fitday.com for tracking my progress publicly. The link is to my review of fitday, not to fitday.com itself. I think it’s important to be accountable to yourself, and in a lot of ways, the easiest way to be accountable to yourself is to enlist the help of your family and friends – at least, for me, it helps a lot!

  2. Trent,
    I always have a lot of different goals and I frequently *forget* to break them down into what I call micro-goals that are attainable on a daily basis. We always want to feel successful and obtaining even a micro-goal can give us a sense of accomplishment that propels us forward to the next goal and the ultimate achievement.
    The key to success is in the planning and planning each step toward your goals is a requirement.

  3. Sandy Naidu says:

    I signed up for Twitter amonth ago…Still haven’t been using it regularly…For all solopreneurs I think it is excellent to keep yourself accountable.

  4. Jo says:

    Good for you. A wonderful book that complements Pollan nicely is “The Okinawa Program” which sets out a healthy way to live based on a 25+ year study of the longest lived and healthiest people in the world who live in Okinawa, Japan.

  5. Vered says:

    Wow. Good luck with your weight loss journey. I think it’s wonderful that you are making yourself accountable like this.

  6. Michael G.R. says:

    I think it was Jason Calacanis that coined the term “Fatblogging”. If it gives results, more power to you!

  7. Andy says:

    Accountability from others is a great way to get some motivation. I also like the 30 day trial method, where you commit to a specific goal for 30 days, see how it goes, and then reevaluate. It is a great way to build habits. Good luck, good post, and keep up the good work.

  8. Scott says:

    best of luck on your fitness goals sir. I am actually so out of shape and so hurt for time with both school and work running full time that I got permission to drag some free weights into my cubicle at work so I can snag short sessions of 5-25 minutes on my breaks

  9. paidtwice says:

    BMI is a horrid metric. My spouse has 8% body fat (he’s been on a very extensive diet for health reasons for the past 6 months and lost 35 lbs) and his BMI is 25, because he has built a ton of muscle with his personal trainer. (He’s at his goal for weight and body fat now). If you can get your body fat measured periodically via a nutritionist or a gym I would really recommend that as a much better metric.

    BMI is really only useful for sedentary people.

    Good luck! I need to follow my spouse’s example and lose some of my post baby fat…. my baby is 18 months old so really, I have no excuse :)

  10. silver says:

    I’m a bit worried by your goal calories of 1600 per day. That is really low for a man, especially a 6’6″ one. Your current BMR (given your height, age, and the BMI you posted) is probably around 3000 *at least*. It may be higher, depending on your activity level. Your goal weight would give you a BMR of around 2000-2500 calories a day (again, depending on activity level). For your height, 1600 calories would maintain a weight of about 115 lbs! Even if you want to lose weight, you should be eating way more than 1600 calories. You’re setting yourself up for diet-failure if you restrict your calories that low. The slower the weight loss, the more likely you are to maintain it. Aim for 2000-2500 calories a day, not 1600.

  11. kelly says:

    So you got a Wii Fit? I LOVE mine!

  12. Barb says:

    Hi Trent,

    I have read your blog quite religiously for the past year or so, and this is the first time that I’ve felt compelled to comment. First, your assessment that you need to tune your diet is correct. Most people should start here and don’t. Next, I agree with Silver in regard to your calorie intake. If I were you, I’d start at 2200 calories. That will take weight off you in a nice steady pace without having your body think that there’s a famine going on. I have LOADS of easy, healthy, semi-frugal recipes, information, websites, and motivation to share if you’re interested, or have questions. Please email me; it would be my pleasure to share. -Barb

  13. Carrie says:

    Trent, some of your reasons for starting a blog mirror my own – I wanted to create accountability by making a public commitment and have an opportunity to write every day.

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll still keeping myself accountable as long as you have!

  14. Frugal Dad says:

    Trent, have you checked out the Buff Dad program? I’ve heard several around the blogosphere using it as it seems to cater to us busy dads. I haven’t picked up the book myself, but may use it as a summer training guide. I’m also really enjoying what I read about Wii Fit and may succumb to non-frugal desires and pick one up.

    By the way, I didn’t realize you were a fellow big dude! I’m about 6’4 myself, but only have one shoulder “of an NFL linebacker.” I tore my rotator cuff last year and it just hasn’t been the same since surgery.

    I appreciate your ideas on accountability, financially and otherwise, and definitely agree it helps to motivate if you share your goals with others and ask for their support.

  15. My biggest problem is with motivation… even if I do follow these steps, setting a goal, writing down a plan etc, somewhere on the course you encounter difficulties, and, sooner or later, you are beginning to see that it simply won’t work.
    As for ‘letting friends to see the progress’, I tried that one too, but I can tell they too loose interest in it and stop checking how it goes.

  16. felix says:

    Trent,

    The Wii Fit isn’t a bad start but it’s no match for real exercises. Have you considered playing badminton in the backyard or use a hola-hop?

    For the best all around exercise in the summer, nothing beats swimming.

  17. fathersez says:

    The process of blogging is incredibly motivating.

    I started my blog as a means to guide my children based on the mistakes that I had made in my life. As it progresed, it also made me tweak my own goals and has resulted in a lot of quite significant changes in my own life.

  18. Allison says:

    Hi Trent! Best of luck in reaching your health and fitness goals. I definitely recommend the CRON-O-meter (http://spaz.ca/cronometer/) to help track your eating habits (just like creating a budget and tracking your spending). I saw on Twitter that you are tracking your calories, but are you also tracking your intake of fiber, vitamins, minerals, fats, etc?
    I know Pollan is not a fan of “nutritionism,” but I thought it was very helpful to know whether I was eating enough foods with vitamin C or potassium, or too many foods with sodium or sugar. It really showed me the importance of eating a variety of unprocessed foods, especially veggies. It’s free and I highly recommend it!

    Also, thanks so much for your great articles. Today I made the final payment on a 13K student loan and it feels great!!

  19. Ryan McLean says:

    It is funny how a financial blog can inpire you to do better with your finances and also empower you to do better with your finances (from the income streams you have coming in).
    I also have a financial blog and I find that it drives me and inspires me to know more about money and to use money effectively.

  20. H-Bomb says:

    How are you liking the wii fit? I just got mine as a birthday present. I think it is amazing! It seems less of a workout and more like a video game so i don’t feel like i am doing something I hate doing. Yes, it hurts but I am to busy concentrating on keeping the red dot in the middle of the circle to notice. :)

  21. Trent Trent says:

    I mostly use BMI as a metric because it’s less depressing than using weight as a metric. My target BMI is basically a converted BMI from what my doctor told me my target weight is.

    Wii Fit is great. The yoga poses and the aerobic stuff are what I’ve been focusing on – good stuff.

  22. Trent,

    Congrats on starting your weight loss/BMI reduction journey. I think it’s really nifty to use Wii Fit to do it. I’ve lost a little weight playing Wii sports; combined with some jogging and weightlifting, I think I could make an even bigger dent. I think your health Twitter has inspired me to do the same thing. I’ve wanted to hold myself more accountable, and this seems like a damn fine way to do it. Thanks for the help, and best of luck to you.

  23. Luke says:

    Absolutely!

    That extra push from knowing others are watching is a great way to go … precisely how I’m trimming the financial fat right now, and Pruning the Money Tree.

  24. KJ says:

    If you’re at your desk during the day, you might be interested in Breakpal.com – it’s a software package that pops up at intervals (say 1 x hour) to encourage you to do short exercises at your desk/cubicle, interspersed through your day.

    I don’t know if it really would replace a workout/fitness plan, but it seems like it might be a useful way to bump one’s metabolic rate without too much hassle.

    I don’t sell/get kickbacks on it; it’s something that I’ve been contemplating for myself and others in my family, and am only mentioning it because it might be useful in helping you to accomplish your fitness goals.

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