Updated on 07.13.07

Procrastination, Money, And Me

Trent Hamm

A few days ago, I was reading a post at Money, Matter, and More Musings entitled Some Lessons From My Wallet. In it, the author makes the following interesting statement that really made me think:

Makes me wonder if procrastination might be at the root of most misery. In the past I have written about the positive side of procrastination, but I guess that works only in moderation. Too much procrastination, with things that really matter, is definitely going to cause problems.

When I went through my own personal financial armageddon, one of the biggest challenges I had to deal with were piles and piles of receipts, statements, bills, and other things that were in complete chaos. There was literally a small mountain of things to deal with, a sure sign of a financial life completely off the rails. I had no real idea what I was paying for anything, which made it very easy to just buy things without really thinking about the consequences.

There was really only one core thing to blame for this sorry state of affairs: procrastination. Rather than dealing with my financial information, I would just toss it off to the side and forget about it entirely. I would do this with bills, then look at my bank account and go “Wow, I have a lot of money to spend!” then spend away. About once a month, I’d mumble and grumble and fetch out the bills and do them, then quite often finish the process with a huge, sick feeling in my stomach.

Why not just pay them as soon as they come in? Procrastination. It was simply a lot easier to put it off for another day than to face it immediately. In a way, procrastination was a form of denial about my spending habits – if I didn’t look at the bad news (the bills) and only considered the good news (the balance of my checking account), everything was good and I could spend away!

To me, this is a very, very clear example of where good personal finance habits intersect with personal development, and two books I’ve talked about on here in the past really come to mind.

nowThe Now Habit approaches solving the procrastination problem from a psychological perspective. It looks at the root causes of why people procrastinate and offers tons of thought exercises and potential solutions. For me, the real powerful insight from this book was that of the flow state; basically, by just setting aside blocks of time exclusively devoted to accomplishing stuff, you can wind up appearing really productive even if you’d rather just loaf around. This book got me to spending periods of time each day just getting stuff done. You can read a lot more about The Now Habit in my detailed review of the book.

gtdGetting Things Done tackles the corollary problem: once you’ve actually committed yourself to not procrastinating, how do you manage all of the stuff you want to do? Basically, this book’s philosophy is just to dump everything that you know you need to do out of your mind, then just work through those items (it’s a bit more complex, but in the end, not really all that much more complex). I found it incredibly liberating and empowering when I started following parts of this system; I found that the blocks of time I started setting aside to get stuff done became insanely productive because I didn’t have to waste time thinking about what to do next – I just did it by trusting the system. You can read a lot more about Getting Things Done in my detailed review of the book.

If you find yourself with mountains of statements and bills lying around unorganized and you have very little true grasp of your financial state, it’s likely that procrastination is the biggest culprit. Learn how to tackle the procrastination problem and your finances will thank you.

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  1. Amber Yount says:

    This is why I always try to do my bills once a week, and my check book at least every other day.

  2. MoneyNing says:

    Trent: Actually, I don’t think you will forget about your bills/spending if you actually was able to clean up all your bills every single week as you mentioned in the article.

    The problem is usually because of a lack of discipline or process to handle your tasks. If you were to do this every other day as Amber mentioned above, or ever week, even every two weeks. Things are much more organized and will be automatically be ingrained in your mind.

    This is actually easily said but extremely hard to do but the rewards of organization is extremely valuable.

  3. Jimbo the Great says:

    It’s almost uncanny your ability to speak on a problem I’ve just identified in the last 24 hours. Not that I don’t appreciate it, but it’s starting to freak me out. Thanks for the timely advice. Keep it up.

    Jimbo the Great

  4. David says:

    This is what I determined to being the root cause of my past money problems. I’ve always made enough to pay off my debt correctly, but by procrastinating and not keeping track of things, I would overspend, pay bills late, incur overdrafts, etc. What I’ve found is that even spending an hour per week on finances (paying bills, making scenarios, calculations), that was enough to change my situation completely. And really, I had to get over it because there’s no excuse for not having an hour per week. Good book recommendations; I’m GTD at work just fine, but will likely read The Now Habit to work on other areas.

  5. Brendan says:

    I think this is a good topic to explore. I know when I first got married I was shocked that my wife would throw aside, and in some cases not open bills and financial statements. I’d ask her: “Did you take care of that bill?” She’d answer: “Yeah I’ll get to it.” Then I’d get in trouble for acting “like her dad” each time I reminded her to pay the fricking bills. I am of the mind that once I get a bill from the mailbox it is a task to go pay it. Online billpay makes that super easy. Get the bill, pay it, done! So to make a long story short I became the CFO of our marriage. Haha.

    The procrastination problem I have is sitting down and reviewing my investments, and picking out new investments. I have no debt, and we hardly ever use our credit cards anymore, and if we do it gets paid immediately.

    I’ve been reading this site regularly for a few weeks there are many good suggestions for getting in financial shape, but It’s hard for me to apply discipline to sit down budget and invest. So I admit I have a procrastination problem there. It’s almost like dollars are being lost by the day since I’m not actively investing.

  6. Lynnae says:

    Procrastination is a big thing for me. I hate dealing with paperwork. I have huge piles on my desk. Fortunately I’ve always been able to find the bills before they need to be paid, but still, I need a system.

    Funny you should mention Getting Things Done. I just ordered that book, and hopefully it will be here soon.

    Off to read your review!

  7. Andrew says:

    I used to do the same thing in the height of my financial breakdown. I had so many problems happening that I didn’t ant to deal with any of them; of course, that just made them worse.
    Now I’ve gone and handled my bidness, accepted the debt and gotten a very very solid grip on the bills.
    I don’t procrastinate any more since I’m *excited* at the prospect of paying of debt. I look forward to it every month, and I get few better joys than seeing the numbers go down each month and my freedom inch closer.

  8. Hippolytos says:

    I used to have a huge problem with procrastination, not only in terms of finances, but in terms of all areas of my life. I was miserable and unhappy. _The Now Habit_ is definitely a good book, but if you are a procrastinator and want to read a life-changing book, read _Do It Now! Break the Procrastination Habit_ by Dr. William Knaus. When I bought it at the book store, the sales clerk smirked knowingly, but that book changed my life! It enabled me to finish graduate school and become a fully functioning researcher.


  9. EdTheRed says:

    Reading “The Now Habit”, er, now. Good solid advice and practices, as well as revealing examples. I started to read GTD, but realized that I had to get a better handle on procastination before I could put David Allen’s fine ideas into practice.

    On the bills-getting-paid-on-time thing…
    I was horrible at tracking and paying bills until I bought a MS Money 2003 CD at the flea market for $2. I truly believe that that is the best $2 I’ve ever spent in my life. The program tells me everything I need to know and do to keep up with my bills, accounts, etc. Extremely powerful and easy to use.

  10. lori says:

    Paying bills as soon as they arrive works for me now, but not in my 20’s. The bills would have to sit around until payday arrived. Some could get paid on the next pay day, some would have to wait even longer for the next pay day after that.
    I would encourage young people just starting out to “build” their checking account before funding savings, retirement or anything else. I built up the balance in my checking account each pay day – similar to how some people fund their savings account each pay day – so that now there is a nice reserve to pay the bills as they come in. This was something I did after nearly a decade of overdrafts to my local bank. I think I single-handedly built a new branch for them on my NSF charges alone.

  11. Tubaman-Z says:

    Based on the review of “The Now Habit” on The Simple Dollar I ordered a copy and am about halfway through it. It has been amazingly revealing as I have seen myself in many of the examples/scenarios. Fear of success is something that I could particularly identify with. Since fear is something that I generally take as a personal challenge, this book has provided insights that I have been able to use as motivation. This book is useful for both procrastinators and workaholics. Thanks Trent for the review and the recommendation. I also recommend it strongly.

  12. dstuyvesant says:

    What solved my bill paying issues was a simple columnar pad and a pocket folder.
    Okay, it was a little more than that. Since either my husband or myself gets a paycheck every Friday, I make it a point to do bills every Wed night and put it in the mail on Thursday a.m. Since I assign pay dates as soon as a bill comes in, I’m done in less than 15 minutes. As soon as the payment clears, I run a highlighter through it in my ledger.
    Hubby has a bad habit of opening a bill and leaving it on a counter or dumping it somewhere instead of putting it in the pocket file that is the very first pocket file in the file cabinet. I’ve really dumbed it down but after 2.5 years, it’s still a no-go so I try to get to the mailbox before he does.
    Now, if only I could apply this same type of organization to keeping my house clean things would be pretty darn peachy :)


  13. Bill says:

    The web and free online bill payment are the bee’s knees.

    I can check and pay my bills online, many with a cash-back credit card.

    The remainder I pay from checking with online bill pay (does anyone charge for bill pay anymore?)

    I do round-up recurring bills to simplify reconciling the check register.

    E.g., the electric company gets sent $100 if the electric bill is $96.88.

  14. Maria says:

    These are some GREAT suggestions, guys!!! THANKS! Keep em coming, they are helping many of us out here!

  15. I think that procrastination affects us all in manner ways, but as you rightly mention, forming positive habits is a great way to dig yourself out of debt.

  16. masf says:

    I’ve often been accused of procrastinating but I don’t understand what it means. If I haven’t done something, it’s because I was doing something else. I have a disability and once found myself collapsed on the kitchen floor while doing something you’re absolutely supposed to do: get organized for the next day. If I’m always doing something important (I don’t have time or energy for anything that isn’t), doesn’t there come a point where you have to give other people’s expectations back to them?

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