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OK…. so you’ve decided to put your financial house in order. You’ve identified some financial goals and are ready to get going. So far, so good, but here comes the tough part.  For many Americans, actually carrying out these lofty goals proves to be elusive.

According to Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University and leading researcher on self-esteem and self-control, there are three components to achieving objectives:

  1. Establish the motivation for change and set a clear goal.
  2. Monitor behavior toward that goal.
  3. Exercise willpower to maintain behavior toward that goal

Most people do a great job at Step 1. Think about the number of people who make a list of New Year’s resolutions each year. For example, maybe you want to save money or reduce your spending.

Step 2 is a little harder, but most people do get going on changing their behavior and even monitor their progress. Maybe you deposit $100 into your savings account each month or cut back on Starbucks to once a week.

Step 3….well….that is a different story. Maintaining the behavior for long enough to actually achieve the goal is extremely difficult for many people. This is because it takes WILLPOWER!

What is willpower anyway?

Money Pile

According to the American Psychological Association (“APA”), willpower is the ability to resist short-term gratification in pursuit of long-term goals or objectives.  Most people would probably agree that resisting short term gratification is a challenge.

In a 2011 survey by the APA about stress, 27% of people responding said that lack of willpower was the most significant obstacle to change.

Many financial goals, in particular, are long-term projects, with slow progress, such as saving for retirement. Maintaining your willpower over such a long time without seeing immediate rewards can present an even bigger challenge.

Why is it difficult to maintain willpower?

In his 2011 book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, co-authored with New York Times science writer John Tierney, Dr. Baumeister indicates that we all have a finite amount of willpower in our system. There is a physiological reason for this: willpower is dependent on glucose, the sugar that our bodies convert from food.  When glucose in our body is depleted, our willpower is as well.

This is why it is so difficult to achieve many New Year’s resolutions at once. It’s also one reason more relationships fail when stress at work is high. Individuals deplete their stores of willpower at work and don’t have enough left when they come home to their significant other.

So what can you do to improve your financial willpower and reach your goals?

Don’t throw in the towel just yet! If you’ve been having trouble maintaining the willpower to reach your financial goals, why not try these tips to jump-start your willpower and confidence levels?

For starters, boost your glucose levels by eating low-glycemic index foods like vegetables, nuts, cheese, meat, raw fruits and olive oil. These feed your brain a steady stream of glucose. Conversely, cut back on quick sugars found in candy and white bread that cause a spike and then a crash. Choosing low-glycemic foods will give you more willpower over a longer period of time.

Secondly, try to make important financial decisions after a good meal when your glucose levels have been replenished and your willpower levels are at their highest.

Finally, many financial goals involve saving money, paying bills on time or reducing spending. For a lot of people, it’s hard to find the time in the day to pay the bills or to transfer money into a savings account. So make it easy on yourself and don’t spend your critical willpower on things you could set up automatically. Cross off important to-dos by setting up payments or transfers automatically through your online bank accounts.

Think about it: if you set up your financial accounts to do these activities automatically, they will get done. In fact, it would take willpower to stop them! Then you can free up your limited stores of willpower for other activities.

Below are a few suggestions to consider:

  1. Sign up for direct deposit for your paycheck if it’s available. This saves you time and travel to the bank. Your money is deposited in your account faster and more consistently, enabling you to confidently set up other recurring payments and transfers automatically.
  1. If your employer offers a retirement plan, be sure to select choices that automatically deduct the funds from your paycheck and deposit them into your retirement account.
  1. Some vendors allow you to automatically set up bill payment with them  They will automatically charge your credit card or deduct payment from your bank account each month for the amount owed.  Many utilities offer this option.
  1. If the payments are the same each month, you may be able to set up regular automatic payments to the vendor on your bank’s website. Mortgage payments are a good candidate for this.
  1. Many banks will allow you to set up automatic transfers of funds from your checking account to your savings account. For example, if you are determined to save $100 each month, set up an automatic transfer.
  1. If you invest in mutual funds, you may want to try a life-cycle fund that automatically rebalance your portfolio as you age.
  1. If you have trouble spending too much money at a particular store, determine your monthly budget and buy a prepaid card each month for that amount. This will force you to reduce the frequency or the amount spent on each visit.

Even if you plan to automate your finances, you still need to stay on top of your bank balances. Don’t just set it and forget it. Automatic transfers from checking to savings are a great idea as long as you have enough money in your checking account! Be sure to check in on your accounts, future payments and transfers routinely just to ensure everything is operating according to plan.

By taking these small steps, you will be well on your way to reaching your financial goals even if willpower is a challenge for you.

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Posted by Briana Fabbri

Briana Fabbri blogs for NetCredit.com, where she is also the Head of Marketing. Briana holds a degree from the University of Chicago and has been recognized as an “Emerging Leader” by the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing. To read more articles like this, check out the Net Credit blog.

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