Have you ever heard of shiny object syndrome?
The phrase can be used in many ways, but for me it’s how easily I can be distracted by new tools and ideas that promise to improve my life.
An app that will help me improve my budget? I must try it immediately- even though doing my budget on paper has always worked better for me.
A way to overcome a negative financial mindset? That must be my solution – even though I know every solution requires more work than a quick change.
You get the idea. Even though every “shiny object” proves to be interesting but never the be-all/end-all solution I expect, I fill with renewed hope every time. And hope is good! But throwing all your eggs into a new basket is not so good.
In order to prevent shiny object syndrome from taking me off track in my finances, I’ve learned to create a framework to filter the idea through. That framework enables me to closely examine the new idea or tool. It slows me down and helps me build good ideas into my plan without replacing the parts of my plan that have been working well.
Everyone should have a framework through which to make their best financial decisions. Here’s how you can make your own.
Take All Advice with a Grain of Salt
First things first: take every piece of information or advice you receive with a grain of salt. This is hard to do when something sounds sensible or when you’re excited about a new idea. But it’s absolutely imperative that you do it.
I don’t care if the advice is coming from a professional or someone who seems like they know what they’re doing. I don’t care if it’s from a trusted friend either. No one knows you (read: your needs, your priorities, your personality) better than you do. And, therefore, you have to make sure any money advice you take is advice that fits into your specific situation, into your life.
No matter what the advice, where the advice comes from, who gives the advice, take a minute to think before you jump to conclusions about it. Every. Single. Time.
Make “Why” Your New Favorite Word
So how do you dish up the grain of salt? Ask “why.” In fact, don’t just ask it, make “why” your favorite word.
When you see, read, or hear the advice, ask yourself why that advice makes sense. Then ask why to the answer to that question. Then ask why to that answer – and so on until you’ve exhausted the whys. For example:
Someone tells you to always pay off your credit card balance each month – why?
Because you’ll avoid paying finance charges – why is that so important?
Because it costs you more money to make the exact same purchases – why should I worry about paying a little more to carry a balance?
Because less of your income is available for other things – why does that matter?
Because if you had the additional income, there are things you’d rather spend it on than paying finance charges.
Asking “why” like this is your best defense. It enables you to get to the bottom of something and find out if it’s a real solution or just a shiny object.
Consider the Source of the Information
When you’re through with the whys and if you still want to move forward with the new idea, consider the source of the idea.
Is it coming from a company or person that would benefit from you following that advice? If so, is it mutually beneficial? Or is it exclusively beneficial (to them)? Are you being steered in a direction that keeps your best interest in mind? Or is that direction taking you away from your top priorities?
Always consider the source of the information. Then read between the lines to see if that source is one that is honestly in line with your best interest or if the source seems more concerned with you following the path they’re laying out.
There will be situations in which a good source is giving you bad information – or when a source that could benefit from you offers information that’s also good for you. You have to look closely at this because it’s not always clear cut. Intentions are certainly important, but they’re not everything.
When you consider the source, you’re not trying to determine if the source is “good” or “bad.” You’re simply trying to see if the source: a) is knowledgeable, b) has proven to give good information in the past, c) isn’t offering you information that will exclusively benefit them.
Trust Your Gut
As useful as the whys and considering the source are, your gut is still one of your best tools for building a decision-making framework. Simply put, if something doesn’t pass the sniff test, figure out why.
Sometimes something looks and sounds perfect, but still doesn’t sit well with us. In those cases, the best thing to do research and then possibly table the topic for a later date, after you’ve had time to let it simmer. Don’t throw it away forever, but return to it at a later date and see how you feel about it then.
See if you trust something or not and then verify to learn if that instinct is on point.
Build Winning Solutions Into Your Plan
When you do find advice or information that makes its way through your decision-making filters and ends up looking good, be careful not to overhaul your entire plan with it.
No matter what you’re doing about your current financial situation, there’s a very good chance that you’re doing at least one thing that’s working. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just because a great new solution comes along. Instead, take the good from your current plan and the new solution and find a way for them to work together. That can make up your new framework, a framework that will continue to be refined as you learn more and more about finances and about what works well for you.
Image Credit: Annie Spratt