Are you on financial "autopilot"?
This week the three of us were sat in the kitchen having dinner, when Rosalind pointed at the indent in her highchair table where her cup usually goes and said “drink, table”. I know that sounds pretty unremarkable, and from the point of the development of a toddler, it is. But it IS remarkable from another perspective – that of learned behaviour and associated action.
When you think about how Rosalind has learned to associate that particular spot on her highchair with a cup, and that cup in turn with a drink; it becomes easier to understand what has gone on in her mind. Over the past several months, she will have observed both Richard and myself give her a cup full of liquid, place it in that particular spot and announce that it is a “drink”.
The action she undertook this week then is simply a kind of “autopilot”, of rote-learning, of routine and repetition.
Which brings me to the point of this week’s blog post – that of financial autopilot, of money routine. My question to you is:
How much of our daily money management, our financial decisions, is routine?
Probably a lot more than you think.
When I sat down to write this blog, I realised that actually quite a lot of my financial choices are made through routine – and I don’t realise it. I always go to the same supermarket, for instance. And at that same supermarket, I always by the same brand of dairy-free yoghurt. I buy that yoghurt whether it is on offer or not, meaning that depending on the instore offers that week, I can pay anywhere from £1 to £2 per tub – for the same product.
Naturally, there is a certain amount of money security that we have for me to be able to make that choice to spend up to 100% more on the same item in order to still buy it – but all of us make similar choices every single day. Of course there are people, I know many of them; and I’m willing to bet that you do too – who will go to three different supermarkets to buy the same item cheaper, and who will diligently complete a gas and electric price comparison every time they come out of a fixed price deal.
And there’s nothing wrong with that savvy saver mentality – in fact the modern personal finance press preaches to us all that we should model those behaviours regularly – after all, Martin Lewis has built an empire on telling us that businesses make lots of profit off the back of our financial laziness. It’s true – they do.
But for my part, I wonder if we all really HAVE to savvily shop around at each and every opportunity. I work in the majority with new and expectant parents – or as many of my clients have referred to themselves as – the time and patience poor.
Of course there is a benefit to shopping around – of not existing on financial autopilot – and I needn’t extol the virtues of that behaviour here. But for my clients I would also politely suggest that there could be a benefit in sometimes existing “on autopilot”; at least in the short-term.
New parents; and new mums in particular, are constantly subjected to a barrage of expectations. We are expected to be capable of “bouncing back” after pregnancy, of doing regular “post-partum workouts” and of shedding our “baby weight”. We are reminded of the importance of “self care” on the one hand, at the same time as being told that we should “feed on demand”, not leave babies to “cry it out”, and ensure that we practice “attachment parenting”.
The media warns us of the dangers of leaving our children in front of screens – that proactive play means we have to be engaged with our child. To encourage healthy eating habits, it is suggested that we should make mealtimes open-ended, giving toddlers as long as they want to eat their food, whilst also ensuring that we teach them “appropriate” table manners and the best way to use cutlery.
When I was a new mum to Rosalind, I tried to keep up with the barrage of parental expectations. The result? Well it was beautiful – in its simplicity. I simply felt exhausted. Spent. Unsuccessful as a mum; as though I wasn’t living up to the stereotype that the popular press wanted me to be.
With all due respect to Martin Lewis (whom I admire greatly for his success in making the personal finance sphere accessible to everyone), if someone had politely suggested that I, at the same time as trying to channel my inner goddess and home-make purees; completed a gas and electric comparison (as I WAS home all the time), and renegotiated the Sky contract (now that my days are OBVIOUSLY filled with boxsets and Loose Women) – I probably would have hit them over the head with the smart meter.
It goes without saying that there are numerous benefits to regularly checking whether you can save money on your household bills, and shopping the offers in the supermarkets to reduce your grocery costs. But it also goes without saying that being able to do those things relies on something most new parents don’t have: time.
One of the key takeaways that I try to get my clients to hold onto is this:
You can’t buy more time.
You can buy the ability to spend the time you have, how you want.
Fundamentally, that’s the point. The one thing that I wish someone had said to me as a new mum is that my single greatest commodity was (and still is) my time. My money – your money, my clients’ money – is best spent when you are using it facilitate spending your time how you want.
At the crux of money coaching with me is choice. It isn’t my job to tell you how to spend or save your money – because my ideal life will look different to yours. It IS my job to help you decide how to spend your family life, your family TIME. Once we know how you want to spend that; we can look at how best to use your money to achieve it.
And if that means that you make the active choice to put some financial decisions on autopilot – well, who am I to judge? I’m the lady in the supermarket buying the yoghurt at £2 a tub because I like it.