The Power of Public Commitments

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Articles about tricks for saving money are one of the absolute most popular in the realm of personal finance blogs. There’s a ton of great advice out there that can save you thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime, often by making small, simple lifestyle changes that will barely impact your day-to-day. A general theme of these tips is to adopt strategies that essentially trick you into saving money. If it runs in the background so that you don’t notice it is happening, even better.

Today I am going to risk suggesting something a little bit different: be present in your financial decisions, and then own your successes and failures. Own them so much that you tell other people about your goals and your progress toward financial independence. There is nothing more powerful than a public commitment to achieving whatever your dream may be.

Here’s a quick mostly related aside: A couple of months ago I mentioned to a colleague at work that one of my fitness goals is to be able to do a pull up (I know, ONE pull up, sheesh). This colleague happens to be ex-military and pretty big into lifting weights, so he offered me several tips to try to help build upper body strength. I only see this person once or twice a month, but when we do run into each other he asks for an update on how things are going. If I decide not to make any progress toward my pull-up goal, I only have two options: run and hide when I see him coming, or admit to him that I didn’t make it a priority this month. On the other hand, if I did make progress, then I get to share my success.

One more: Mr. Paradise and I both have Fitbits that record our daily steps and stairs. Once a week our results get emailed out to everyone on our “friends” list, so there’s no hiding how many steps we did or did not take. If I get to work and I realize I’m not wearing the Fitbit, my first thought is to sit down and stop moving immediately. Of course, I’m supposed to be doing all this moving around for my health, but obviously some part of me is also doing it to “get credit” for it.

WANT

WANT

One of the very first posts on this blog was a spending review for 2015. Since then we’ve been posting monthly spending reviews as well. I can’t tell you what a huge difference it makes when facing a spending decision knowing that that decision is going up on this blog at the end of each month, whether in the form of a positive or a negative. As an example, our trusty Eureka Boss vacuum cleaner, which was given to me as a gift in 2005 when I got my first apartment, finally decided to breathe its last breath this month. It was simply too overwhelmed by the long-fibered, squishy carpet in our new house. To be honest I’ve had my eye on those fancy Dyson vacuums for quite a while, and I was admittedly somewhat excited at the prospect of finally getting one. I mean, look at this, it comes in purple! And this one says the word “allergy” in the title, which is tempting. However, several hours of research later it looked like a better vacuum for our particular brand of carpet might be this much cheaper, albeit not as awesome looking, Bissell which we had shipped from Walmart for $130. And a big part of what sealed the deal was the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to admit online that we’d spent over $600 on a vacuum cleaner. I suppose I could lie and just leave certain things out, but then what would be the point? (Also I’d have to propagate all the lies forward every month and that sure seems like a lot of work.)

The point of this isn’t to put yourself in a situation where you have to feel guilty for making a certain choice, it is to create an environment where you can’t hide from that choice. It’s out there front and center, and there’s no other option but to take responsibility. The other part is to save money on purpose, not by accident. Even if you automate your savings and investments to make sure it always gets done, take a look at your accounts each month and be excited about the fact that you chose to save “X” amount of dollars, which means your net worth is that much higher and you are now days / weeks / months closer to your financial freedom. Then go post it online and get some credit for it!

P.S. I’ve just realized that I’ve now told everyone who reads this blog about the push-up goal. Time to go do some grip exercises…

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