Getting started is the hardest part

Financial procrastination can be overcome!


We all have something that we avoid doing. For me it’s projects around the house. For about three years I’ve noticed paint peeling on the wall of my bathroom right near the ceiling. Over time, more and more paint started to peel off in different sections. It's a bit of a crises at this point.

There are three reasons I didn’t do anything about it for so long:


1. I didn’t know what to do about it.

2. I was scared of what the problem might be.

3. I’ve got lots of other (easier/more fun) things to do.


Should I call a plumber, a roofer or someone else? What if there’s a major leak that requires some kind of large financial outlay? People always say you get into trouble once you start looking behind the walls of an old house. So, I do all the other things I need to do and watch the paint peel…and oh, is that mould I see?


I suspect it’s the same for some people when it comes to their finances. It can be scary to look behind the wall and face your financial reality, especially if you are feeling financial stretched or suspect you are “behind” on your goals. And then there is the matter of where to start. What exactly should you be looking at? What needs to be done? What kind of help do you need? Who do you ask?


It's no wonder some people procrastinate on their finances. Truly, though, it’s better late than never on this front. Doing your financial planning at 25 is the best, but starting to save and invest at 50 works too. You still have time to get your finances in order before your working years are behind you and you need figure how you’ll pay your bills. It’s always better to know your situation than not. More than a third of Canadians say that money is their top source of stress - more than personal health, work, and relationships, and a similar percentage say that financial stress has led to anxiety and depression. Now, not all financial stress can be easily fixed, but having more knowledge about your own situation and coming up with a plan can really help to make you feel more secure and confident. Look the problem in the eyes instead of looking away.


Getting started is the hardest part, so let me give you some concrete steps to take.


Step one: Go easy on yourself. There’s no point in berating yourself for leaving it so long. You’re here now – so look forward.


Step two: Figure out what kind of help you need. If you are a true hands-off person, you might need a financial advisor or a financial planner, someone who will manage your investments for you and/or give you ongoing advice. If you are inclined to be involved, learn a little and dig into the numbers, a financial coach is a great choice (although an advisor or planner can also work). Or perhaps you really want to do it all yourself, learning everything you need to know. You can probably do this if you’re dedicated enough, but you might want to get a second opinion or a “check-in” to make sure you’re making the right decisions.


Step three: Find someone to work with. Ask around for recommendations – friends and family might have worked with someone, or perhaps your accountant or book keeper knows someone. Have an introductory call with the person to see if they are a good fit for you. Find out how much they charge and what they will do for you.


Step four: Commit! You’ll need to really be dedicated to figuring out your finances, at least in the beginning. There can be some heavy work to do upfront. If you’re working with someone, you’ll need to gather all your financial information and look at your spending. You will need to make decisions about your goals, such as what your priorities are and what you’d like your life to look like down the road. You may have other homework like researching future expenses, and getting information from the government about your taxes, CPP contributions and RRSP contribution room. These aren’t usually that hard, but they all take time and can sometimes give you some frustration. If you’re going it alone, you will of course need to do a lot more work and dedicate a lot of time to the pursuit.


Step five: Implement. It’s no good making a plan if you don’t do anything about it. If you have created savings goals, you’ll need to set up automated transfers between accounts. You may need to track your spending for a while if you’re finding that you can’t figure out where your money goes. And if you are going to do your own investing, you’ll need to open accounts, transfer money and place trades. You should also check in with your financial person now and then or revisit the initial plan you laid out for yourself to make sure you are on track and doing all the things you said you would do.


Getting your finances in order, understanding where you stand, and learning what you need to do to accumulate the money you need for your goals – like retirement, travel, your renovation and/or your child’s education - doesn’t come without effort. But I promise you it’s not as painful as you might imagine it to be and the financial and emotional payoff is huge.


My peeling bathroom paint? I finally called a roofer who identified the leak and fixed it in an hour for $500. Phew. I felt better immediately. Have I had the drywall replaced and painted? Nope. But I’m cutting myself some slack because why make myself feel bad? I’ll get to it. Next week. Maybe.