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  • Writer's pictureRyan M. Vogel, CFP®

Resolutions Failed? Get to Know Your Future Self  

Key Takeaways
Finance
  • Envisioning yourself 10, 20, or 30 years into the future makes it easier to balance living for today vs. planning for tomorrow.

  • Pre-committing to a goal makes it easier to stay accountable to yourself.

  • Break big goals into smaller, more manageable chunks.

  • Smart money decisions are easier when they’re automatic and you don’t have to think about them or act on them.

 

This is the time of year when many people realize they’re not sticking to their New Year’s resolutions. Typically, they just shrug and move on with their lives. Do you ever wonder why so many of us fail to make important changes in our lives? One explanation is that we don’t have a good relationship with our future selves. More on that in a minute.


As many of you know, continuous learning is an important part of the culture at Novi Wealth. During COVID, I suddenly had extra time on my hands and wanted to put it to good use. I decided to take a psychology course through the Warton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. One instructor was Hal Hershfield, a Professor of Marketing, Behavioral Decision Making, and Psychology at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Hershfield said our future selves often look like strangers to us because they seem so distant. But if you can start to envision yourself and your ideal life 10, 20, or even 30 years from now, Hershfield said you’ll find it easier to balance living for today vs. planning for tomorrow. One of the best ways to do that, Hershfield mentioned, was to think of your “future self” as your best friend. In other words, if you’re having a deep conversation with your best friend, what choices would you make today to help the future version of yourself make the right decisions?


Hershfield’s research shows that people who are connected to their future selves tend to exercise more, perform better in school, stay happier, and are more successful in life (including with their finances).

 

Goal Setting

As anyone with a failed New Year's resolution will tell you, any kind of behavior modification is hard. Talking to clients about their future selves is helpful during our initial financial planning phase with clients. That’s when we’re encouraging people to think long-term about their lives and about how they want to spend their post-working years. When it comes to accomplishing big goals for your future self, make life easier for your current self. For instance, if your goal is to save more for retirement, break your objective into smaller segments. Telling yourself you need to save $5,000 per month sounds a lot less daunting than saving $60,000 per year.


What motivates you?

When developing an initial financial plan, we ask questions such as: “How did you get to where you are in life?” or “Do you enjoy your work?” or “If you won the lottery, what would change in your life, if anything?” As you can see, we start by talking less about the technical aspects of financial planning and more about the emotional aspects of what money can do for you and your family. Conversations about your future self are just a natural extension of that approach.

 

When people talk to us about retirement, they often have a specific age in mind for leaving the workforce, say 60 or 65. Before putting a plan together with that age target in mind, however, we ask what kind of life they expect to live in retirement and how they will spend their time. If they want to retire early, we often find that reducing work-related stress is more important than leaving the workforce at a certain age. So, we’ll ask what they think they can do today to reduce their overall stress level and how those actions would benefit their future self.


When conversations shift to retirement lifestyle, clients often tell us they want to travel extensively and bring family members along for some of those big trips. That’s a great goal, but we remind clients they’ll need to commit to taking care of their personal and financial health to make that vision a reality. I’ll ask them to envision their 75-year-old self as their best friend and ask: “What decisions can we make now to make that goal a reality?”


Pre-Commitment 

When making choices for either short-term or long-term gain, Hershfield said we usually choose the path of least resistance. I agree. The easier you can make a new habit or goal, the easier it is to stick to it. For example, I love chocolate. During Halloween, I get excited when my kids come home with bags full of chocolate. However, I know that if the chocolate stays in the house I will eat it. Fast. So, I pre-commit to reducing our candy stockpile.


My wife Meaghan fills up four small bags of candy (one for each of us) and the rest gets donated to a charity that provides care packages to service members overseas. Everyone wins. That pre-commitment to action is what makes the goal attainable. The same concept holds true for finances. If you need to start saving more for retirement, pre-commit to an automatic deduction from your paycheck or checking account. Making a new habit stick is easier when it’s automatic and you don’t have to think about it. This is especially true for those who receive a large bonus once a year. Pre-committing the bonus to savings is much easier to do when it’s an automatic transfer from your account vs. physically parting with the money and then putting it toward savings.


Family vacation

Let’s go back to the goal of taking your entire family on an overseas vacation. Before recommending ways to make the numbers work, I’ll ask you to envision your future self on that trip and imagine all the great sights your future self will see and family dinners your future self will enjoy if that person can stick to their savings goal and make that trip a reality. Nobody wants to let down their best friend and that’s a pretty good incentive for sticking to the plan.

 

Pre-commitment is also effective for sticking to your investment plan during periods of stock market volatility. When you agree to an investment plan with Novi, you're accepting the risks that go along with investing. You’re pre-committing to accepting a certain amount of market volatility to reach the financial goals we have outlined together. If the stock market suddenly drops, it’s natural to want to sell and preserve the principal. By working with Novi, you pre-commit to staying invested and purchasing stock opportunistically rather than bailing out at the wrong time. These actions are all good for your future self.


My Future Self

I use the future-self approach, too. After Hershfield’s lecture, I realized I had been neglecting my health for too long to take care of others in my life. I’d procrastinate about seeing doctors or simply wasn’t taking time to do things I enjoy because there never seemed to be enough time. But thinking about the life I want to lead when I'm older has made me more proactive about doing things for myself. I’m not letting things get in the way of regular doctor visits, exercise, and doing the things I love. It’s been life-changing for me.

 

Conclusion

Change can be difficult, but having someone there to support you, listen to you, and help you make better decisions can make a difference. This is part of how we help our clients improve their financial lives. If having a better financial life was a New Year's resolution, you still have time to achieve that goal. If you are interested in improving the financial health of your future self, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are happy to help.



 

RYAN M. VOGEL, CFP® is the CHIEF PLANNING OFFICER, PARTNER at Novi Wealth

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