Finance and having fun can fit together, it just takes some creativity. Of course, some strategies are more fun than others.
Example of a lame way? When I was a financial consultant, I’d perch a bowl of candy on my desk as a consolation for those who dreaded coming to see me to talk retirement goals. "Wish this were more fun? Here, have a miniature Krackel. In fact, take three."
Or take my friend Kate Lombardi, who lives in Westchester County, N.Y., and uses a check book that reads “Joke Book” on its cover. When her husband asks her to use it for bills, she says, “I just pour myself a drink and hope it goes quickly.”
Have hope, though, says Bill Gustafson, the senior director of the Center for Financial Responsibility at Texas Tech University. He is faced daily with the unenviable task of speaking to a lecture hall full of non-majors about financial planning (yikes). But he insists that there are ways to make budgeting exciting, without resorting to sugar highs and Scotch.
Here is his four-point plan:
1. Give Yourself a Reward
An easy trick for couples is to set aside a small amount of money for a monthly bill paying completion celebration. When you and the missus (or mister) are finished paying all that month’s bills on time, take 50 bucks and blow it on a dinner and a movie. The point is to turn yourself into one of Pavlov’s dogs, associating your regular financial planning with a reward. This also, of course, works if you're single.
“You can even celebrate with a walk in the park, which consumes less money,” says Gustafson. “But have it be a special, regular reward, directly linked.”
2. Set Up Countdown Calendars
When it comes to big numbers, don’t count forward, only backward. Take your mortgage. If you sit down to pay it with the 20 years or, say $300,000 you have left in mind, it is intimating. That’s a big, nearly incomprehensible nut, and being cowed is never fun. Gustafson suggests a Great Mortgage Countdown. Make a reverse, tear-off calendar that counts down the months left until you're paid off. Once you make a payment, tear off that sheet and stomp on it in a dance of joy.