I recently read a current best seller business book called Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg. One of the chapters talks about an experiment in disfluency. Disfluency is (in my own words) when you take something easy and make it harder. But in such a way that the “hardness” of it makes you interact with the process in a new way that has some benefit. For instance the book talks about how psychologists tested whether students who take notes with typing or handwriting retain material better. As you can guess. handwritten notes are harder and don’t capture as much but those students do better. So, why do hand written notes help students retain more? It’s because it’s a little bit harder and the students have to interact with the data a little bit more when they write instead of type.
When we started out revamping our budgeting process in 2010 we purposefully didn’t use any automatic software or websites like Quicken or Mint. Partially because they aren’t very good for real budgets and mostly because they make things too easy. I had been trying both of those tools for some time, but while they automated and graphed our spending in bits and bytes, we were free to easily ignore it. And we did. And by ignoring it, we didn’t have a plan.
So, we started our budget in excel and removed any auto bill pays. So each week we had to open the mail together, look at our bills on paper and pay them manually. I would pay them, write some notes on each one and my wife would enter the amounts into the budget and file the papers. It was clunky at first, but it forced us talk about our bills and what we could do to reduce them. After a while we hit a nice rhythm to our “budget meetings”. It didn’t feel like work while we chatted and paid bills at the same time.
We also met weekly. It wasn’t easy but we had a lot to learn. And meeting monthly was too easy.
Now, six years later, we have (recently) turned the auto bill-pays back on, but I feel much better because we spent 5 years getting to know our bills intimately and tracking the data very manually.
In an era of automation and “easy buttons”, sometimes making things a little bit hard is a good thing.