Last week our family’s first puppy, Millie, celebrated her 1st birthday. Just a few weeks after the litter was born, our family drove out to Indiana to meet them. Nine of the ten puppies ran around, bumping into one another, sniffing us and each other. But a small, almost all-black pup with a thin red ribbon around her neck rather nonchalantly walked past all the fuss, crawled into my lap and took a nap for about 30 minutes.
My wife and girls may not have realized it at the time, but I knew we’d found our newest family member.
Part of this first year has included some basic training with Millie. This included working with a trainer to help determine how best to help Millie integrate with our home and our family. For those of you who have dogs or have had them in the past, you know this is much more about training the family than training the dog.
During our work with the trainer, it dawned on me how many parallels there are between puppy training and making smart financial decisions.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Reams of books have been written on dog training. In fact, a quick search on Amazon returns 9,000 results. Our trainer, who has been training dogs and all kinds of animals for decades, thought of this as overkill. He claimed he couldn’t fill up more than a postcard with basic training principles and that animals and their humans would have more success focusing on repeating basic, simple training steps, building new behaviors as you go.
The same can be said about personal finance, both in the volumes written on the subject and the simplicity that can be achieved. In fact, Harold Pollack, a University of Chicago professor, did just that, boiling down his best personal finance tips onto an index card.
Of course, these are pretty general rules of thumb. They don’t apply to all cases and you certainly need to adjust, amend and build from these to meet your specific needs. But the point is still valid.
Harold Pollack’s index card of finance tips.
Keeping things as simple as possible makes it easier to stick to your plan.
PICK THE RIGHT PUP & TRAINER FOR YOU
When we first started looking for Millie, we looked for a number of characteristics. We knew we had some pet allergies, would want a low-shedding, fairly active breed, etc. We searched high and low before landing on the Barbet as the perfect breed for us.
We also knew we’d need help. We had lots of advice from friends and family, but ultimately wanted an expert to help us learn how best to work with our newest family member. Through a friend’s referral, we found a trainer whose energy level, approach to training and personality fit well with ours. He also recommended we hold training sessions at home, which allowed us to work with Millie where we spend most of our time with her. It’s been a great experience overall, and we’ll continue to revisit and reinforce these lessons likely for years to come.
Picking the right puppy is akin to choosing an optimal savings plan and investment strategy. We all think slightly differently about money. Humans differ in their tolerance to risk, we earn and save money in different ways, and have competing goals and priorities. It’s important we find an approach that fits our needs and behavioral patterns to make it all work in an optimal manner.
And, while personal finance basics may be simple, many need an unbiased expert with their best interests at heart to help monitor portfolios, keep well-intended savings plans on track and guide us through the emotions involved in setting long term goals. This requires more than expertise, though making sure investment and planning philosophies is important. But its arguably just as if not more important to find someone with whom we have a strong personality fit, comfort level and who is willing to listen and take the time to understand who we are and what’s important to us when it comes to allocating our resources.
REHEARSE THE RIGHT BEHAVIOR
This is probably the most important thing to remember in both training a puppy and developing good habits of any kind. Whatever behavior you want to exhibit, practice or rehearse these behaviors over and over again to develop them into habits.
As our trainer put it, you’re always training your puppy, even when you may think you’re not. Whatever behaviors you rehearse will lead to that behavior. You create outcomes, good and bad, based on what you demonstrate time and again.
The same can be said for how we behave with our money, investments and other financial habits. If we set up systems and rehearse behavior that set us up for success, we’ll likely meet our goals. If not, we won’t.
For example, if we know our long-term plan is in place, but intraday market news has a tendency to increase our stress levels, making it more likely we’ll move things around at inopportune times, we probably shouldn’t watch hours of CNBC per day.
Similar to his point about training even when we think we’re not, if we’re not hitting our targets for saving or spending, hoping we remember to do better next month isn’t a strategy. It’s a decision not to train that’s likely to yield the same poor results in the future.
Rehearsing for saving, practicing how we might live in retirement before we get there or other such practice helps ensure we’re on a reasonable, sustainable track to meet our goals.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
On a wholly different subject, this will be our last blog ahead of Election Day. If you haven’t yet exercised your right through absentee or other early voting, make a plan this week to get out and VOTE!
Have a great week & Happy Halloween!