An Acute Case of Financial Inertia: What's the Cure?

Last Updated Aug 18, 2010 10:06 PM EDT

Last week my husband knocked on the door of our home office and poked his head inside. "Um, you know that contribution you made to your IRA in April?" he asked me.

"Umm-mm," I answered, without looking up from my computer.

"Well, you still haven't invested it in anything yet. It's still in cash reserves at Fidelity," he said.

I sighed, one of those deep, annoyed, how-can-I-possibly-think-about-this-now sighs. He made himself scarce. But there it was. Yet another item, neglected, on my financial to-do list. For more than three months.

This one is truly embarrassing. I write for, and I'm supposed to pay attention to these things. But when it comes to my own money housekeeping, well, let's just say I'm glad I'm married to a guy who's a little more organized - and motivated.

In my defense, I get the bills paid on time, at least the ones I'm responsible for. Tuition? Yes. Sports registration fees? Done. Babysitter cash? We're all square. As long as the invoice says, "remit payment by," I'm good for it. The thought of incurring late charges drives me batty.

But I'm delinquent on the big stuff, which comes without a deadline. The investment decisions and the mortgage refinance. The implications aren't lost on me: I know the money I could earn or save dwarfs the savings from coupons or any of the other inane things I worry about. So why is it that I'd rather do anything than attack my fiscal fitness list?

I called a few financial planners about my financial inertia problem. They admitted they have no trouble helping their clients, but it's entirely different when they're trying to get their own finances in order. That makes me feel better. One planner told me simply to pour a big glass of wine and get it done. Another said his wife handles most of their finances, and he knows he's in trouble when she leaves their financial paperwork on his side of the bed. This is a tactic my husband has resorted to as well, and I can tell you there's nothing more annoying than having to clear a dependent care FSA claim form off your pillow before you can go to sleep.

I need to get my butt in gear. Jason Cole, a planner with Abacus Wealth Partners in Philadelphia, advised me to get the kids to bed on Friday nights, order takeout, and check a few things off my list. Make it date night once a month.

Matthew Russell, a CFP in Kingwood, Texas, e-mailed this solution: "In our household, college sports reign. So what I did years ago is made a deal with myself that I could not watch any college football until the bills received during the week were paid. That rolled right into college basketball season, so I had to become even more disciplined. Because college basketball is on two or three times a week, I couldn't watch a game until my desk was clear of any financial matters. It was excruciating at first (and believe me, my wife made me stick to the deal), but once basketball season was over in April of that year I had forced myself into a routine that has stuck ever since. So, in our household, no sports on TV until the bills are paid.

"In talking with clients," Russell wrote, "I pick up on what interests they have. Then I try to hold those interests 'hostage' until a certain behavioral change occurs. I may not be the most popular financial advisor at first, but once they see a gradual change occurring and the stress levels decreasing, I turn into a genius."

For me, I guess that means no triathlon training until I've invested my IRA contribution? That might only add to my stress. But I'll try anything. I know many of these financial projects only take a few minutes once I get started. It's the getting started that gets me every time.

Any ideas for overcoming financial inertia? Please, help. Log in to share them below.

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