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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Resolutions, Schmesolutions

With 2015 now in its infancy, I don't doubt that a plethora of resolutions are being made, or have been made. After almost four decades of existence, however, I would classify some (if not most) resolutions as mere "schmesolutions".

Which I would define as the art of making resolutions without any intention of achieving them.

All I needed to do was to look back on what transpired last January 2014 to know that this is, tragically, a sad fact.

In between posts of "Happy New Year 2014!" and status updates about feng shui predictions, there was a viral post last year about saving money every week - and I saw a lot of my Facebook friends claiming that "this is the year na mag-iipon ako!" (that I will start saving money) while sharing that post.

The article made saving look achievable - set aside 50 pesos on the first week, then double it to 100 the following week, raise it to 200 on the third, then 400 on the fourth, and so on until you've gone the full 52 weeks of 2014.


As a financial planner, I knew the folly of such an exponential plan - you would need to "save" over a million pesos in one of those weeks, not even halfway through the 52 weeks! (By week 16, the plan required you to "set aside" 1,638,400 pesos!)

I've always believed that people should save what they can, with what they have or earn. Only when they are earning more or have more should they also relatively save more. So if you've already set your mind or goal at 15%, even if your salary increases, you can still set your savings rate at 15% or increase it gradually to 20%.

Armed with the knowledge that some of my friends wanted to be financial "savers" (instead of spenders), I approached a couple of them and told them about the nature of my job - to sit down with clients, discuss their goals and reasons for them, know their financial status, then draw a financial map as well as concrete plans/steps on how to do those goals, based on what they have now and how much they can set aside to make those goals a reality.

I showed them why the plan they saw in the Facebook post was actually difficult to achieve - for anyone - and that they should instead have a plan to set aside a set amount of money every month, just to cultivate the habit. In our separate meetings, they both agreed that setting aside a specific amount, and not one that increases every week, was a more manageable way of arriving at their goals - one wanted to set a retirement fund (already aged 50), the other one was a 30 year old who wanted to travel.

Age50 knew he was already running against time, seeing as he wanted to retire by age 60. So he offered to set aside 20,000 a month. I looked at his salary and while he could afford to do so, it would mean a drastic change in his lifestyle - I cautioned him and advised him to just set aside half. He confidently answered, "I can do that! I can give you 10,000 a month!"

Age30 wanted to travel to Europe in 2 years, so I asked him how much he was willing to set aside every month. "Less than a thousand pesos."

I was stunned, to say the least. Surely, I answered, you know that a trip to Europe costs hundreds of thousands? I know people who've spent close to a million pesos in two weeks time traveling there - and they didn't even stay in fancy hotels.

Fast forward to the middle of the year: Age 30 didn't bother meeting me again - and it's safe to say he won't be going to Europe in a couple of years. Or decades, given his unrealistic expectations from setting aside only 12,000 a year. (Actually, I suppose he could still go - on credit. That is a separate subject altogether, because used improperly, it is a financial quicksand that could ruin your life.)

Age50 started saving 10,000 a month in January...then February...but by March, I got a notification from the bank that I should contact the client because they couldn't withdraw the needed monthly amount in the debit arrangement. "I have repairs at home! I will just pay double next month!" he answered back through text messaging, when I asked him about it.

April came, and Age50 was already screening my calls. He didn't make good on his "I'll pay double next month" statement.

May arrived, and I saw (on Facebook) he had spent a pretty penny buying designer clothes - but he couldn't spare enough for his monthly contribution for his retirement fund.

Until November 2014 arrived, and he contacted me, saying "Joey, I mean it this time! Please start deducting from my account so I can set up my retirement fund!" But when I once again asked for his contribution, his response was, "Wait, I have to start"

It made me wonder: how were you planning to do what the viral post suggested, to set aside an increasing amount every week, if you couldn't even manage setting aside a set amount monthly?

I've come to the conclusion that, like the proverbial road to hell, financial resolutions are lofty and full of good intentions - with no intention of making them concrete or a reality.

We all say we want to be millionaires. We are envious when we see others succeed in their small business - swinerte lang yan (that's just luck) - disregarding the hard work that business person put in to be "lucky". We keep wondering when will our (literal) fortunes change. Why we don't see our bank accounts increase. Why we are still living hand to mouth at 50.

It's easy to make resolutions. Get a piece of paper, think up something "important sounding so that my Facebook friends will be impressed," and you're done.

But without an achievable, time-bound plan that you have the will to execute, your resolutions will just pile up, year after year. Pretty soon, you'll end up at 60, forced into retirement, without a retirement fund in sight.

Believe me, that does not a pretty picture make.

Don't let 2015 be just another year you spend wishing without any action. It's not a coincidence that the act of dreaming happens when you are asleep - consciously not doing anything. And I promise you that your resolutions will remain in a dream like state - unless you wake up and do something concrete about them.

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