Is your computer sabotaging your financial goals?

Setting financial goals is one of the first and most important tasks in creating a sound financial plan. A good first step is to write down your financial goals in a clear, concise, and organized way. This first step is not too difficult to conceive, but how you go about doing it can have a profound impact on whether or not your goals are ever realized.

Most people these days think of computer screens as the only place to put things into “writing.” In fact, typing things up on a computer screen to be digitally stored in some unknown corner of a hard drive has almost completely replaced the practice of longhand scripting.  

When it comes to handwriting, I am so out of practice that when I’m forced to write, it’s barely legible.  On the other hand, I can effortlessly type 30+ words per minute for hours every day. While it may be easier, the problem with typing is remembering. There is a significant school of thought that says the neglect of handwriting leads to a decrease in remembering what you were supposed to write down.

The philosopher and communication theorist Marshall McLuhan famously said that all forms of media are an extension of us as humans. The hand-manipulated writing tool (pen, pencil or otherwise) was man’s first widely-used method of putting some form of permanence into ideas and sharing them with others – whether scratched on cave walls, on papyrus scrolls, or in books. Perhaps writing by hand triggers some primitive and primal connection with the brain that enhances recall.

Whatever the reason, literal reams of research agree: Writing things down is a proven way to remember more consistently. The Wall Street Journal, in a 2010 article titled “How Handwriting Trains the Brain,” quoted researchers who found that both children and adults learned better and expressed themselves more clearly when writing by hand. The research seems to indicate that writing plays some role in stimulating our thinking.

There’s an intimacy involved in thinking, strategizing and formulating the results with your fingers – in your own unique style of writing – which a computer simply cannot replicate. Writing longhand forces you to carefully consider each word and the idea it represents. Seeing your goals lined up on paper, one after the other, allows you to reflect on how they fit together and on what might be better left out, combined or altered.

Putting them on paper gives your financial goals a substance – something you can see and touch. It transforms your goals from the abstract (the mind) to the concrete (the page) through the simple act of writing.  In short, writing things down the old-fashioned way – by hand; on paper – may be the most effective way to remember and efficiently achieve financial goals. 

This is not, of course, an excuse to ignore the conveniences and advantages offered by modern technology. The computer is an invaluable and far more efficient tool when it comes to crunching the hard numbers that will determine whether we achieve our dreams and goals.  And automating financial tasks such as transferring money into savings or making online bill payments saves valuable time and produces results. 

I recommend that you cement your financial goals by making them a part of your computer-stored master budget. But when it comes time to the initial phase of conceiving and visualizing your financial goals in tangible form, consider sending the kids out to play, sitting down at the home office or kitchen table with pen and paper, and jotting down your ideas longhand. You might find it helps elevate them to their rightful place as a significant influence on your daily decisions (assuming they’re legible!).

Benjamin Ross is a former copywriter and copy editor at MMI.

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