Whether your focus is paying off debt or ramping up income, here are some money-management tips for right-brainers.
Does the idea of tinkering with a spreadsheet to create a budget make you cringe? Would you rather play around with colored markers and a sketchpad instead?
If you’re like a lot of right-brainers, then the answer is probably yes, and yes. The good news is that preferring art to math doesn’t doom you to a life of financial chaos. You just need to take advantage of those natural tendencies to create a solid financial plan for yourself.
As a who’s interviewed hundreds of people about their money woes, I quickly realized that I’m hardly the only one who hears the words “budgeting spreadsheet” and wants to immediately reach for a comforting piece of dark chocolate. That’s because right-brainers are wired a little differently. We prefer to focus on the big picture over details, we tend to resist limits (the definition of a budget), and, perhaps most importantly in the world of financial management, we’re often drawn to visual representations of numbers more than the numbers themselves.
I realized that creative-types need a different version of standard personal finance advice while reading Jennifer Lee’s , which is aimed at creative entrepreneurs. It takes all of the standard components of business plans — mission statements, marketing plan, competition overview — and puts a visual spin on them. That means instead of starting out with a basic, text description of your business, you begin by collecting images from magazines and catalogues and creating a vision board collage that reflects your plans.
As I read her book, I thought, What if we applied this right-brain technique to the world of personal finance? Could we make it less boring and more artistic? I soon discovered that I wasn’t the first person to try to bridge the worlds of personal finance and creativity.
In fact, one financial adviser, Paula Ann Monroe, had the same idea over a decade ago. Her now out-of-print book, , is filled with visual charts to help explain complex financial concepts. Another author, , had the fantastic idea to create a movie of your money goals to watch every morning, to help influence smaller financial choices throughout the day.
After interviewing some of those experts and creating my own exercises, I’ve discovered three great ways for right-brainers to get started with money management:
Create a financial vision board
If you’re a fan of self-improvement books or blogs, then you’re probably familiar with the concept of a vision board. A financial vision board simply takes the same concept that Jennifer Lee talks about in her book and applies it to one’s financial life.
To create one of your own, ask yourself these questions: What does financial success look like for you? What kind of life do you want? Do you dream of quitting your job to work from a remote beach somewhere, launching your own cupcake business or retiring at age forty? Collect images that resonate with your vision and paste them onto a piece of paper. (Of course, you can skip the paperwork and create a digital version using online images.)
Having that vision makes it easier to figure out all the smaller steps that need to happen to achieve those goals, from cutting back on certain splurges to opening up an investing account.
Make a visual budget map
Get out a piece of paper along with some colored pens or markers, and draw a big circle of each of your main financial priorities, with the name of that priority in the center of the circle. Then, create smaller circles for smaller priorities.
Next, color-code those circles: Circle the absolute necessities (food, housing, transportation) in red, important needs (household and professional expenses) in blue, savings in green, and luxuries (entertainment) in purple. Now, compare this visual image with where your spending is currently going. (If you don’t know, use a free online tool such as to find out.) Work on making the necessary adjustments to move closer your vision.
Visualize your progress
Whether your focus is paying off debt or ramping up income, don’t let numbers alone do the talking. Get out a big piece of poster board and draw a simple graph. As you make progress towards your goal, fill in the numbers on that graph so you have a visual representation of how your hard work is paying off.
Silber recommends getting even more creative and drawing a picture that you slowly fill in as you reach your goals. (Websites can do this for you, which is one reason so many right-brainers, including Jennifer Lee herself, love Mint.com. The website creates colorful pie charts and other types of graphs based on spending patterns and savings goals.)
The best part of this kind of financial management? Budgeting starts with an art project, not a spreadsheet.
How do you make your money management fun? Have any ideas to share?
is the creator of the , a visual and creative planner based on her personal finance book, .