Have you ever noticed how we people love to make lists?
From groceries to weekend chores, it's a satisfaction like no other to tick off those boxes, one by one.
But when it comes to our hard-earned money, ticking off tasks isn't enough.
The real magic happens when we elevate our game from mere planning to strategising. That's where we take the steering wheel of our financial journey.
Personally, my financial life really started to take shape when I shifted my focus from just planning (a to-do list, if you will) to crafting a clear strategy (a set of choices to make the plans happen).
You see, I used to think that having a plan was all I needed. It was only after I experienced some personal financial hurdles that I realised there is a difference between planning and strategising – and you need both in place to be able to hit your financial goals.
To explain the differences further a plan is akin to making a grocery list, right?
You know what you want – you need bread, eggs, milk, maybe some chocolate (we all deserve a treat).
That's your plan.
However, the strategy is how you decide which brands to choose, how you take advantage of sales, and how you get the most bang for your buck – that's the secret sauce!
I find that while planning often ends up being a list of things I want to do, strategy or being strategic requires more thought-out actions and an understanding of the why and how I would deliver the plan.
It's this clarity that makes all the difference.
Especially when it comes to money.
Understanding the Plan-Strategy Relationship
Building off our grocery list analogy, let's chew over this a bit more.
When you head to your local Coles or Woolworths with a plan to buy bread, eggs, milk, and some sneaky chocolate, you're ready.
But, the moment you step into those fluorescent-lit aisles, you're bombarded with choices. Do you buy the bread you always do but what if there's none left? do you go for a different brand? Free-range eggs or barn laid? Full block of cheese or half? Have the prices gone up?
At that moment, a plan doesn't help.
And you start thinking strategically.
A strategy that's based on your dietary requirements, your budget, and yes, even your cravings.
That's what being strategic is all about – making informed decisions based on your circumstances and goals.
The Art of Financial Strategising (it's not as hard as it sounds)
Now, let's translate this to our financial lives.
A plan could be something like saving $100 every month, but your strategy decides where that saving goes.
Is it for an emergency fund?
Maybe once that's covered, you start paying off debt or investing? Those choices are strategy.
Similarly, choosing to invest based on research, your risk tolerance, and your financial goals – that's a strategy, too.
As opposed to jumping into something cause you heard it from a friend. Or a guy in a video.
Your strategy is your North Star, guiding you to your financial goals.
It's your personal roadmap, helping you navigate your financial journey and tweak your course as needed.
Planning on having kids? Changing jobs? Moving cities?
Your strategy adapts to it all, helping you sail smoothly through life's waves.
Crafting Your Own Strategy (and How I do it)
Now embracing strategy can feel overwhelming.
It's simpler to follow a to-do list, right?
But trust me, as someone who has been on both sides, crafting your own strategy can be a game-changer.
For instance, I used to think that just deciding to save a certain amount every month was enough.
Until I realised, I was missing the bigger picture.
Where was this saving leading me? Did it align with my long-term financial goals?
I needed a strategy.
And once I got the hang of it, there was no looking back. I started investing in an ETF, diversified my portfolio, kept costs low, and stayed clear of investments I didn't understand. That was me being strategic, and it's still paying off.
Debt, Strategy and Me
Another bit from my personal financial journey, and this one's a bit of a wild ride.
In my mid-twenties, I made a classic rookie mistake. I went on a holiday to the USA, credit card in hand, and didn't pay too much attention to my spending.
I was solo, thinking it was once a in a lifetime trip, and didn't want my opportunities to be limited by money.
You know the drill. Little by little, the expenses piled up. You go out for dinner, misunderstand the conversion rates, buy some new clothes, and say yes to strangers.
By the time I got back home, reality hit me square in the face.
A few thousand dollars in debt had magically appeared on my credit card, and it quickly doubled with some unexpected expenses like new tires and medical bills. The simple plan of ‘I'll pay it off' suddenly seemed a lot harder than I'd thought.
That's when my strategy hat came on.
Rather than just blurt out the plan “i'll pay it off” I sat down and calculated how much I could afford to pay off each month, figured out all the major expenses in the pipeline, and tightened the belt on my spending – no more new clothes, no more takeaway nights.
It wasn't easy to pivot and change, but it was necessary.
It was all about strategy – the plan was paying off my debt, but the strategy was how I went about doing it.
And you know what? It worked.
Within 18 months, I was debt-free, with a little extra set aside to ensure I wouldn't land in the same spot again.
This experience taught me the importance of not just having a plan, but also a well-crafted strategy to back it up.
This is also the moment in my life that set me on a trajectory of financial literacy and has me here today telling you stories.
Moving from Planning to Strategy
So, how can you start this move from planning to strategizing?
Here's a quick rundown of tips that worked for me:
1. Establish clear goals: Start by clearly defining what you want to achieve. If you have a vague goal is like setting off on a road trip without a destination. You might enjoy the ride, but you'll end up getting nowhere.
2. Create an integrative strategy: Your strategy should not just be a list of tasks, but a set of choices that take you towards your goals. The ‘what' is important, but the ‘why' and ‘how' are what truly count.
3. Embrace uncertainty: Look, I won't sugar-coat it. Crafting a strategy can be tough, especially when you can't see immediate results. But hang in there. Your strategy is your roadmap, not a guaranteed ticket to success.
4. Be willing to tweak your strategy: Remember, a strategy is not set in stone. If something isn't working, change it. If your circumstances change, adapt it. Keep it dynamic.
5. Keep it simple: Your strategy doesn't have to be a complex, jargon-filled document. If you can explain it to a five-year-old, you've got a good strategy.
6. Focus on outcomes, not tasks: Strategy is about the end game. It's about knowing where you want to go and how you're going to get there. Don't get too caught up in the tasks; keep your eyes on the prize.
Remember, it's not about choosing between planning or strategy; it's about understanding how they work together.
Planning is an essential part of implementing your strategy, but it shouldn't be confused with the strategy itself.
Your Turn to be Strategic
Well, that's a bit of my journey from being a novice planner to a seasoned strategist.
Now it's your turn.
Remember, strategy isn't just for the high rollers.
Whether you're a first-time investor, planning your retirement, or just trying to manage your monthly budget, a solid strategy can be your game-changer.
It's more than just a plan. It's a roadmap, a guide, a secret sauce that takes you where you want to go.
So why not give it a try?
After all, we're all just trying to navigate the supermarket of life, right?
Wouldn't it be nice to have a strategy up your sleeve, ready to help you make the best choices, whatever aisle you're in?
I think so.
And I bet you'll think so too.
So go ahead, put on that strategy hat.
And remember, it's about making smart choices that put you in a good position to win.
Trust me, your future self will thank you.