Everyone experiences personal challenges when it comes to budgeting and saving money. You may lack motivation, you may struggle to track your spending, or you may face pressure to do what your friends are doing. Whatever the cause, you must have a strong enough reason to take action and stick to your goals.
You Need a “Why”
I don’t think there’s anyone out there who wants to budget, track their spending, or save money. What people want is the result. People want to get out of debt, stop living paycheck to paycheck, start building net worth, and live without fear or anxiety surrounding money.
But are those reasons strong enough to motivate you to consistently budget and save money? It’s important to get clear and intentional about your deepest “why” because it’s what motivates you to keep going when things get difficult. Many people struggle to articulate their reasons for wanting to save money or reach financial freedom, and I believe this is why many people struggle to stick to their savings goals and budget.
One strategy you can use to figure out your strongest “why” is a problem-solving tool called root cause analysis.
What is Root Cause Analysis?
Root cause analysis is really what it sounds like—it’s all about finding the root cause of your problem. In engineering, we focus on root cause analysis because it’s important we resolve the real root cause of an issue, otherwise it will keep occurring.
It may seem obvious that the goal during problem solving is to discover the root cause. But we often solve a symptom instead. Root cause analysis focuses on preventing the problem from occurring again, instead of just dealing with the aftermath over and over.
Here’s a simple example: you begin to feel increasingly tired each day. To “solve” the problem, you decide to start drinking more coffee. Some people will stop there, thinking they have resolved the issue. But they’ve really only solved the symptom of a deeper root cause.
How to Use Root Cause Analysis
There are many root cause analysis tools, but I will just cover one. It’s called “5 Whys,” and you basically keep asking “Why?” until you get to the root cause of the problem.
Let’s continue our example from earlier:
Problem: You’re feeling tired every day.
You are not sleeping enough.
You are staying up too late.
You’re scrolling social media in bed.
To wind down after a long day.
Stop when you no longer can provide useful answers to the “whys.” In this case, instead of drinking more coffee to combat the tired symptom, you should try reading a book to wind down more effectively instead of using your phone.
Use Root Cause Analysis to Discover Your “Why”
Root cause analysis can be an effective way to clarify your “why” behind saving money. Start with the question, “Why do I want to save money?” and keep asking “why?” until you get to the root cause. Let’s look at a few examples:
Problem: I want to save money each month.
I want to pay off my student loans.
They are causing me stress.
Because I want to buy a house and start a family.
There—family can be a pretty big motivator. Use that to motivate you when you are budgeting and making spending choices.
Here’s another example:
Problem: I want to save money.
I want to have money available to invest.
I want to retire early.
I want to travel full-time.
I want to experience new cultures and live my life to the fullest.
Using root cause analysis can help you drill down to your true reason for wanting to budget and save money, beyond just “I know I should do it.” Give yourself a reason that makes it worthwhile and easy to stick to your commitment.
Use Root Cause Analysis to Diagnose Your Bad Money Habits
In addition to using root cause analysis to discover your “why,” you can also use it to diagnose some money habits that you struggle with. Let’s look at some examples:
Problem: I spend more than I earn each month.
I spend more than I budgeted in multiple categories.
I buy things I wasn’t planning on at Target.
I go to Target a few times a week and use credit cards to buy other things I see once I’m there.
I always seem to need something from Target on my way home from work, and my credit cards are conveniently available.
The reason this person is struggling to save actually has two causes, and two potential solutions. They go to Target too often, and they use credit cards without checking how much they have left in their budget. To resolve the first cause, they could commit to going to Target only once a month and plan their purchases beforehand, or they could shop online to reduce temptations. To resolve the second cause, they could use cash instead of credit cards and take only the amount of cash they need.
Here’s one more:
Problem: I can’t stick to my budget.
I’m spending more than I have budgeted.
I don’t realize I’m spending too much until after I’ve spent it.
I track my spending at the end of the month and don’t plan my purchases.
In this example, this person could plan their purchases at the beginning of the month, and they could track their spending multiple times throughout the month. If they near their budgeted amount for categories, they should stop spending in that area for the rest of the month or they should move money from another category.
People have difficulty saving money for various reasons, and there’s not just one solution. This is why root cause analysis can be so beneficial on an individual level, so that you can determine the solution that’s right for you.
Addressing your Root Cause
Don’t forget that the most important thing to do after identifying a root cause, is to address it! Once you know why you’re having difficulty saving money or budgeting, you need to address the root cause. Otherwise, you will keep experiencing the same issue over and over again.
Don’t forget to use your “why” as motivation to address your money challenges. Read more about discovering your why here.