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Avoid financial overwhelm: Here's how to make sense of your money goals

Financial overwhelm can stop your budgeting in its tracks, which means your financial goals can slip even further away.

Compilation image of pile of $100 notes and people queuing down a street to represent financial overwhelm
As our bills stack up and wages slow, it's easy to fall victim to financial overwhelm. (Source: Getty) (Samantha Menzies)

Personal finances can be overwhelming. Between wanting to save an emergency fund, travel, attend a multitude of weddings, engagements and baby showers, maybe even save for our own celebrations – it’s a lot to juggle in our minds and our wallets. And don’t even get me started on saving up for a home.

While many of our financial woes come down to rising prices and stagnating wages, the overwhelm of all these conflicting goals flying around our minds can make a tough situation worse. In fact, the more overwhelmed we feel, the less likely we are to work towards, well.... anything at all.

Also by Emma Edwards:

Untangling goal overwhelm

When we feel stifled by overwhelm, we’re unable to assess our needs and wants objectively. As a result, we can struggle to make any progress in working towards them.

I experience this overwhelm regularly in my own finances. I need to rebuild my emergency fund after dipping into it when I left my job to pursue self-employment, and to cover some health expenses.

I’ve recently learned I need my wisdom teeth out (big ouch, literally and financially. I want to visit my friends and family back home in the UK again this year. I want to go on a honeymoon. The 2005 Holden I share with my husband is absolutely definitely on its last legs (or do I mean wheels?) and needs replacing. I need to contribute some cash to my superfund this year.

Oh, and I want to indulge myself and buy a home to grow old in.

It’s a lot going on in my brain, and I struggle to translate that to my bank account.

I’ve realised, though, that when I let that overwhelm take over, I don’t make any progress at all. When I leave all my financial needs and aspirations in a clutter pile, I very rarely pick any of it up to deal with it. It’s all too much to handle, and so I end up avoiding it.

Given that I work with financial behaviours and emotions every day, I knew I couldn’t be alone in this. So I developed a matrix to help me process it all.

The goal prioritisation matrix

Based in part on the concept of the Eisenhower Matrix – a common workplace tool used for task prioritisation by distinguishing between important and urgent tasks – the matrix prompts you to organise your financial goals based on their importance and how achievable they are to you currently.

Why? Because low achievability makes avoidance even more of an attractive option. By addressing the balance of importance and achieveability, we can understand where all of our aspirations sit in the context of one another. By reducing the mental clutter of conflicting goals, we establish a sense of clarity on where to direct our energy first.

This is what it looks like:

Goal prioritisation table
(Source: Supplied)

The idea is that the matrix prompts you to plot out opportunities for short term wins, identify the need for longer term slow-and-steady goal setting, and which goals to ditch all together, or revisit at a later date.

Using the goal prioritisation matrix

For goals that are high importance and highly achievable, look to set up a savings system that works towards these as a priority. Short term sacrifices could see this goal realised fairly quickly, stimulating motivation that may have been previously lacking. Once achieved, funds are freed up to be redeployed into something else.

For goals that are highly important but less achievable, look to set in motion a longer term savings approach that aims to move the needle forward rather than rush for quick results.

Identifying those highly achievable but less important goals helps us weed out the things that won’t provide potent lifestyle value, which frees up funds for other things.

For the less achievable, less important goals, we can look to revisit them in the future when our capacity and/or priorities may have changed.

Tackling these goals in real terms will vary depending on an individual’s financial capacity, but the concept works regardless.

Prioritisation is key to making progress with financial goals, and understanding how each goal relates to your own personal needs, aspirations and circumstances can help you do so in a personalised way.

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