Soil, Sun, Water and Seeds: The ingredients of a garden are simple, but the end product is never guaranteed. Wanting a plot of land in a vibrant flowering state takes intention, skill and a fair amount of trial and error.
Like many people who stay at home, I have spent much of the last year tending to my backyard soil and creating a garden oasis of my own imagination. The job has not been easy, and I’m sure a lot of the now dead plants wish I could be a bit more proficient.
But as my vision came to life – and I realized the care this new hobby requires – I saw parallels between tending a garden and managing finances with intention. Here’s what my garden taught me about money management.
Have a vision
Before you put a shovel in the ground or take out a new financial instrument, define what you want to accomplish. Like a garden, your financial future can be a reflection of your passions and priorities.
âThere are no rules, it’s your garden,â says Brooke Edmunds, associate professor of community horticulture at the Oregon State University Extension. âDon’t be afraid to try new things. You will take so much joy in the pride of growing things yourself.
How you manage your money is also an individual business. âWhen imagining your goals, a good place to start is to define your needs, wants and what you value,â says Lacey Langford, a North Carolina-based financial coach. âNot everyone appreciates the same thing. Some people might place more importance on a nice house, a nice car, or retirement savings. “
Realize that big goals can take years to achieve. âTake a long-term approach,â Edmunds says. “It really takes about five years to really see how plants are and learn your garden space.”
Likewise, think about various aspects of your finances – debt, income, investments – and define what you want them to look like in five years. Do some soul-searching and sketch the life you want. Then start making that vision a reality.
With defined goals, dig and lay the right foundation for growth.
In a garden, this step involves testing the soil to determine if it contains the right components to support your specific plants. Developing the right soil can make the difference between a vigorous growing season and poor performance.
When it comes to managing money, think of fundamentals – things like income, spending, and savings, as well as your attitudes and behavior towards money – like soil. Your ambitions are the plants you put in the ground, hoping they will take root and thrive. Upon inspection, you may find that you are ready for growth or that the soil needs to be amended.
Adjusting your financial habits to meet an ambitious savings goal, like a down payment on a house, is one example. If you are not able to save much after covering your daily expenses, get creative and decrease spending or increase your income.
Then turn to your attitudes and habits when it comes to money, says Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a wealth psychology expert based in Vermont.
âI recommend people look at the lessons they learned growing up on money management,â says Burns Kingsbury. âHow did these beliefs about money impact their behavior as adults? The fundamental part is really looking at how those thoughts and beliefs impact your ability to move forward on this path. “
Shifting attitudes towards money can help you reach your goals. For example, you may have been taught that debt should be avoided at all costs. You could reassess your thinking and explore ways to use debt as a financial tool with less risk. When you’re paying a large expense, a 0% APR credit card could help cover the cost while preserving your savings.
Get down to work
A green thumb or a certified financial planner certificate is not necessary to achieve your goals. Just like weeding, it’s easier to cut down on tasks regularly than to try to get it all done right away.
âYou don’t need to weed the whole garden in one day,â says Burns Kingsbury. âTake a small piece and think about how to get rid of these weeds. “
Focus on regular tasks to maintain your finances. When paying off debt, for example, spend a day organizing your accounts in a spreadsheet or using a debt tracker. The next day, choose a payment method, such as debt snowball or the debt avalanche method, then stick to it. Dividing tasks into small steps makes them easier to manage. The same is true when improving credit; making regular payments on time will increase your score over time.
âYour garden doesn’t have to be perfect, but stay on top of your weeds so they don’t affect your garden’s productivity,â says Edmunds.
Maintaining a garden and managing its finances means marrying a bold vision with daily and incremental tasks to bring it to life.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. Pyles is a debt writer at NerdWallet whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and elsewhere. Read more