How to use storytelling to inform your financial future

By Liliya Jones

Originally published on onmogul.com

I’m not an artist, writer or creative in any traditional sense of the word. In fact, most people regard my work as the opposite of that - I run operations at a financial firm. However, it so happens that I heavily rely on a creative process in my daily work - storytelling.

There are actually many ways to use storytelling in the financial industry: helping prospective clients understand our work, involving employees in internal strategic planning, and sometimes even engaging the public with the occasional essay! But I am particularly captivated by its power to guide people through the financial life planning process. Research shows that stories are a lot more effective than facts and figures at getting people to change their mind or their behavior. These days a lot of financial tasks can be automated or passed off to a high-touch financial advisor but, at the end of the day, financial well-being largely rests on exactly the one thing that cannot be outsourced: day to day saving and spending habits. Making changes here means altering long-standing habits. Of course, knowing we need to change is not enough to create motivation. We have to engage our emotions if we want sustainable behavior change - we have to use stories.

Here are three ways you can leverage this creative process to inform your financial life planning:

Uncover your money story

Before you can build a plan for your financial future, you need to tap into your emotional connection to money. Here are some questions to think about to help you uncover your money story:

What did your parents (or guardians) teach you about money?

How did you feel the first time you earned money?

What was your biggest concern in your youth about money?

What is your biggest concern about money today?

Write a vision for the future

As you uncover your money story, think about how you want it to look going into the future.

Are you happy with your relationship with money or do you want it to change? What are your core values? What are your goals? What kind of financial being do you want to be 5-10 years from now? Write (yes, commit it to paper or at least a word processor!) a narrative for your dream financial future. Then, when you have to make a financial decision, run it through this filter. Ask yourself if the decision supports your values, if it helps you reach your goals, and if it aligns with the money story you want for yourself.

Bring your story to life

With your new-found money awareness and vision for the future, you will be well-armed against the biggest obstacles to change - inertia and lack of motivation. Changing habits is hard, but when you have a clear vision and inspiring goals, the road should be much easier. Short-term wins will be important for keeping momentum, so make sure you identify at least one (but not more than 3) small thing you can do differently today to move closer to your ideal financial future. Make sure you keep your narrative close at hand and refer to it frequently, especially when you feel your motivation waning. The narrative is a living document, so as you make progress, make sure to make updates and celebrate your achievements.

These three steps should help you get moving towards your ideal financial future. I’ve seen many of our clients make positive changes to their lives after going through these exercises. Apart from the results, the process of self-discovery and visioning can be deeply fun and rewarding as well. I hope you give it a try!

P.S. While I believe in using behavioral science “hacks” to help with positive change, to honor the great work of the behavioral scientists who have helped us learn about these valuable techniques, I have to point out that storytelling can be misused. Narrative fallacy can lead you astray, so you have to be careful when wielding this powerful tool!