Introduce the "green screen" to help guide client spending decisionsArticle added by Susan Zimmerman on May 4, 2009
Susan Zimmerman

Susan Zimmerman

Apple Valley, MN

Joined: August 21, 2010

Have you noticed that some clients fall into that plan-sabotaging behavior of over-spending? Have you tried showing them the numbers to motivate them to higher discipline in their spending habits? If so, you've probably also recognized that a certain percentage of them are basically "numb to numbers."

I, personally, find numbers very motivational. There was a time when I was sure if the numbers were just presented in the right way it would motivate others as well. But I was wrong. I remember a client saying, "Numbers are invisible to me" as she stared at the numbers we had so thoroughly prepared. So I got a little more creative.

The most recent addition to creative cost control I've used with clients who perpetually operate in the red is what I call a "green screen." When discussing cash flow, I ask if they are open to finding some fresh ways to get out of the red by thinking green.

I've yet to hear anyone say, "No thanks. I feel great about creating more debt every month." The response is always, "Tell me more." Maybe it's the use of colors in asking the question that heightens a new curiosity. It has also, in many instances, heightened hope. That's the hope of breaking a behavioral habit that they know has been costly to their financial health.

A lighter footprint for a more balanced lifestyle

Many of us are on a steep learning curve when it comes to environmental sustainability. When we consider the way the earth's resources are being depleted and damaged, it can be very motivational to control spending so as to leave a "lighter footprint."

In the video, "Story of Stuff" ( by Annie Leonard, you'll find many easy-to-grasp statistics that are very compelling. Share some with your clients, for example:
  • In the United States, people spend three to four times more hours shopping than other countries
  • Americans have more stuff but are less happy, have less time and less friends than in other countries
  • For every single garbage can of stuff you throw out, it took 70 garbage cans of stuff to make it
  • Six months after the sale of most products, only 1 percent are still in use
  • Landfills can't keep up with the waste
For clients, suggesting use of the mental "green screen" can give them another thought process when they shop for anything. They can incorporate conscientious consuming as a way to reduce purchases for items they don't really need. This saves money and gives them a fresh reason for discerning the difference between wants and needs.

Meanwhile, you can sneak in a few simple numbers to season the lesson. Estimate how many dollars this will create for them and how much it will save in debt interest payments, or in future value of new money invested for retirement or other goals. Now you've delivered new, meaningful motivations and some future financial freedom as well.

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