A User's view of Hledger

Learning about hledger

Don’t make this planning mistake with hledger

It’s easy to make plans for great results, but it can often be the case that lofty plans don’t lead to success. I am indebted to Protesilaos Stavrou for pointing out one of the reasons for this.

Specifically, it’s common to make plans from a place of comfort. Therefore, you are feeling, well, comfortable as you think about the plans. However, you are not feeling the discomfort that often happens with carrying out the plan. For example, as I am sitting in a comfortable chair, I can imagine a new exercise routine where the alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m., and I begin an hour of physical exercise. It sounds like a good idea. And it is a good idea, except that when the alarm rings the next morning, I am feeling the profound need to sleep longer. My idealism has hit reality.

It occurred to me that the same thing can happen with financial planning. For example, it’s one thing to plan for reduced spending when you are feeling comfortable. The feeling can be quite different when you are actually faced with going without something that you would really rather have but is not in your budget.

How to avoid this? For me it would be to run those hledger reports that show your actual spending for the last year. Think about patterns. Where is your spending now? What are realistic changes that you can make? By realistic changes, I mean small steps in the direction you want to go. We are creatures of habit, so a plan that slightly modifies your habits is more likely to succeed than one that changes them outright. It’s exciting to think about big, important changes, but the smaller changes are more likely to happen.

Also, think about the obstacles. Imagine that you want to reduce the number of meals you are eating out. What are you going to do when when close friends or family members want to get together for a meal at a restaurant. What will you say and do? If you don’t think ahead of time, the battle will already be likely lost.

In short, use hledger to see where you are currently with your spending. And as you plan future spending, realize that you are likely in a place of comfort when you are doing the planning. Therefore, don’t look just at the results you want to achieve. Look at what small changes will head you in the right direction. Big changes = big discomfort. Small changes = small discomfort.