Every February 2 at daybreak, the world’s most celebrated woodchuck, Punxsutawney Phil, must decide whether to scurry back to his warm bed, or overcome his fear and stand fast.  

And in 1993, the annual “woodchuck’s choice” became the subject of the memorable film comedy, “Groundhog Day,” where Bill Murray plays the role of Phil Connors, an arrogant TV weatherman. Both the folk story and the film story evoke the same moral:  Without changing our instinctive habits, we are doomed to remain in a perpetual loop of self-imposed misery.

We often find ourselves experiencing the same negative consequences over and over again when it comes to our personal finances, seemingly unable to get out of our own way and on to better results.  Consider, for example, the following ruts we so often fall into:

  • Repeatedly overdrawing our accounts, resulting in the hassle of fees or returned checks.
  • Never having money left to set aside for longer term financial goals after paying our bills.
  • Routinely putting regular expenses on our credit card “just for the miles,” but failing to pay them off completely with the next billing statement.
  • Putting off buying needed insurance coverage, or delaying the preparation of wills, trusts, powers of attorney and medical directives;
  • Neglecting to review our employee benefit plans each year;
  • Forgetting to check our credit report quarterly; and
  • Not changing our W-4 tax withholding instructions even when our financial circumstances (dependents, wages, deductions) have changed. 

    It doesn’t take a brain bigger than a groundhog’s to know that none of these activities is financially good for us. But sometimes knowing what we shouldn’t do just isn’t enough.  Intention must be galvanized by action. So let’s turn back to the movie “Groundhog Day” to consider what Phil the meteorologist had to do to get himself back on track and into a sunnier tomorrow.

    1. Live like there’s no tomorrow. 

      Only when Phil fully accepts the present does his life begin to change.  Oftentimes, it is our reluctance to accept the “facts” of life that keeps us from completing the important financial tasks we must do. We don’t want to think about dying or the possibility of serious illness, for example, so we put off getting life or disability insurance. But when we instead adopt the mantra that there may indeed be no tomorrow, the consequences of procrastinating can be rather alarming — and motivating. 
       

    2. Accept uncertainty as certain.

      At the beginning of the film, Phil is certain he can leave the small town of Punxsutawney whenever he chooses. We make a similar mistake when we don’t consider that our financial circumstances can change. When it comes to our money, nothing is 100 percent sure. In fact, we are likely to keep more of it when we plan for some downside.

    3. Learn something new.  

      Phil learns to play the piano, speak French, and perform a magic card trick as part of the process of getting unstuck. We, too, can change our bad financial habits by learning new tricks. Automation – such as regular account transfers or electronic alerts – can get you saving more, paying bills on time, and avoiding inadvertent overdrafts. Learning what’s in your employee benefits package, or how new tax laws will impact you, can help you find savings that you might otherwise lose.  

    4. Ask for help.

A major turning point in “Groundhog Day” occurs when Phil finally realizes he can’t escape his perpetual time loop all by himself and turns to his colleague, Rita, for help.  When it comes to our own financial dead-ends or dysfunction, change often takes admitting we can’t do it alone. Enlist the support of a CFP to help move you forward financially. He or she will be well-trained to understand behavior – both yours and your money – to get them working productively together.

So here you are again.  

Imagine you’re Phil. It’s February 2, and your radio alarm just went off, as it always does, at 6 a.m. You awaken faced with another day that ought to be pretty much like yesterday. But before you bolt that usual cup of coffee or listen to morning news, pause and consider: What can you do now to make your financial circumstances tomorrow better than today?