Shiny Object Syndrome - Squirrel

Wrestling with Financial Shiny Object Syndrome

I am actively working on my finances, attempting to turn around the Titanic. We already hit the iceberg but we have shored up the major leaks. Our ship won’t sink, not if I have anything to say about it. Now it’s time to turn this ship around and head towards warmer waters.

The only problem is…right now I’m blinded by financial shiny object syndrome.

What is Shiny Object Syndrome?

You know that moment when you are interested in something, fully invested, but you never seem to finish the task because you get distracted, going so far off the rails that you can’t remember what it was you started working on…that’s shiny object syndrome. I don’t know who coined the term, but I know it’s been around for a while. And the internet and information age have only made the problem worse for many people.

Here are some symptoms to let you know whether you might have it:

• You have a ton of great ideas. Brainstorming is your favorite activity, but looking back you never seem to move beyond that stage.
• You start many tasks and business efforts, but you rarely ever complete one.
• You get lost in the details, losing sight of the bigger picture.

My Shiny Objects

I have my own issues with shiny object syndrome, mostly related to the financial field. Well, for this post I’ll discuss only the financial problems I’m experiencing. I chase around plenty of other shiny objects, like a dog chasing a squirrel.

So here are my SOS symptoms:

• I started following more personal finance people on Twitter, and now I want to read EVERY article, blog post, or investment idea that comes through my feed.
• I am reading financial articles that I find in email newsletters from my banks, 401k institution, you name it. I used to delete those emails, but now I am reading the articles.
• I researched credit card deals for 0% rates and I want to sign up for every one or find the perfect one. Then I wonder what deals I have on my current cards. Then I start looking at the points or cash back I get on my current cards and wonder which one is the best one to use now. And then…and then…
• EVERY investing idea sounds awesome to me. I want to invest in dividend stock strategies and can’t stop myself from reading about them. I don’t even have the funds to invest, but I still read about it.
• Debt consolidation loans is another area of research and I go down that rabbit hole, searching for the perfect loan that will make all my credit card debt go away.
• Personal finance blogs are full of great information, but I find myself reading the most obscure articles that have nothing to do with me or my current financial situation. I start reading things that used to affect me or about a place I hope to be down the road.
• My budget spreadsheet is a wasteland of my shiny objects. Instead of just entering income and expenses, I listed all my debts and then built a debt pay down plan. Sounds good until you realize that I spent hours and hours figuring out the formulas, designing the sheet layout so it looked perfect, and incorporating all possible debt pay down strategies. All this for something that no one will see but me.

Recognizing the Problem

Often the most difficult part of pulling yourself out of shiny object syndrome is realizing that you are in it to begin with. I’ve gone down this path of chasing the next shiny thing so many times that I can recognize my signs.

I lose focus on the real goal. I spend time working on the most ridiculous things that somehow seemed appropriate 10 minutes ago.

Think about it this way…you get on the internet and lose track of what you were searching for. You go into a state of conscious unconsciousness. You keep going, keep clicking and reading, but not really focused on anything. You lose track of time and space. You are scanning web pages but not really absorbing much of anything.

Then 20 minutes later you find yourself searching for how many home runs Barry Bonds hit in 1994 when the baseball season was shortened by a strike. For some reason that’s the most important thing to you at that moment. That’s how far off track your brain got.

You break out of your haze, no idea how you got that far down the road to begin with. You finally stop yourself and shake it off. That’s shiny object syndrome on a small scale.

Now What?

Once I realize that I’m doing the shiny object thing and chasing every crazy idea down the rabbit hole, I stop myself. I pull back and refocus. I remember what I was trying to accomplish, my ultimate goal. That usually gets me back on track.

I am thinking about posting my ultimate goals up on my work desk. Making my goals visible like that should be my visual que to get back to work on the important things and not the crazy details. Not the real long term goals, like pie in the sky stuff (eg. I want to make $10K a month in passive income), but more of the immediate goals (eg. I want to get a debt consolidation loan).

I’m not perfect and I won’t be able to stay away from all of the shiny objects. Sometimes I will let myself go chase down that squirrel, just for the hell of it. But knowing that it’s a conscious choice will help me pull out of it.

Hell, while looking up a few things for this blog post, I got lost on YouTube. I realized I was off track when I was watching a video of the best moments of the minions, from the Despicable Me movies.


With all of that said, I need to refocus and get back to work on financial improvements. For my current short term goals, I need to do the following:

• Decide on a debt consolidation loan and follow through by completing the application paperwork. I hate paperwork, which means I will drag my feet all the way through that.
• Put all current credit cards on auto pay to pay the minimum every month, for the cards that allow it. That will ensure all cards are paid on time.
• Update my budget for November, keeping it simple with income and expenses. No crazy new formulas.

That’s it. Three simple goals or tasks to complete to keep me focused. Now the key is to stay away from crazy Google searches or endless videos on YouTube.

What are some of the shiny objects you chase on the internet?

By the way, Barry Bonds hit 37 home runs in 1994. I wanted to save you the Google search.

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  • Interesting topic! I find that I chase down rabbit holes when I’m researching for my blog posts and that’s my big shiny object problem. I’ve recently been trying to write distraction free by not writing in a browser so I’m not seeing the ads or tempted by all the tabs that I keep open from time to time.

    As far as financial shiny object syndrome, I overdo my budget and all the programs I use to manage it. I could and should be easily done every two weeks by just putting in my numbers but I like to forecast and play with formulas like you! It’s fun but not all that productive when I should be creating more content or playing with the kiddos more!

    • Steven, glad to know a fellow shiny object chaser! That’s a great plan for writing. I do the same by writing everything in Word to keep me away from the internet. I have no cure for spreadsheets, though. I dive into spreadsheets and come up for air hours later, usually with nothing more to show for the time than a whole bunch of obscure numbers and formulas that are only interesting to me. The positive part of spreadsheets is when I can use them for work and be productive, or build a solid plan for my finances. But sometimes you just have to scratch that itch. Thanks for checking in.

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