Reach Your Money Goals Faster With a Simple Naming Trick


I used to feel crushed by my to-do list. I could never complete all the tasks on the list according to my (unrealistic) schedule, so I always felt like a loser. Even when I did complete all the tasks on my daily list, I never felt the sense of accomplishment that I hoped for.

What Would Han Solo Do?

While researching a better way to manage my list, I stumbled across the concept of action plans. According to project managers who specialize in getting things done, to-do lists aren't particularly useful for a variety of reasons. Action plans lead to success. Learning to action plan was going to revolutionize my schedule!

But then I got sidetracked, so I never got around to actually formulating an action plan. But it didn't matter. Just renaming my daily list of chores "Plan of Action" instead of "To Do" made me feel so much better about myself. I became more productive because I'd freed my brain from worry and made more space for creative thinking. Who writes to-do lists? Chumps, obviously. Who writes action plans? The architects of D-Day. The United Nations. Han Solo.

Did Han Solo consult his to-do list before he shot first? No. He did not.

Is My Home Equity Line of Credit Half Full or Half Empty?

Currently, my husband and I are paying down a $15,000 loan that we had to take out to replace the outgoing sewer line of our house. Plumbing is pretty much the least sexy way to spend money on home repair.

Other than our home mortgages, this loan is, by far, our largest debt. And, I hate debt. Debt makes me feel unsafe and without choices. The lack of control attached to this debt specifically ticks me off. It's not like we had a choice in the matter. We didn't accrue this debt by doing something fun like taking a vacation we couldn't afford. We have this loan because our sewer line broke and we had to fix it.

Since a simple name change made my to-do list feel more manageable, I wondered if renaming the sewer loan would make me feel less angry about paying down this debt.

First World Pooping

"Oh, you're the one with the funny account names," says the bank teller as she completes my deposit. The HELOC that I had to take out to pay for the sewer line is now named "First World Pooping."

In my hours of grumpy rumination about how much I hate the sewer line loan, I had come to two realizations:

  • About 60% of the world's population doesn't have indoor plumbing or even adequate sanitation. I have $15,000 in debt because my husband and I made the choice to repair our sewer line, instead of letting raw sewage drain into the dirt under our house. Six out of 10 people on the planet can't choose to have a working toilet.
  • Although $15,000 is a huge chunk of change for me, 80% of the world's population lives on less than $10 per day, so just my ability to get an emergency loan for $15,000 puts me in the uppermost strata of wealth on the planet.

In other words, my $15,000 sewer repair is a First World Problem. I may not like the cost of my choice, but I have enough financial control over my life that I can enjoy the privilege of flushing the toilet with drinking water.

Paying down the sewer loan each month still gives me no pleasure, but I no longer resent this debt like I used to. By renaming the loan "First World Pooping" I get a monthly reminder to practice gratitude for my comfortable, First World life.

Motivated Savings

In addition to renaming my loans, I have renamed all my bank accounts to help me meet my financial goals. I am more inspired to put money into my "OMG Retire Early!" account than I ever was when it was just named "Retirement." Socking away cash in my "Escape Plan" is somehow more fun than topping off my "Emergency Fund." Who has emergency funds? People who are worried about future plumbing problems. Who has an "Escape Plan?" Han Solo.

My account formerly known as "Savings" has been repeatedly renamed with the location of my next vacation. Every time I open up my bank records I get a positive push to save more money.

Obsessive Compulsive Labeling

I know this will come as a complete shock to anyone who reads this, but I have OCD. When I mentioned to my OCD support group that relabeling chores had a positive effect on my productivity, worldview, and bank account, I discovered that this brain hack is actually a fairly common Cognitive Behavioral Therapy exercise that is used to treat a variety of common psychological problems. I don't know if renaming every chore will cure my OCD, but it has made reaching financial goals a little easier.

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Guest's picture

Thanks for posting this. I'm going to give it a try!

Guest's picture

I have read your yearlong commentaries on how you are going to reach your goals. It is now almost Nov and I believe that you now have more debt. It also appears that you got side tracked when you were looking to sell your husbands house. You are a hard worker and very creative. I enjoy reading your commentaries, but life is a lot simpler than you make it. I hope you can focus on your simple goals and be kind to yourself. Cheers! GW

Max Wong's picture

Hi GW-

Thank you for your kind comment. First World Pooping is the same debt I have been whinin *ahem* writing about all year for my 2016 budget challenge. (But now you know its Han Solo-worthy name).

If my life were simpler, what would I ever write about?

And, uhn. Yes. The house. That's next year's project so stay tuned.

Guest's picture
Jodi Rives

@Guest--Do you consider this comment in any way helpful? Or let me say it another way: Get out of here with that condescending tripe.

Guest's picture

I do this too. Rename those MINT account goals as something more personal and exciting than "home repair" or "vacation". How about "back deck" and "Alaska"?

Max Wong's picture

Hi J.-

Back Deck and Alaska sound way more fun that First World Pooping. You win on account names.