Smart Savings: How to stay motivated after the early wins.
The lesson that personal finance taught me this month is this: Motivation is a moving target.
When we started this journey, there was always a new action we could take to correct our finances and improve our savings. Every day, I made a concentrated effort to replace my expensive habits with more mindful ones that helped support our family's long-term goals. Over the last 5 months, I carefully changed things about my daily routine to avoid blowing over $130 a month on lattes and half that amount again on parking. We reworked our student loan payments and utility bills, and adjusted our budget to take full advantage of these savings. Then, we refinanced our home before rates began to rise, and adjusted our budget again as we set an ambitious plan for our money in 2017.
Now that we've turned the ship and righted the sails, we wait. We wait while we use our income to annihilate our consumer debt at a rate of over $1,000 per month (thanks to all that previous work!). And once our consumer debt (car payment and credit card payment) is axed, we'll begin saving. We'll be saving for three awesome kinds of peace of mind: 1. A home repair fund, 2. A cash car replacement fund, and 3. An emergency fund. But after all the hands-on action that we took to get to this healthy point... it just feels like waiting. And waiting is, well, it's not all that inspiring.
In this new, healthier place, we can no longer take our inspiration from sheer panic. There is no overwhelming stress about how we would afford to replace an appliance or fix a vehicle, and that is a good thing. The peace of mind that we're building is a true luxury. It's worth more to us than a sports car, overpriced clothes, or a house with a pool. But it also means that we can no longer rely on our panic to scare us in to keeping up our new habits; our motivation has to come from somewhere else. In recent weeks, I've found three ways to motivate me to keep doing the disciplined work of being financially responsible after the excitement of the early wins has subsided.
1. ENJOYING TODAY / BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE
When I first realized I needed to change my spending habits, our budget had a lot more money earmarked for spending than it does now. And I was spending it all (and then some). We've tightened our belt twice since we began fixing up our finances. Each time, there is a definite adjustment period. But you know what? It's not that bad. With my eye focused on a different kind of prize than short-term gratification, I continue to find small ways to cut back and live on less. I no longer view my spending money as something that I am going to burn through before the next pay period. In fact, unless I have a haircut, oil change, or other larger expense, I almost always still have a little extra money in my spending account when payday roles around again.
When we were in crisis mode about our finances, I put every extra cent left at the end of the pay period toward our debt. The higher I could get that extra debt payment each pay period, the more motivated I became. After months of hard work and refining our budget, we're on track to have all our consumer debt paid off in just nine more months (Just ran these numbers after doing our taxes last week! Woot!). We've made huge changes to make this happen, and my daily habits are usually down right frugal (I spend nothing on most days). This week, I decided it was time to make a change: Instead of turning over all my extra spending money to paying down our debt, I've started socking away my extra spending money for things that bring me joy.
Someday, I am going to want to enjoy a scrub at the spa, a ladies' weekend, or hair color at the salon again (Can you tell I've been missing personal pampering by this one-track list of examples?! For the record, I would also love a hatchet, an updated laptop, and maybe a jigsaw... not all of my future purchases will over-the-top feminine). Or maybe someday, I will see something a bit pricey that would make the perfect gift for a close friend. When those days come, I want to be able to pay with cash.
While I willingly gave up a lot to get free of the debt that was causing me huge stress, continuing to live on a shoestring at all times indefinitely will eventually feel like deprivation. Being able to save now for occasional nights on the town with my husband or good friends has become a strong source of motivation. Putting away $15-35 per pay period will help me have a little cash saved up for the kind of fun stuff that hasn't been in the cards for awhile.
2. PUTTING OUR EYE BACK ON THE PRIZE
As I mentioned above... We're on track to have all our consumer debt paid off in nine months!!! No more car payment! No more credit card payment! "How can that feel remotely boring?!!" you might ask. Perspective is a funny thing. When I found myself feeling like we were just adrift on a financial tide making our larger monthly payments into infinitely, I took action. And by taking action, of course I mean that I crunched some numbers. These numbers say that if we use half our tax return to fix my ailing car and apply the other half toward our debt, then we can be free of our credit card debt and car loan both by October. This also puts us on track to have an emergency account equal to three months of income within 18-24 months.
Taking time to crunch the numbers reminded me that we are not just waiting around twiddling our fingers. We worked hard to set things up so that our money could work for us and help us reach our long term goals.
3. LIVE FOR SOMETHING ELSE
While making regularly monthly payments might feel like a mundane waiting game to someone who was previously in a state of financial panic, the peace of mind that comes from having our finances in order is not a bad thing. We are mindful now of how our dollars are spent. Our money is now being used in a way that will give us greater freedom going forward. Now is not the time to continue to fret about our finances. No, we have earned the right to focus our attention on the things we love. For my husband, this is heading back into the studio to begin work on a new album. For me, it means making time for writing, growing a few vegetables, reading a few books, being a 2017/2018 American Leadership Forum fellow, and getting in shape for some summer hikes. For us both, it means daydreaming about the future, enjoying the heck out of one another's company, being good parents, and continuing to align how we live with what we want for the world.
In other words, it's not a mundane waiting game at all.
How we're using our dollars to buy freedom from worry (aka, our proactive budget for home repair costs)
Is FOMO undermining your finances?