I’d like to dedicate a post to expanding on an idea I mentioned in last week’s post, A Frugal Diet, Or A Frugal Lifestyle – a follow up of a follow up, if you will. I mentioned in that post that a reader’s comment sort of splashed cold water on me, waking me from a slumber I had been enjoying most of this year.
During that time we have been relaxing the constraints on our budget. Our debt repayment progress had slowed. Our savings balances weren’t growing. Money was leaking out of our checking account at a faster rate than it had in previous months. What was the cause of this return to indifferent spending? Complacency.
When the Going Gets Tough, So Do We
Back when we reached our financial bottom it was easy to get fired up about turning around our finances. Mostly because finances seemed to dominate our every thought. It kept me awake at night, and it was the first thing I worried about when I woke up. It drove many of our decisions, and removed many options from our lives. It was easy to get mad at the debt that hung over us, and it was easy to stick to our guns when faced with decisions to spend or save.
I’ve never been really good and doing two things at once. Some people are natural multitaskers, and on the day-to-day stuff I do a pretty good job. But where I fail is the big stuff. For instance, I’ve lamented before how hard it is to lose weight and pay off debt. Even though there seems to be a natural correlation to the two goals, I can’t seem to pull them off at the same time. I can either get really fired up about losing weight and drop a few pounds, or I can get really fired up about paying off debt and lower our balances. But when I do one or the other, the other goal suffers, or at best treads water until i again refocus my energy.
When Things Get Easier, So Do We
There comes a time in any financial turnaround when things begin to look up. Maybe you’ve paid off that car loan, or a couple credit cards, and increased your disposable income thanks to reduced monthly debt payments. Maybe you’ve also managed to pick up a side hustle, or added some overtime to your schedule, or received a promotion and increased your income. Suddenly you find yourself not struggling quite as hard to keep your head above water. It is as if someone is draining the pool for you, and all of a sudden you can touch your toes. Ah…it feels good to stop flailing your arms and legs and simply relax for a bit.
Don’t get me wrong, these new feelings are a sign of progress and should be celebrated. However, some healthy reservation is also required. This is the same point many turnarounds have been foiled. Think of the dieter who works out and eats right for six weeks and drops 25 pounds. They are elated, and for good reason. To celebrate they go out to eat something they haven’t had in a while. And since they already blew it at dinner, that late-night ice cream won’t hurt. And since they blew the whole night they’ll just sleep in the next morning instead of hitting the gym. I’ll just get back on track on Monday. You see how this can be a very slippery slope!
How To Fight Complacency While Celebrating Success
If we know that this new-found success ultimately leads to complacency, what can we do to head it off? I would recommend allowing yourself some non-guilty pleasure not related to your ultimate goal. For a dieter this might mean the accomplishment of a weight-loss goal is celebrated with a new dress. For those of us working to turnaround our finances, maybe this means an increase to something that brings enjoyment, but does not cost any money. For instance, families may agree to allow each other more time to devote to something they enjoy – exercise, hiking, learning a musical instrument, etc.
Whatever you decide, do not allow yourself to slip back into the same bad habits. And if you feel those bad habits creeping back in, stop and reasses your situation. Call a time out and lock yourself in a room to balance your checkbook, update your budget and take an inventory of your debts. Don’t spend the entire time beating yourself up for making a mistake. After all, money mistakes make us human, and they only become failures when they are repeated. Remember the things that motivated you in the first place, and rededicate your life energy towards accomplishing those goals.