Planning your financial goals is notoriously boring. I get cheap thrills calculating my health insurance payment averaged out over 52 weeks, then 365 days. I can wake up in the morning knowing I’m spending $6 today on a dental check I’m 4 years late for. But I really do enjoy writing up budgets, creating spreadsheets, and generally controlling everything. A sound financial plan that balances is a sexy thing. It’s putting it into practice that sucks.
It’s all well and good to have a plan. And financial security is absolutely vital in avoiding undue stress and calamity. But what if your financial goals are 5 years away? Or 30? Are you saving for a house? Trying to pay out your mortgage early? Or maybe you’re just trying to get rid of some personal debt.
How do you keep your eye on the prize without losing your mind? Or keep your mind without losing the prize? Unfortunately, years only fly by when you’re living in a share house, taking naps during your Tender Writing lecture, and spending your savings on full cream cappuccinos. In my defense, even though I never did learn to write a tender at least I gained ten kilos.
And despite this perfect budget, things happen along the way. Your engine falls out on the highway or the fridge drops dead. Sometimes we need to dip into the pot, buy the new curvy TV, I mean replacement fridge, and make up the loss later. Eventually you’ll need to upgrade things as you keep chugging through life. We face the obstacles one at a time.
But the fact is, committing to long-term financial goals provides no immediate satisfaction, and experiencing setbacks throughout the journey is not the least bit helpful in staying motivated towards them. Coupled with endless personal sacrifice, it’s easy to burn out and give up.
Not buying the ham and cheese croissant because that $8 is going to have you debt free 17 minutes earlier one Tuesday in 2043 is, frankly, the stuff of nightmares. I mean what is the point? Just the thought makes me want to buy 2 croissants, just so I can throw 1 into the street out of spite. Totally worth waiting till Wednesday to be debt free just so I can do something NOW. It’s a payoff, a reward for my hard work and diligence.
There is something in the human psyche that wants feedback, and acknowledgement of effort. We need to experience pleasure and accomplishment. We like to feel excited about the day, not filled with dread. Even with the promise of a big financial payoff on the horizon, we want to enjoy the moment and not get bogged down in the drudgery of interminable financial sacrifice.
And that is ultimately the point of this particular brand of financial advice. If you’ve been eating tinned tuna with the lights off, crying into your hair to avoid paying for tissues, well…that just ain’t livin’. And no, the answer doesn’t involve throwing handfuls of twenties off a bridge from your limo. Finding the balance is key. How do you stay in control but relax at the same time?
PAY YOURSELF FIRST
If you’re living within your means, then after you’ve paid Larry for the pizza and Tony for burying the body, there should be something left over. Some of that might go to savings. But what goes to you? What do you allocate to your family that adds to your quality of life? How do you recreate?
When we first tried the following plan and sticking to our financial goals, my husband and I were about ready to hit the divorce courts so we didn’t have to talk about money anymore. We needed a morale boost so we agreed we would each pick an item we wanted and put down a deposit.
His item was an electric guitar. Something he’d been eyeing for a while. And mine was a Dyson. In retrospect: a rookie move. My husband was way better at this than me. My parents had gifted us with their old vacuum to replace our self-combusting one. And even though the price was right, if you’ve got to dig each speck of dirt and food out of the carpet yourself and hand feed it to your vacuum, you are losing the war my friend. Don’t get me wrong, the Dyson is an amazing machine, but I still have to do the actual vacuuming.
So learn from my mistake and pick something you love, not something you need. Choose something that’ll bring you real pleasure: an instrument, a wireless device, whatever it might me. Calculate what you have available to spend each week, and pay it off. Don’t go over what you’ve allocated, and don’t go under either.
I paid off my vacuum in 4 months, and despite my lack of insight, it was still a great day when I picked it up. My husband took nearly 9 months to pay for the guitar, but you should have seen his face the day we collected it. Imagine how he might have looked the day his children were born, and multiply that pleasure ten fold. We had achieved our goals and it hadn’t taken years.
The enjoyment we had paying them off, and the creativity it inspired in us kept us excited. Aside from what we had budgeted, every time a spare twenty dollars showed up, we paid off a little bit more. If I sold something online, I’d throw that money on it. Earned some cash doing odd jobs? Straight to the shop.
Knowing we had that to look forward to, in the near future, kept us motivated towards our longer term financial goals: getting rid of an old credit card. A card that we were eventually able to cut up and throw away, leaving behind a very happy guitar and a moderately pleased vacuum.
HAVE AN EXPERIENCE
While you’re allocating money to yourself, add in some experiences. Go to dinner, a concert, or out with friends. Pay a babysitter and take your partner out. Get your parents to babysit for free, and spend more when you’re out. If all you have is 10 dollars a week spare, you can buy a DVD and some microwave popcorn. That’s a great night in!
One day, when you’ve achieved your goals, you want to look back and remember the journey positively. You will feel pride and accomplishment, no doubt about it, but you don’t want to look back on a decade of glaring at your husband through the gloom, wondering what he’d sell for. Life does not wait for you. And there are no guarantees it’ll be there when you’re finally ready.
It’s a cliché, but that’s because it’s true. Life is for living. You don’t have to be frivolous and you don’t have to be frugal. If you have a long-term goal but are sacrificing everything for it, maybe it’s time for a review.
Manage all your reoccurring payments so you are always in front, always prepared. Stay in control and keep informed about where your money is going. And plan to live a little along the way.