The Personal Finance Marathon: 4 Tips to Help you Stay on Track

We all have different reasons for being interested in personal finance.

– Getting out of debt.

– Buying the shiny, latest new thing.

– An education, a home, retirement.

– Protection against any possible hardship.

– The freedom to do whatever you want.

Regardless what your goal is, getting to that goal requires some perceived sacrifice and discipline. And it’s easy to get sidetracked . I would like to offer up a few tips that will hopefully resonate with you and keep you motivated to stay on course.

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Sound Personal Finance Can be an Exhausting Marathon, Filled with Temptations

Somewhere around your 5th negotiation with your cable provider to cut your cable bill, buying an entire case of discounted beans, making your own toothpaste or laundry detergent, turning your back on that shiny new car, or washing the crap out of that cloth diaper, you’re going to ask yourself, “What the hell am I doing? Is it really worth it? I work hard, I make decent money, why not just go with the easier alternative?”.

There usually are more convenient or more tempting options out there. But they come at a price. The lifetime cost of cable, for example, can be in the millions.

And somewhere along the way, your consumer-driven, debt-reliant peers who are all going with the nicer, shiner, easier, and more expensive alternatives are going to call you crazy.

The Mirage of External Goals

The goals that I highlighted earlier were a mix of short and long-term financial milestones. And they all have a specific dollar amount that you can attach to them. What I’ve often found when hitting these goals, is that the actual impact or reward usually ends up under-performing against your expectations.

The new car loses its luster after a few months, the home creates more headaches than it solved, the additional degree didn’t get you a better career, paying off the debt didn’t eliminate all of the financial stress in your life, and sitting on the couch and playing golf all day didn’t result in true happiness. What a bummer!

You busted your butt, and you didn’t quite get what you were hoping for. And now you’re resentful. It’s only natural. As a result, the good personal finance habits you developed can start to waiver. And the resulting spending spree leaves you emptier than before.

I’ve been there. And I’ve had to re-learn the lesson multiple times. So how do you overcome this and stay on track?

1. Make it your Lifestyle

Objects, goals, and status are external. They might add a little bit of happiness, but it’s usually short-lived. I hate cliches, but “it’s about the journey, not the destination” is absolutely true when it comes to personal finance.

You have to embrace it, internalize it, and take pride in it. In order to sustain it, sound personal finance has to become a part of your lifestyle, not a simple means to an end. Another way to look at it is that the lifestyle you choose to live results in good personal finance decisions.

Once it does, you’ll find that the goals you originally had are still being achieved, but in a more fulfilling way because you’re not reliant on them for happiness.

2. Remember the Ultimate Goal

Most personal finance goals usually boil down to one common theme: freedom.

  • Having zero debt is a monetary external goal. The real reason behind the desire to achieve it is freedom from financial stress.
  • Buying a home is an external goal. Most of us do it because we want the freedom to do what we want with a space that we own.
  • Retirement is an external goal (even typified in commercials as a ‘number’). We shoot for it because we want the freedom to do what we want with our time.

The ultimate goal is freedom.

The irony, however, is that freedom can’t be bought. It’s not situational. It’s a state of mind. Make the choices you make because sound financial decision have become your lifestyle and you want to. Don’t do it because you feel beholden to. There’s no freedom in that.

3. Find Others to Keep you Motivated

One of the things that I like the most about running this blog and connecting with readers and other personal finance bloggers is that I’m surrounded with people who often share the same financial values. It’s easy to stay on track when you are able to hear great stories to motivate you and people don’t put you down for being thrifty.

Connect with others. Subscribe to the blog (shameless plug), comment and share your stories, join the community on Facebook, and most importantly, start your own club in real life. Guaranteed, you have at least a few peers who are interested in personal finance. Do this to keep yourself motivated and to keep a feeling of normalcy about you. When everyone around you is spending money in an irresponsible way, you can start to feel like there’s something wrong with you. There’s not. You just need others to remind you of it.

4. Forgive Yourself for Spending Money on Things that Make you Happy

I have a few costly pleasures. I won’t even call them guilty. The key here is forgiveness. Yes, you can reward yourself a little occasionally. For me it’s food and drink and outdoor athletic activities (disc golf, cycling, tennis, and backpacking) that I’m willing to spend on. These are things that allow me to connect with others and enjoy the moment. It’s all about experience, not stuff.

If you’re disciplined with most of your finances, you should feel even less guilty about spending money on those things that truly make you happy. Forgive yourself!

Personal Finance Discussion:

  • What keeps you disciplined with your finances?
  • Do you view personal finance as a lifestyle choice?

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