The Monster under the Bed

Whatever sneaky, creepy, grow in the dead of night, problem you have, there is there’s a way to solve it and keep it from ever coming back.

Some problems seem to just sneak up on you; that little bit of credit card debt that quietly over months or years somehow becomes $10,000. Those papers that you just can’t find a minute to deal with that take over your desk and then the credenza and then the multiply creating several baby piles on the floor. Maybe your sneaky problem is that 5 extra lbs that is now approaching 50.

These types of problems grow because when they are small they don’t really command our attention. “It’s no big deal, I’ll handle it next month” is what we think about the $300 credit card balance we don’t pay off. And then, next month rolls around and something else seems more fun or more important and that $300 becomes $360. Before we know it, that little non-problem has become something big and daunting. Now it’s an unruly monster that is going to take a lot of time and effort to tame. Our issue that was once too little to worry with has now become a problem too big to tackle – so we continue to ignore it and it continues to grow.

Awareness and Your Accountability Partner

To avoid being blindsided, regularly take stock. In our house, we have a budget meeting the last day of every month. Sometimes I’m lazy or disinterested and don’t want to attend. My accountability partner makes me. We spend 10 minutes and look to next month’s spending, deciding on any unusual or large purchases. We also record the current balance of all our accounts and calculate our net worth. It is quickly clear if we are headed in the direction we want to go. I also use – who’s annoying little emails tell me in real time if I’ve exceed a budget amount; allowing me to get back on track before the next budget meeting.

Your accountability partner can be your spouse or a friend or family member. Just someone you can trust that will help make sure that you actually do the necessary regular measurement.

Cut the Monster down to Size

“That’s great!” you might say, “I’ll measure weekly from now on to be sure my monster doesn’t grow. But what am I supposed to do with the 500lb beast I have right now?”

My advice is to shave – don’t chop. Drastic changes in diet or lifestyle rarely work. It doesn’t take long before you think, “I’d rather be broke and happy”. So start small. Make a few cuts this month, see how they feel and make a few more next month.

Some of my spending that was cut first in the first round:

Books – I had a book-or-two-a-week habit, usually on impulse. I still read a lot and I still buy some books, but most of the time I read library books – Savings $50 per month.

Cleaners – I like my shirts crisp. I used to have five shirts a week laundered and pressed. I wash and iron my own shirts now, frequently hanging them on the clothesline when the weather is nice. Not only do I save the money not taking them to the cleaners, but my shirts last longer – Savings $35 per month.

Phone – We dumped the home phone for our cells and the real fax line for an internet fax service and bundled our business line in with the cable – Savings about $100 per month.

We went through several rounds of cuts and what works for us is: If something really matters to you, be OK with spending money on it – but cut sharply on those things that aren’t crucial to your happiness.

No matter what you issue is; whittle away at it, charting your progress as you go. Regular measurement insures that monsters don’t quietly grow under the bed.

Charting your progress makes it much easier to stick with your plan. A little success is very motivating.

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