The Long Haul

I sometimes struggle with consistency in my efforts – and I bet you do to. Making the decision to change your financial future isn’t all that hard; a moment of clear thinking is all that it takes to understand that you can and should be doing more with your money. Setting up a plan to accomplish your new found goals isn’t all that hard either; you know you need to spend less then you make, pay off debt, and save.

The hard part is to follow the plan long term – way past that first month. Why is this so tough?  Because in order to accomplish this, or any other behavior changes long term, you must change the way you think. That’s hard enough by itself; but you also have to maintain this new attitude in the face of incredible pressure from others to go back to your old non-thinking, fun-loving, easy-spending ways. Dang it! How’s somebody supposed to do that?


In our enthusiasm for change, or distaste for the stuff required to accomplish it, we often try to do it all in one night. So, you know that debt it took you 4 years to accumulate? Chances are you are not going to wipe it out tonight. And, if you did by some unexpected windfall have the ability to do so, chances are you would just run it up again. We need to change our thoughts and behaviors and the best way to do that is a little at a time.

Your first spending cuts should not be to expenses that are near and dear to you. Cut things you won’t notice  much or  find lower cost substitutes. In an earlier article, I named my first three cuts; I substituted purchased books for library books; I ironed my own shirts and we changed our phone service.  The phone service never bothered me for a minute; the books took a little effort; but I found that if I kept several unread library books at all times, I could easily talk myself out of the temptation to pick up a paperback when I was out. The shirts were a different story.

Of the three cuts, eliminating the laundering of my shirts offered the least significant savings, but it may have been the most important in terms of behavior change. Every Sunday, I spend 45 minutes ironing my shirts for the upcoming workweek. Sometimes I really do not want to iron those shirts, but once I get started, it’s not so bad. This active participation serves to remind me what our financial goals are and what we are willing to do to achieve them. If I spend four hours a month saving $35, I am much less likely to go over budget for something unnecessary. If you don’t have shirts to iron, what can you do that you used to pay someone to do? Find a way to be happy accomplishing the task and remind yourself about the mission you are on.

When you are comfortable with the first round of cuts, you can start round two. Don’t be in a hurry, deeply cutting an expense that you really care about can led to rejecting the whole plan.


Work has always been important in our house. Much of our fun has been working together on projects. We can even find enjoyment in everyday chores of cleaning or yard work as long as everyone participates. In our house, you won’t find anyone kicked up in the lazy boy while the vacuum is running.

The same goes for financial goals, we are all pulling in the same direction. Change is so much easier when you surround yourself with others on the same path. Seek out friends and family that can understand and support your efforts. It’s imperative that your spouse or significant other is on board; fighting their reluctance while trying to change is like waging war on two fronts. Put your whole plan on hold and get on the same page. You might have to go slower than you want in order to walk together – but it will be worth it.


Keep your plan simple. Do one thing at a time. It’s really easy to get sucked into trying to accomplish a whole lot at one time. It won’t work. Diluting your effort across a whole bunch of goals means nothing gets accomplished quickly. We need some quick wins to stay motivated. Focus with laser intensity on one small goal at a time and get it done.

Evil Credit Cards & Brownies

If your progress toward your money objective has slowed, stopped or even reversed, maybe you need to examine your goal and re-commit.

We all struggle from time to time with focus. I know I’m struggling right now with some extra pounds. I can rationalize the why in 10 seconds flat – you know the holidays, the windy colder weather that doesn’t invite a good ride, been too busy to eat right, blah blah blah. The real reason I’ve put on these pounds is that I lost sight of my goal.

Losing weight and paying off debt are both about changing our behavior. If our old behavior did not include overeating and/or under exercising we probably don’t need to lose weight. If we had not over spent in the past, we wouldn’t have the debt. When we get tired or anxious or somebody bakes delicious brownies, it becomes very easy to fall back into our old behaviors of overeating or overspending.

Step 1 – Awareness.

Ok, my knees hurt, my pants don’t fit and the scale is registering numbers I haven’t seen in quite a while.

You pull those credit card bills out of the mailbox and tally them up.

Are you now painfully aware? I know I am.

Step 2 – Give a hoot.

Do I care that my knees hurt and my clothes don’t fit? Yep, I do.

How about you? Do you care that you’ve backslid from your goal?

Step 3 – Give enough of a hoot to do something about it.

This is the hard one. Do we care enough to make the difficult choices to give up something we want right now in order to get something we want later?

It depends on what the later is. You and I both need to clearly define that long-term goal. You gotta make it something worth struggling for.

My long-term goal is to be fit enough to hike the Grand Canyon down and back with my grandchildren. Since I don’t have grandchildren and I don’t have any say in the when; I’ll have to choose an intermediate goal that I can attach a date to.

Here it is. On or before May 1, I will ride my bike on a single trip for 100 miles in less than 8 hours. OK, so maybe this doesn’t sound like a weight loss goal; but it is. There is no way I could do a century carrying extra weight without my knees (and maybe my lungs) exploding. So, to achieve this goal I need to: a) ride a lot in the coming 100 days and b) eat carefully. If I do those two things the weight should take care of itself.

As shorter-term goals I’ll do a 50 mile ride on or before March 5th in under 3 1/2 hours and a 75 mile ride on or before April 2 in under 6 hours.

OK, that was scary; now it’s your turn. What goal are you working on?

What can you do in the next 100 days that will firmly put you back on track to your goal?  What will you accomplish by March 5? And by April 2?

In the coming days every time we feel the urge to backslide, we need to visualize that long term goal. Are we really willing to jeopardize that goal for this immediate want?

OK, now that we’ve got our new goals in place, we need to commit to them. One way to do this is to tell somebody. I think I’ve got that covered; how about you? You could just leave it here in the form of a comment- that would work. Get your friends to log on and do the same. Let’s do this together.

An Attitude for Change

Changing your money behavior so that you can win long term may not be as difficult as you think.

It requires accepting a few basic premises:

  • I can give up something I want now in order to achieve a more important goal later.

Many of us have allowed the marketers of the world to weaken our self-discipline muscle. Some poor souls among us have never been forced to exercise it, not even as children. We have to find this muscle and strengthen it. The same “I want it and I want it NOW” thinking that has caused us not to win with our finances in the past, will undermine our transformation if we allow it. “Later” is a word we need to embrace.

  • Lots of little victories can add up to a big win.

Most people are far less successful financially than they could be, simply because they are unintentional with their money. We can achieve our goals by making lots of small changes in our lifestyle. Quit hoping for the one big win and start collecting small victories.

  • Most people (not you!) are financial losers.

Once you’re on a plan you may find “everyone” around you goes out to eat anytime they want. They also drive cool cars and take great vacations. You’ll have to remind yourself that despite their appearance, most of these people are broke. They are deep in credit card debt; they don’t have an adequate emergency fund; they aren’t saving for their children’s education or for their own retirement. In other words they are not who you want to be.

If you can accept these premises, there is no reason for your financial transformation to be painful.