More on motivation and money

In my last post, I talked about motivation and money. Motivation is a huge yet under-discussed concept in personal finance, I think. While big wins may be the quickest way to wealth, that doesn't mean you'll reach your goals overnight. Even if you have become wealthy, you still need motivation to manage your money and prioritize your spending. After all, if you want to stay wealthy, then you can have anything you want but not everything you want. And if (like most of us) you're not wealthy yet, you may have to be even more ruthless in your prioritization.

I've been chronicling my debt payoff journey here on GRS for two years now. (Whoa!) In that time, I've learned quite a bit — not just about personal finance, but about myself. And as I pointed out in my last post, self-knowledge is an important component of motivation. So here's a rundown of some motivations that I've discovered work especially well for me.

I'm motivated by balance

I've written before about work-life balance. It's something that I place a high value on and, as a result, I'm willing to make compromises to achieve it. One of those compromises is taking somewhat longer to pay off my debt. This compromise manifests itself in a couple of ways. The first is time. While I do have a full-time job and a not-insignificant side gig, I make sure that I leave myself time to pursue hobbies. I like to cook — yesterday I made fresh salsa, chickpea “tuna” sandwich filling, and two loaves of zucchini bread. I also like to read science fiction and fantasy novels — the longer, the better.

The second way I compromise in the name of balance is by not allocating every spare cent toward debt payoff. While I have consistently made extra payments toward my student loans, I have also taken vacations, gone to happy hours, and (most recently) bought a house. Now that I am a homeowner, I want to furnish it with items I love. I will of course be looking for the best deals and saving until I can afford to pay for the things I want in cash. However, I'll be spending some money that would otherwise be allocated toward my student loans. And I'm OK with that.

I'm motivated by forgiveness

Yes, I have a significant amount of student loan debt. Yes, I could have gotten the same education with far less debt, or not gotten the degree at all. However, I did get the degree, and I did accrue the debt. It's a sunk cost at this point. What does that mean exactly? It means the money's been spent whether I beat myself up about it or not. I don't gain any financial advantage now by being miserable about the situation.

So I choose to forgive myself. A big part of that forgiveness means allowing myself to have work-life balance instead of working 80+ hours a week. It means allowing myself to spend some money on things other than debt payoff. However, it also means not engaging in negative self-talk. It means refusing to believe that I'm stupid or worthless or a bad person because of my debt. Part of my motivation in writing for GRS is to encourage those who might otherwise have taken out student loans to think twice about it. I think that's a good deed. Another motivation is to help those who have significant student loans (or consumer debt or whatever it may be) understand that taking financial responsibility doesn't have to include self-flagellation. I think that's another good deed.

I'm motivated by what I've achieved so far

In my last post on motivation, I talked about celebrating your successes. While I obviously think that's important, it's not exactly what I mean by being motivated by your achievements. Rewarding yourself with anything from the afternoon off to a Caribbean cruise can be fun. However, equally fun (at least for me) is keeping a running list of your achievements to refer to when the going gets tough or the road seems too long.

Those achievements can be financial, like a tally of the amount of debt you've paid off or the size of your emergency fund. However, if there are other achievements that you're proud of, by all means include them on the list! I am proud of my degrees and think that they show I'm capable of achieving difficult things even if they take years to accomplish. In other words, many of the skills necessary to earn my degrees are applicable to my debt situation. That knowledge is tremendously motivating to me. Maybe you ran a marathon or learned a new language or raised a child. I bet you also picked up some transferable skills that can be applied to your finances!

I'm motivated by the finish line

As a result of the foreclosure of the condo Jake and I were renting followed by purchasing our home, we have gone six months without making a housing payment. Prior to this, I never imagined what that would be like. Now that I've experienced it, however, my eyes have been opened! Every debt that you can pay off decreases the amount of money you need to earn in order to live well. And since my student loan is practically mortgage-sized in and of itself, being free of those two debts is just about the most exciting thing I can imagine.

Being motivated by the finish line, of course, only works if there is a finish line for which to shoot! One of the core tenets of Get Rich Slowly is that goals are the gateway to financial success. (Actually, goals are probably the gateway to any type of success.) While you may have to meet monetary milestones to accomplish your goals, however, you'll probably be a lot more motivated if you can imagine how success will change your lifestyle for the better.

In other words, money's only a tool to help you live the life you want. So start by imagining that life and work backward from there. The monetary milestones necessary for me to achieve my goals and for you to achieve yours may be the same. However, our finish lines might be quite different. That's why they call it “personal” finance!

What kind of life do you want for yourself? How do you balance your current quality of life against your future needs and goals? How do you forgive yourself and move on from setbacks? What achievements make you feel the most proud?

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Kirsten @ Indebtedmom
Kirsten @ Indebtedmom
6 years ago

We are a lot alike. First, I love chickpea “tuna” ;-). Second, I’m all about the balance. I figure we have sooo much debt that I could kill myself for five years to be debt-free or I can go slower and pay it off in eight. Eight is Ok. With young kids at home – not everything is about money.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago

Chickpea tuna is the best! And yeah, if you have kids, you should make sure you are enjoying them! They’re only young once 😉

AMW
AMW
6 years ago

This was an interesting article and I agree that the finish line is extremely motivating. However, a rather insignificant piece of information made me feel like an old woman….somehow cooking has gone from a life skill to a hobby!

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  AMW

I decided to make cooking a hobby as well as something I have to do, but sadly, yes. Cooking is not as common as it used to be!

Ely
Ely
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

I cook all the time, but it is not a hobby. It is a chore that I have to do or else not eat (or go out and be broke and unhealthy). My sister loves to cook, so for her it is a hobby: a thing she WANTS to do and not just has to do.

FI Pilgrim
FI Pilgrim
6 years ago

I think an important component to your “work/life balance” is the sustainability piece. Lots of people set out to try and pay off debt quickly, but they don’t set a sustainable pace, so they give up soon after.

It sounds like you’ve set a pace that’s sustainable for you, making it much more likely that you’ll reach your goal.

Allyson
Allyson
6 years ago
Reply to  FI Pilgrim

My husband and I are finally doing the cash-only method and it is so freeing! I only wish we had started to do it years ago; we might not be in the situation we are now. But we are not “gazelle-intense” like Dave Ramsey would advocate and I feel that it is a good thing. I feel that what I am doing now is sustainable and a lifestyle I can continue for a while and not suffer from burnout, as I might if we stuck to a very extreme, draconian budget as long as it took to get out of… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  FI Pilgrim

Frankly, as much as I have benefitted from Ramsey, and I have learned to abhor debt thanks to him, I feel his debt-paying approach will eventually give you a heart attack. Deliver pizza after a full day at work? No no no no no no thanks. Balance wins the race.

Sam
Sam
6 years ago
Reply to  FI Pilgrim

I comment to note that we did the gazelle intense thing and paid off $55,000+ debt in just over a year (the goal was a year). We also undertook this project the first year of marriage. On the plus side, it was done in the shortest possible time and then we were done. We also bonded over what was, yes a stressful undertaking. That crazy gazelle intensity helped us cement good financial habits that we are still using 7 years later. But, I’m not sure if I could have stayed gazelle intense for two years, three years, etc. But we… Read more »

Brian @DebtDiscipline
Brian @DebtDiscipline
6 years ago

The finish line has kept our family motivate for 4 years and $100K worth of debt repayment. We often think of how life will be different once repayment is complete and having a surplus of $ each month to build wealth.

Brian @ Luke1428
Brian @ Luke1428
6 years ago

My wife and I balanced work/life by utilizing her skill set so that she could change careers and I could become a stay at home dad. There are always options and sacrifices that can be made for balance to occur. We were simply tired of the stress and fast pace of the two-career lifestyle. Having me manage the house and kid activities has alleviated almost all of that stress we once felt.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago

Sounds like a lovely solution! Kudos to you and your wife. I think a reader story about how you came to that decision would be soooo interesting…

douglas cramer
douglas cramer
6 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

honey – you indicated you’d like to hear a story on the decision to go from two incomes to one. I can do one, and it involves a stay at dad, which is even more interesting.

Thanks
douglas

Jen From Boston
Jen From Boston
6 years ago

“Another motivation is to help those who have significant student loans (or consumer debt or whatever it may be) understand that taking financial responsibility doesn’t have to include self-flagellation.”

Excellent point!!! Beating yourself up will not fix the situation, and we ALL make mistakes.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

Ha! I had just copied the same bit and was about to make a similar comment. Can I just like yours 1000 times?

Susanne
Susanne
6 years ago

This is exactly what I’ve been thinking for the past 5 years! Thank you for organizing these ideas so concisely.
Balance- enjoying a fun life with my son while paying off debt. Mostly paying cash.
Forgiveness- we needed (oven, water heater) or wanted (travel) stuff, I’ll get it paid off sooner than later.
Achieved so Far- love looking back at my old budget sheets watching the balances come down.
Finish line- planning to retire with very few fixed expenses.

Andrew
Andrew
6 years ago

A refreshing alternative to the “eat wormy apples and sleep on a bed of nails” school personal finance writing.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Haha! This made me laugh out loud!!

Laura
Laura
6 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Honey’s post made me nod in agreement but your comment made me laugh out loud.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Don’t forget working 24 hours a day 😉

Anyone else get sick of feeling guilty for only working one job? Especially since it’s summer. I’m not pursuing side gigs at the moment.

Chuckie G.
Chuckie G.
6 years ago

Honey – Have you found it difficult for you and Jake to get on the same page insofar as what balance looks like and what allowing oneself to spend looks like for the two of you as a couple? As my wife and I have paid off individual student loans, our cash flow has markedly improved. The remaining loans require a payment that is a mere fraction of the total payment we faced five years ago. Nonetheless, my preference is to keep the snowball rolling and redirect each and every cent to paying down the remaining debts. This is war… Read more »

AMW
AMW
6 years ago
Reply to  Chuckie G.

Chuckie, my husband and I were at the same point as you and your wife…only I was the one with the debt focus. When we got to point where the wolves were down the street and not at the front door, we had a very modest entertainment budget for the family ($40/month) and we each got an equal amount of “allowance” ($20/week) to spend on whatever we wanted. His went to his wants and mine went to my wants…which was more debt reduction. The trick is you can’t get angry because their wants are not the same as yours. Each… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
6 years ago
Reply to  Chuckie G.

Since our student loans and our credit cards were all accrued prior to the marriage, we are each paying them off with our own discretionary income. In other words, there’s not a line item for any debt payoff except the mortgage in the joint budget. We’re not making extra payments on the house at the moment, though Jake is in favor of doing so eventually. Exactly when we decide to do so will depend on a variety of factors (he needs to finish paying off his credit cards which should be in a couple of months and honestly I’d like… Read more »

Sam
Sam
6 years ago
Reply to  Chuckie G.

I am the spendthrift in the family. I’m also the money manager in the family. I would say that normally those two don’t go together, but it works for us. While I am much more inclined to spend for today, I also hate debt and I see where our money goes. So, I have an intimate understanding that spending $1000 on blinds (something we did this year) impacts our annual savings goals (in this instance we saved up for the blinds). I also know in great detail how much it costs to run our household. I don’t know how you… Read more »

Even Steven
Even Steven
6 years ago

I work a 9-5 job so that part of work, life, balance is right on for me. Where I have to be careful is my blogging time and side hustles. I do my best to incorporate into a regular schedule and maybe it means posting 2 articles instead of 4 or listing 30 items on ebay instead of 300, much like the name suggests I know I’m working hard to get rich slowly.

No Nonsense Landlord
No Nonsense Landlord
6 years ago

The finish line is extremely motivating. As a landlord with four properties paid off, and a 6-figure cash flow income from them, I can see the finish line pretty clearly.

Just two more years to build up some additional insurance funds, and I am out.

No Nonsense Landlord
No Nonsense Landlord
6 years ago

The finish line is extremely motivating!

As a landlord with a 6-figure income from my rentals, I put in many 100 hour weeks in renovations. I can now see the fruits of my labor.

Tony Rapley
Tony Rapley
6 years ago

You know, I appreciate the reminder about forgiving yourself. Before i decided to get my financial life in order I would argue someone down that going to college in Miami was one of the best decision I made. Then once I embarked on my financial journey I began to look at the debt and got angrier and angrier at myself. Self love is needed during this process and Im damn sure of the things i accomplished. Congrats to you as well.

A Frugal Family's Journey
A Frugal Family's Journey
6 years ago

My goal is to retire and be financially free in 13 years (or less). I keep track of my progress, I do what I can to celebrate each milestone, I take momentary breaks from frugality, and I adjust and re-evaluate my goals from time to time base on life changes. At when possible, I surround myself with people who can help me achieve my ultimate goal, either directly or indirectly.

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