It’s My Fault So Stop Me Now

One of my biggest problems with maintaining a goal is follow-through.    Three weeks or six months into pursuing a goal, it becomes incredibly easy to rationalize setbacks.    If my back hurts, it’s easy to skip some sit-ups.  If a custom knife maker offers me a good deal, it’s easy to drop a significant part of my discretionary budget on a really nice knife.   The rationalizations come pouring in when I see a good deal on Amazon.   “I need to read that book” or  “I’ve been waiting for the move forever.”  The excuses don’t matter.  As long as they are coming in, I will eventually cave to my inner impulse demon.   How do I avoid that?

I try to make myself accountable to as many people as possible. At the beginning of the year, I posted my 30 Day Projects here, for the world to see.    I post updates on a regular basis.   Admitting my failure with the sit-ups was surprisingly difficult.   I made myself accountable and fell short.  That’s hard.  Thankfully, none of you came around with a sjambok to make me regret my slip-up.   When I was doing push-ups, my wife was more than willing to let me know when I slipped into bad form to try to squeeze out a few more before I collapsed.   I count on that.

I count on my wife to help me stay on the right path.  Eliminating our debt is easily the longest goal either of us have ever set for ourselves.   Mutual support and mutual accountability are our main methods to maintain that goal.   It is, after all, a marathon, not a sprint.   When I want to buy more cookware, she reminds me that we already have something to serve the purpose.    When she wants to buy the kids new jammies, I remind her that they have more than can fit in their dressers already.    Neither of us are afraid to tell the other to return bad purchases to the store if it’s not in our budget.  When we go shopping, we go through everything in the cart before we get to the checkout, to decide if we really need everything we picked up.   We support each other.

If I couldn’t make myself accountable to my wife, my family, my friends, and–last, but certainly not least–the three people reading this, I would fold in the face of my marshaled rationalizations and leave my goals in the oft-regretted gutter.   Thanks for that.

How do you keep yourself on track?

Update:  This post has been included in the Money Hackers Carnival.

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Budget Lesson, Part 7

It’s been a month(again!) since I’ve written a post for the budget series, so I’ll be continuing that today.  See these posts for the history of this series.

This time, I’m looking at how to reduce my “set aside” funds.  These are the categories that don’t have specific payout amounts and happen at irregular intervals.   One of the convenient features of our set-aside funds–also a feature of our non-monthly bills–is that the money sits in our checking account, providing a buffer against overdrafts.   The buffer is big enough  that I can withdraw our entire month’s discretionary budget on the first of the month.

  • Parties  – Twice a year, we have large parties.  We have a barbecue(not necessarily low and slow, I’m in the midwest) and a Halloween party.   We also have three kids with birthdays.   Each year, we try to do something exotic at the barbecue.  One year, it was a turducken.  This year, we’ll be skipping the show-off portion of the show.    The Halloween party is never expensive.   I don’t drink much, so the bar stays well-stocked without frequent expensive shopping trips.   We throw two large parties for less than $300 combined, and our guests start RSVPing a year in advance.  We’re fun.   The kids are getting gypped this year.   I am over my addiction to expensive birthday parties for my kids.  There will be a small party for one, a sleepover for another, and a party combined with some cousins’ birthday parties for the third.    It sound horrible but all of them will have fun.
  • Gifts  – We set aside money for presents, but we don’t feel we need to spend all of the money we have set aside.   Anything left over stays here.  Eventually, it will be something nice for all of us.
  • Pet Care – We have 4 cats and a dog.  Cat litter and food are expenses that we can’t make disappear.  We don’t buy the fancy food, but we also don’t buy the stuff that uses cardboard as filler.   We have set a new limit at 3 pets, but that limit will only be reached through attrition.   There’s nothing to cut here for a few years.
  • Car Repair – This is another category with nothing to cut.   If we don’t spend it, and something catastrophic happens to a car, we’ll be covered.  If it doesn’t, we’ll have a bit more cushion in our checking account.
  • Furnace Warranty – When we bought a new furnace and air conditioner, we got the extended warranty.   This is an unlimited renewal warranty, so, in 5 years, we’ll have to buy it again to keep it.  If we keep it forever, they will eventually replace our furnace when it dies.
  • Medicine/Medical – It’s a sad fact that people get sick.   We set aside a small amount to cover our costs.   The costs rise and fall, but over any given quarter, I don’t think I’ve been off by more than $5.

I’ve taken a hard look at most of the bills over time, so there isn’t always a lot to cut.  Next time, I’ll be addressing our discretionary spending.

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ROI for Life

How often do you examine the return on your investment of time and money? A dear friend once spent 3 hours in the waiting room of an auto shop to save $15 on an oil change. When I asked, she refused to sit quietly in the corner for an hour in exchange for $5. That’s an inefficient exchange of time for money.

Last week, a close relative spent $2000 repairing a car that’s worth about $500…after buying the replacement car. That’s a poor exchange of money for value.

Why do people make decisions like that? They seldom take a look at the values being traded. My friend knew she would have to work to replace the money she wouldn’t have saved, but didn’t think about the time she could never get back. My relative was emotionally fixated on the sunk costs of the repairs she had already put into the older car and couldn’t bear the thought of losing that “investment”. Neither was an example of rational decision-making, but rather a case of allowing emotions to rule.[Continue Reading…]

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Failure! 30 Day Project Summary – March

My 30 Day Project for the month of March has been to do 100 sit-ups in a single set.   Based on February’s results, I had a plan.

I will be doing 5 sets, morning and night, as follows:

Set 1:  Half of my maximum amount.

Sets 2-4: 3/4 of my max.

Set 5: Do sit-ups until my abs start to cramp, thus setting my max for the next session.

I failed miserably.

It started off perfectly.   My base amount was 20 sit-ups.   I had a plan.  I’d proven, at least to myself, that I was able to follow an intense workout plan, even through pain.    I was encouraged by February’s results, so I dove in.

The first 3 or 4 days went well.   I had some muscle strain, but that was expected.   I hadn’t done sit-ups for years.   I discovered muscles I actually hadn’t known existed, just from how they hurt.   This was the good pain, the pain that shows progress.  After doing the push-ups in February, this pain wasn’t as bad as I had expected.   Push-ups are an excellent ab workout.

Maybe I became complacent.  Either my form slipped, or I was going too fast and “bounced” through the sit-ups, but I pulled a muscle in my back.   This was the bad pain, the pain that warns of fundamental problems.   My form, my size, my history of back problems, who knows?   One or more of those possible problems reared up to turn an excellent idea into a disaster.   March’s plan got sidelined for a few days.

When my back was better, I started again.   Again, everything was fine for 3 or 4 days.  Then my back betrayed me, again.   Another break, another try, another strain and I gave up.    I made it to 50, then just stopped.   Too much more, and I wouldn’t be able to tolerate sitting at my desk.   Or maybe I just wimped out, afraid to hurt my back again.

I’m disappointed.   I haven’t done a single sit-up in the last week.

To make matters worse, without the sit-ups to do in the morning, I’ve been letting myself snooze my alarm clock instead of getting up at 5.   March has been such a slacker month.

Lesson learned:  Always listen to your body.   Don’t get tied into a specific routine–even one you created for yourself–if your body is demanding to stop.   Watch your form and make sure you aren’t putting undue strain on anything that can cause long-term damage.

Lesson learned, part II:  Push-ups are more fun and less painful than sit-ups.   They will be getting incorporated into my ongoing routine.

Ending the sit-ups did leave me enough energy to get an early start on April’s 30 Day Project.   The goal for next month is to declutter every room in the house:   Every closet, every dresser, every drawer.

Loft Bed

Loft Bed

To start, we replaced our son’s dresser, bed, and desk with a loft-bed that combines the three.   While transferring items from the desk and dresser to the new bed, everything was sorted to make sure it still fit and was used and useful.  If it didn’t meet those criteria, it was either tossed or priced and boxed for a garage sale.

In the girls’ room, we removed a dresser, the changing table, a toddler bed, a convertible crib/toddler bed.  It all got replaced with a set of bunk beds and the dresser we took from our son.   Everything got the same garage-sale check before it was put away.

Both of these changes easily tripled the usable floor space in each room and all of the kids love their new beds.   Using the magic of Craigslist, I think we got the new furniture for 10-15% of retail, and have old furniture to add to our sale, which will further defray the cost.

This leaves the master bedroom, the bathroom, the front closet, the kitchen and our entire basement to go.   Shoes and jackets that have never been worn.   Books that will never be reread.  Bye-bye.   Some of it will be painful, but we all realize it’s necessary.  We’ve already filled more than 2 dozen boxes of stuff to sell.   None of it is coming back in the house.  If it doesn’t sell, we’re donating it.

More to come as we progress through the mountains of crap.

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