DH = Dear Husband
A history of maxing out financially
A month ago, I tried to explain one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018: “A less S.M.A.R.T goal that I have is to fine-tune the self-discipline that I’ve been building over these last 5 years … I’d like to take another step away from the ‘all-or-nothing’ financial compulsion that I’ve always had.”
I definitely have a compulsion towards maxing out. Financially, it manifested itself in different ways over the years:
- As a teenager, I’d spend all of my allowance before the month was up and beg and whine for an advance on my next month’s allowance.
- In my twenties, I would go into credit card debt and overdraft on a regular basis, counting on my next pay to get me out of both holes.
- In my thirties, I wanted it all: a big house; part-time as opposed to full-time work; multiple activities for our 3 children; cleaning service; gym membership; plenty of “treat-yourself-therapy” like going out to restaurants.
Then life stepped in – in the form of DH’s job loss, followed by years of career uncertainty and financial stress – and forced a change. A slow, stubbornly reluctant change it was too – even though all circumstances combined to send the message loud and clear: “You need to change!!”
Maxing out in other areas
Most people are in too much debt, and for those of us who have come to recognize it and try to do something about it, there’s something else we eventually have to acknowledge: The poor choices we’ve made financially are not rooted in a lack of math skills; they’re rooted in character flaws.
One of the character flaws I’ve had to acknowledge in myself is linked to this maxing out tendency. It’s the flaw of living reactively instead of proactively. Again it has manifested itself in different ways:
- “I’m SO tired! I’ll just do the dishes and make my lunch in the morning.” (= Time crunch for morning commute.)
- “I don’t feel like going to the gym, so I just won’t exercise today.” (= The no-work-out blahs.)
- “I got caught up in Netfilx. I won’t have time to clean the house today.” (= Burden of accumulating to-do list.)
- “This is delicious! I’ll just eat one more… OK, another one… Now this one is the last one…” (= Feeling full & gaining weight.)
Fine-tuning self-discipline: morning commute
Just as it took a significant rock-bottom experience to get me to become proactive in managing our personal finances, the rock-bottom experience came into play for my morning commute. A couple of weeks before Christmas, a series of snow storms resulted in 3 consecutive commutes of 3 hours, 2 hours, and 1.5 hours each for my normally 40-minute drive to work. It was truly life-suckingly awful!
Since that week, however, I have not had a single time crunch commute. I’ve been way more proactive about getting myself prepared for work with plenty of time to spare. I used to think in terms of “How late can I go and still get there on time?” Now, I have no desire to cut it close. I want to give room for unexpected traffic slow downs so that there is no need for white-knuckle commuting. And if I arrive at work earlier than I need to – as I usually do now – that’s not a problem at all.
Stepping away from “all-or-nothing” fitness
I have written multiple times about my poor performance with discretionary money management. It was to help my personal discretionary account that I decided to quit my gym membership at the end of last summer. Much to my surprise, that move resulted in more regular exercise for me.
When I had the gym membership, I would think in all-or-nothing terms. Either I would drive to the gym, take the cardio class, do weights, drive home, shower – or I would do nothing. Now, I’ll go for a 40 minute snow shoe or a half hour run – or a walk. It’s OK not to do a full-on work-out (that takes over 2 hours when you add the drive time). Getting lower-key physical exercise on a regular basis is just fine.
As I wrote two weeks ago, house-cleaning is so much easier to do when the task is shared. After years of doing it on my own with resentment and without ever getting on top of it – it is relatively pleasant now to do my share of it every weekend, knowing others are doing their part. It doesn’t take the will-power to do it that it used to. It’s easy to find the self-discipline to keep on top of house-cleaning now that it isn’t so draining.
Self-disciplined eating? (Oh well…)
I hope to “fine-tune the self-discipline” of eating too, but I haven’t yet. I had a “This is delicious! I’ll just eat one more…” experience yesterday … AND the day before.
But I think it’s coming. True, proactive self-discipline – as opposed to compulsion on the highly controlled end of the spectrum – has the potential to be widely applied. It’s had a positive impact on my finances, commuting, fitness, and house-cleaning. I believe food is next : )
Do you find that as you develop self-discipline in one area, it spreads to another? Or do you find that self-discipline is specific – that is doesn’t transfer? Your comments are welcome.
*Image courtesy of flickr.