DFF = Debt-Free Friend
DH = Dear Husband
Excercise machines turned clothes line
Most people who have treadmills or elliptical machines in their homes use them to hang up laundry. They purchase the equipment filled with good intentions to make regular use of it, and perhaps they do for the first week or month. But before too long, the exercise apparatus becomes part of the landscape in a basement or storage room cluttered with neglected items that collect dust – or take on the burden of damp clothes in need of air-drying.
I know exactly one person who faithfully uses her elliptical machine. DFF, who has been fiercely prudent with her money since day one – and who is sitting prettier than anyone else I know as a result – is also very disciplined when it comes to that exercise machine. She bought it after all, and she never makes a purchase lightly. DFF has done an elliptical work-out of at least thirty minutes each morning, with very few exceptions, since the day she brought the equipment home.
That wouldn’t work for me. I get very bored with treadmills and the like. I can see that it would be practical to work-out at home and that it would save the cost and travel time involved with a gym membership, but if I adopted the fitness-at-home strategy, I simply would not exercise. And I’d feel guilty about the idle equipment in my basement. For work-outs, I function best at a gym, complete with classes and super-fit leaders barking out challenges (“Only ten more seconds! Don’t put your feet down! Don’t put your feet down!”) and encouragement (“You are a machine!”). I aim for three work-outs per week, and I often manage to do them.
For some people, it is enough to have a gym membership without the classes. They go from weights to treadmill to mats on their own. Others need a personal trainer to make it happen – someone who can offer a specific, custom-made program.
I’m reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and as an introvert who thought she’d already had this thing figured out, I’m blown away by how much there is to glean from it. “Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality . . . neither boring nor anxiety-making. You can organize your life in terms of . . . what I call “sweet spots”, and by doing so feel more energetic and alive than before” (Cain 124-125).
I can see how this “sweet spot” theory works for different people in the various ways they pursue physical fitness. I can also see how it applies to those of us trying to become financially fit via debt-reduction.
There are people like DFF, either born with financially fit genes or else imbued with money smarts from early childhood. DFF had a small mortgage for a few years, but she’s been debt-free since her early thirties. Then there are those who slip into the norm of debt but then hear news reports and listen to warnings of the risks inherent in a high debt-to-income ratio. “Well, I guess I’d better reduce my debt,” they decide. And they just do it.
It took more for me. The news reports slipped right over my head and the warnings sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Whaa-whaa. Whaa-whaa . . .” An in-your-face experience of financial distress caused by DH’s career loss is what it took to make us desire debt reduction in the first place. We found our sweet spot in a book with a step-by-step program set out by an expert we trust (Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover).
You might need more than a book. You might require a “personal trainer” – someone to guide and advise you through the minutia of your personal finances. You might need a support group like Debtors Anonymous to address the despair you feel about ever getting financial control. Don’t let anyone nag you with, “You don’t need that. You just need to . . .” It’s yoursweet spot. You know what you need.
The point is, we all do what we have to do. If one strategy doesn’t work, we move on to the next. If the treadmill is collecting dust in some corner of your house, sell it and buy a gym membership. If your efforts to reduce debt on your own are failing, open up to the strategies of experts. Buy a book; follow a program; or join a support group. Each person’s sweet spot is unique. Identify yours and make an effort, as Susan Cain says, to “situate yourself” in it, “. . . and by doing so feel more energetic and alive than before.”