In the many articles I’ve written about my financial recovery, I’ve mentioned lots of things I chose to give up – buying DVDs, going out to eat, playing collectible card games, obsessing over video games, visiting coffee shops every day, buying books, and so on. Giving up these things enabled me to find the money I needed to begin my financial turnaround – and sticking with them has enabled me to pay off a lot of debt and build up some semblance of financial security in my life.
At face value, it seems to be a story of sacrifice. I gave up a lot of things to start turning around my financial ship – things that did bring enjoyment into my life. It wasn’t easy giving these things up, either. My heart often longed to fall back into those old routines – it wasn’t just a matter of waking up one morning and simply choosing to do something different.
The idea of such sacrifice often leaves a bitter taste in people’s mouths. They don’t want to give up some of the perks and trappings in their life. I know I certainly didn’t – but I also knew that I had to change something. I was standing at the edge of the abyss, looking down into a large chasm of financial despair, and in that moment I was far more afraid of falling into that pit than I was of trying something different.
What I discovered is that giving up all of those things wasn’t a sacrifice – it was a trade. I gave up all of those bad spending habits, but in return I was able to knock down that scary pile of debt, start saving for my children’s college education, build up a big emergency fund, and buy a house.
It was a trade that I needed at that point in my life. I was really becoming aware of my responsibilities as a parent, as an adult, and as a husband, and this awareness had driven me to spend a lot of time thinking about the choices I was making in life. My conclusion was, largely, that I needed to stop thinking about the short term so much and instead start looking at the long term.
In truth, the trade I actually made was swapping short-term gratification for long-term benefits and security. Buying books and video games and DVDs brought me a lot of short-term joy, but really didn’t contribute much at all to the quality of my life over the long term. On the other hand, not buying these things and instead paying down the bills is incredibly boring in the short term, but provides a lot of long-term happiness – I now live in a nice house and know that things are fairly secure financially.
This isn’t a trade that some people want to make. That’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing – it’s just a difference in perspective. If I were single, I might very well be content to live in an apartment and spend my time and money on more frivolous short-term pursuits and enjoyments. But such short-term pursuits simply do not reflect where I’m at right now.
It’s because of my own experience that I believe that successful financial turnarounds are often tied to serious introspection about what you truly want out of life. My financial turnaround, for instance, was triggered by a lot of introspection done in the aftermath of the birth of my son. Different events may trigger such introspection in others – it could be a major event, or it could be something as simple as merely getting older.
Is financial success a sacrifice? I think it’s only a sacrifice if you look at it solely in terms of what you lose without proper respect for what you gain.