The path that Sarah and I followed to find financial sanity seems extreme to a lot of readers. We gave up a lot of the “wants” in our life very quickly in order to turn our financial ship around.
For us, this shift was possible because we discovered along the way that many of the things we really value in life actually are quite cheap. We enjoy spending time together. We enjoy the act of reading much more than the accumulation of books. We simply have a lot of fun wandering around free public parks and making homemade meals.
To a large extent, this is a matter of personalities and interests. While I strongly believe everyone should try lots of low-cost activities in their lives and try making meals for themselves, not everyone is going to throw themselves into this fully and find that they enjoy every aspect of it.
On the other hand, simply continuing along a life path that builds debt isn’t really sustainable or healthy, either.
Where is the middle path?
The middle path is all about keeping those things that work for you. All of us need some money to spend on things we enjoy, and keeping those things around is vital for success.
The middle path is all about discarding the things that don’t work well for you. At the same time, we all make poor spending choices. It’s fine to spend on things we deeply enjoy, but there are some things we simply enjoy more than others.
Why spend money on the things we don’t enjoy nearly as much?
The middle path is all about recognizing what each choice gains you and costs you in the long run. It’s easy to justify giving in to one or two wants. The problem comes from giving into many, many wants over a long period.
The route to success here is to first figure out what you’re actually spending by grouping together your expenses into some logical categories. How much do you spend on entertainment each month? That includes your internet service, your data plan on your cell phone bill, and your cable, by the way – you can use basic internet at the library, after all. How much do you spend on dining out or on unnecessary additions to meals (like wine)?
When you start looking at your spending through those lenses, the amount you spend on wants becomes quite large. All you have to do is put a cap on it and then make choices among those things. If you’re spending $1,000 a month unnecessarily, simply capping that at $750 a month frees up $250 a month for other things.
The trick is figuring out what $250 to cut – but whatever it is, it’s bound to be the least important $250.
The middle path is all about trying new things. If you keep doing all of the same things you’re doing, you’re going to just keep getting the same results you’ve been getting. You have to try new things and evaluate them for yourself.
Look around your area for low-cost things to do. You’d be surprised what an hour on your community’s website (and those of neighboring communities) will find.
If there’s a lower cost option or a do-it-yourself option for pretty much anything in your life, give it a whirl. You might find it works just fine for you. If it doesn’t, there’s no law saying you can’t just revert back later.
The middle path is about remembering that each choice makes a difference. You don’t have to radically overthrow everything in your life, but at the same time, you can’t achieve change without making some changes.