Six Ways to Fight Back When You Lose Financial Focus

Once every couple months, I go through a period for about a week or so where I really wonder why I’m keeping my financial house in such tight order. I look around at what my friends and family are doing and I see them enjoying a lot of things with their money – and a big part of me wants to do that, too. I’d love to be able to go out and just go on a whirlwind shopping spree and not really worry about the consequences, and knowing that I have enough money in the bank now to make such a thing easily possible sometimes pushes me very hard to go down that route.

This past weekend was one of those times. I saw an old friend of mine buying an XBox 360 and about seven games for it, then shortly after that, one of my wife’s old friends showed off her engagement ring that was piled with diamonds (including one very large one). With the XBox, I felt longing – with the diamond ring, I felt guilt because I wanted to give something so nice to my wife (when we were engaged, we were both dirt poor, so her engagement ring was very simple).

What did I do to get back on the right track? Here are six little things that I did to leave me feeling much better by Monday.

I looked at a motivational aid. I keep a picture in my wallet of a house that my wife and I once saw. It was out in the country, well off the road with a long driveway. It had woods directly behind it, a large garden off to the side, and an enormous lawn with children playing whiffle ball in it. The house was large but not enormous and had an apple tree and a cherry tree within fifteen steps of the front door. In other words, it was almost everything we ever wanted. That picture inspires me – if I keep my eye on the ball, someday we can have that.

I talked to my wife. We had a conversation about things and just by bouncing ideas and thought off of each other, we both wound up feeling much better about things than before. She is my primary source of levity in life.

I held my children. What would an XBox 360 or a big diamond ring do to help the lives of these children? It might make a superficial joy in my life and in my wife’s life, but in their lives? Nothing at all.

I reviewed my account statements. I also spent some time online checking my account balances, just so I could see that I am making progress towards my goals, but I’m still a long way from the success that I want. For me, one of the best motivators is seeing that I am advancing towards a goal, but that I have a long way to go to get there.

I let the Thanksgiving holiday and family interactions cheer me up. Just interacting with people in a fun way does quite a bit in restoring a sense of balance in one’s life. It’s much easier to feel like everything makes sense and that I don’t need a lot of consumer junk when I’m out in the driveway at my parents’ house shooting baskets with my nephews.

I made some really wholesome “soul food” with my own hands. I actually learned how to make a complex Norwegian food from scratch from my in-laws. The process of watching this food being made from basic ingredients, smelling it as it cooked, and watching people enjoy it made me reflect quite a bit on what I really value in life – and it’s not material things.

I find that whenever I’m in a mood where I want to give up and go on a rampant spending spree, if I touch upon these things I will almost always put that mood aside and still feel quite good about myself.

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  1. This is definitely the time of year where it is easy to get spenditis. My wife and I have a rule that we do not make any purchases over $20 without consulting each other. This way we don’t make major emotional decisions. This does not apply to our monthly spending money which is money we can spend on whatever we want without consultation, but on all “family” purchases this keeps us from overspending.

  2. Samantha says:

    A lot of these strategies (and the problem itself) coincide with the struggles of dieting. *grin* (I am sure that is on my mind thanks to the overindulgence I allowed myself over the feastful holiday weekend.)

  3. I’m glad you know your priorities in life. Material wealth, although very wonderful to have and DOES bring happiness, is usually quite fleeting..
    -Raymond

  4. Angel says:

    I look back at all the things that I have paid off and look forward at all the things that still need to be paid off. We also give things to our children that they really need and will always have- great memories. Instead of spending money we spend time together doing something fun and frugal. Usually this helps us to see that we don’t need to spend large amounts of money to be happy.

  5. Writers Coin says:

    I know exactly how you feel, I just wrote a piece about this very same topic. The feeling hit me on Black Friday, standing amidst the chaos at Target.

  6. Heidi says:

    Oh how I know where you’re coming from! My brother in law just bought the new Rock Band game complete with drums, guitar, bass, and microphone – we had so much fun playing over the holiday weekend! It gave me a terrible case of the “I wants”.

    My finance and I visited about this on the drive home on Saturday morning, and we decided that we won’t buy anything for ourselves (except for food and gas) until after January 1. I wrote about this in more detail on my blog over the weekend.

    This year, I’m going to try to buy all of my gifts online, that way I’m not tempted by in-store ‘deals’ for myself.

  7. boomie says:

    You should rent/borrow the movie ‘Blood Diamond’. Trust me, after you watch it you would never, ever want a diamond to touch your skin nor would you ever, ever buy one! (true story-excellent movie!)

    There will ALWAYS, ALWAYS be something new to buy. When the recession/correction hits, the only people who will survive are those who have money in the bank. That game doesn’t mean a heap of anything.

    Take your kids OUT to a free park. You will bond so much better!

  8. dong says:

    I splurge. I splurge quite a bit. Going on vacation is where I spend my money on. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with spending money and enjoying life as long is it fits a greater plan. The problem with consumerism in itself is not that spending money in itself is bad but rather because of either the impact on the environment or if it’s only driven by peer pressure to keep up.

  9. Aaron Stroud says:

    One strategy my wife and I are trying is attaching our wants to specific milestones. For example, we’re not going to make the drive to Alaska until we’ve knocked the first $30k off our mortgage.

  10. Erick says:

    You mention that you are making progress to your goals but still have a long way to go. What are these goals? I assume reaching the “crossover point”? And I know this is nosy but when you say you have enough money in the bank to “easily” do those things, what do you mean in terms of actual figures? I’m not asking what your current bank account balance is or anything but I constantly read about people reaching financial independence what does that mean in general terms of actual dollar amounts for an average person with modest living? $1/2 million in the bank, $10 million, what??? I realize that it depends on what your standard of living is and such but I am just looking for some examples of actual dollar amounts that I can compare. thanks in advance.

  11. Jennifer says:

    Trent–What was the norwegian food that you made? My great, great grandparents were norwegian and a lot of the customs and traditions have been lost, but my sister and I love to do what we can to keep it alive. I’d love to share this with her.
    Thanks!

  12. ClickerTrainer says:

    While your article isn’t specifically about holiday spending…
    Here is what I do to avoid holiday overspending:

    (1) I pick ONE charity and donate generously to it. Mine’s the local animal shelter.

    (2) I stay out of stores, and buy gifts online instead. I have them shipped directly and avoid post office toxicity.

    (3) Since I wouldn’t get any gift at all unless I provide it (no family), I let myself go shopping at 4pm on Christmas eve. Any store I want. Sales are unbelievable. It is my “all about me” time.

  13. Jill says:

    What dish from Norway were you making? Can’t wait to see your cooking site!

  14. LC says:

    @Erick
    You’re right – it varies a lot on your standard of living as well as your definition of financial independence.

    But I think that the article was saying until you are living your dream life and don’t have to worry about the future, there is always another goal that is likely more important than whatever object you want at the moment. This means you:

    -have no debt, including a mortgage
    -have a nest egg big enough to live off the interest alone, taking into account your desired lifestyle
    -have saved for your kids college or other applicable savings goals

    Although people say that $1M isn’t enough to retire on anymore, I think it’s enough for a modest retirement for the rest of your life regardless of your age. If you are wondering about how your net worth/savings compares to other people your age or how much you need to retire on, there are many calculators on the internet.

  15. BigRed says:

    Trent–hope your complex Norwegian dish isn’t rolpeltz (not sure of the spelling)–it involves saltpeter and juniper berries (this was a specialty of my husband’s 97-year-old grandfather, and we had to go to Annapolis to get the saltpeter from the black-powder musket shop). ANd none of the men in the family would touch it :)

  16. Cloud says:

    “a complex Norwegian food”???

    How mysterious!

    Do tell.

  17. I found great inspiration for staying focused this morning, after the long weekend, when I had to get up early to go back to work. This isn’t what I want to be doing for the rest of my life and continuing to spend money is going to keep me here.

  18. George says:

    @Erick

    A reasonable MINIMUM estimate for FI is when 4-5% of your cash investments would be above the Federal poverty level income. For two people, that’s about $20k, so 20x$20k = $400k minimum pile of cash in today’s world.

    A comfortable estimate for FI would be twice the poverty level and anything above that would be sweet!

  19. Kate says:

    Might want to check your dictionary. I don’t think
    “levity” means what you think it means. In fact, I think you’re using when you actually mean the opposite. From Merriam-Webster:

    LEVITY
    1: excessive or unseemly frivolity
    2: lack of steadiness

    Is your wife really a source of levity?

  20. Sandy says:

    These are all good suggestions. I would add: keep a gratitude journal. Jot down 5 things every day that you are grateful for. This makes you appreciate what you have, and lessens all the ‘longing for more’ kinds of feelings. And focus on your passion and makes sure you are allocating enough $ for it. This makes you willing to cut back in other areas because you know the $ needed for your passion is there for you. –very important–

  21. Oswegan says:

    That’s funny cause Summer time is when I feel like I lose the most focus. By this time of year I usually feel like I have better control over the budget.

    That’s probably the key thing. Having a budget, and sticking to it.

    ~Oswegan

  22. justin says:

    @Erick

    Financial independence is when your passive income exceeds your mouthly expenses.
    Example, you make $3,000 a month on rental properties and paper assets, but your monthly expenses are only $2,000. You could live the rest of your life without working if you wanted to. Financial independence is very simple, some people just like to make it complicated.

  23. justin says:

    @Erick

    financial independence is when your passive incomes exceeds your monthly expenses. Then you never have to work again if you don’t want to.

  24. Shevy says:

    @ Clicker Trainer

    I was confused by the following two comments.

    You said:
    (2) I stay out of stores, and buy gifts online instead. I have them shipped directly and avoid post office toxicity.

    (3) Since I wouldn’t get any gift at all unless I provide it (no family), I let myself go shopping at 4pm on Christmas eve. Any store I want. Sales are unbelievable. It is my “all about me” time.

    So you *send* gifts to people in other cities who aren’t family members, since you don’t have family, and who presumably aren’t people like the postman or milkman or paperboy because they live elsewhere. But they don’t reciprocate, so they don’t sound like close friends.

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I wouldn’t continue to spend money on them unless you’re sending gifts for underprivileged children or something similar.

    Most non-profits will send cards in exchange for a minimum donation of $10 or so (per card). If your animal shelter does this, you could increase your donation and have them send cards that say something along the lines of “A donation has been made in your honour to the Animal Shelter. Thinking of you during this holiday season…”

  25. Erick says:

    Thanks to all that replied. It makes more sense now.

  26. Lisa says:

    great stuff…..money doesn’t buy happiness…it buys freedom. If you lost your house and belongings in a fire what would you have left…the most valuable things of all, you and your family.

  27. partgypsy says:

    Aw c’mon, give her the diamond ring. What I mean by this, is that it is great that you have a long term goal you are working towards. I personally think it is good to have shorter term goals as well. It is good to have as part of your budget some “discretionary money” for yourself or your loved ones on the way to that long term goal, so there is something to look forward to that is not completely abstract and rewards one’s good behavior. It is part of the reward of being disciplined with one’s money. It may not be a diamond ring, but for the family, etc. Anways it works well for our family because we save but we don’t feel deprived either.

  28. John says:

    Very informative. I let the Thanksgiving holiday and family interactions cheer me up. It help.

  29. Debbie says:

    Good for you! When I see my friends and others that have material objects I would love to have for the moment I think to myself “Big Hat, No Cattle”. I’d rather have the cattle aka savings/investments than brand new SUV’s, huge house, and be in debt up to my eyeballs aka as the Big Hats!

  30. Keeping financial focus is always difficult, whether you are talking about personal finances or business-focused things. The biggest thing I try to do (and advise the small business computer consultants with whom I work to do as well) is write everything down on paper. Writing a budget and a plan down on paper tends to make it “real,” not only because it forces you to take accountability for all your spending and decisions, but also because it presents an opportunity to regularly re-visit decisions and also re-confirm goals and stick to them.

  31. Sylvia says:

    Keep your focus. Except for the diamon ring you talked about–most things end up at garage sales or the Good Will. It is just not worth it. Your family is your most important treasure.

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