Automated and Boring

You’ve figured out pretty much all of the basics of personal finance. You’ve automated contributions to all of your financial goals at a pretty healthy rate. If you don’t touch anything, you’re going to almost assuredly achieve those goals over the upcoming years. You don’t even have to lift a finger to do it.

And because of that, you’re bored with it.

The reality is that when you’re first learning about personal finance and seeing the impact of good financial choices in your life, it’s all really exciting. Suddenly, because of these new things that you’re learning, you have a whole new outlook on life. You aren’t just keeping your head above water. You’re climbing out of the water.

You’re setting big goals and you have a realistic and achievable plan for getting there. You follow all of the advice, get things set up with automatic transfers, do some forecasting to see that you’ll hit your goals in a certain number of years if you just sit back and let the magic happen, and… you wait.

And wait.

It can be boring. Really boring. The excitement that you feel at the beginning of this journey starts to fade away quickly and you’re left wondering if that’s all there is. You start spending a little more on day-to-day things, even reaching the point where you get close to overdrafting due to all of the automated things. You might even be racking up a bit of credit card debt even as your retirement balances and other savings goals are rocketing upwards.

You’re even beginning to wonder of all of this is really “worth it.” You understand why you’re doing this and remember the excitement of figuring it all out and getting it started, but on a daily basis you instead feel the temptation of the things you’re giving up to get there.

And, many days, it doesn’t seem worth it.

What do you do? How do you keep from giving up if this is your situation?

For starters, I guess I borrow the words of the great ancient Sufi literature and simply say, “This, too, shall pass.” Provided you don’t just walk away from your goals entirely, you’ll eventually get past this sense of boredom. That’s because, in a way, it’s something of a backlash against the financial intensity that many people go through after first discovering how to be financially successful and setting up sensible automated plans for the future. That backlash lasts for a while, but it, too, shall pass.

What can you do to help it pass without doing anything really destructive to your financial state? Here are five things I suggest.

First, occasionally re-evaluate why you are doing this. Why exactly have you chosen this path toward financial success? Why are you choosing to save so much money each month? What benefits do you hope to add to your life by making those choices?

For me, the reasons are many. I want security for my children. I don’t want the stress of worrying about my financial future. I want to be able to simply walk away from work and enjoy many things that life has to offer once my children are out of the nest. I have many interests, but none of them are really expensive. My financial choices make those things possible. If I started to make different financial choices in life, then I wouldn’t have those things. Those reasons are very motivating to me.

You may find, after evaluating your life, that you’re now more motivated by other things, and that’s okay. It means that your experiences during your financial awakening helped you to move into a better financial position to tackle whatever your deeper life passions are all about.

Second, find another passion to engross yourself in that doesn’t involve shelling out lots of money. Start trying lots of different things. If you don’t have any ideas, here’s a very long list of hobbies, the vast majority of which are free or very low cost. Try a new one each week or two until you find one that really strikes your imagination. Try things that you’d normally be apprehensive about trying, just to see if you actually dislike it or whether it’s your preconceptions talking. If you’re more of a social person, check out Meetup to see if there are any local groups for various hobbies and see what they’re all about.

A good hobby can attract your interest for a very long time and basically eliminate a sense of “boredom” that can sometimes crop up in life. As I’ve said many times, I already have more low-cost hobbies than I possibly have time for and because of that I don’t really know what “boredom” feels like.

Furthermore, digging into a new passion and figuring out how to do it without spending much money can itself be quite a bit of fun. Doing so forces you to learn about new strategies and dig into new methods of enjoying a particular hobby. I’m still learning new tricks for making my own hobbies less expensive.

Third, consider switching careers. Often, one of the major causes of boredom in life isn’t what you do with your free time, but what you do with your professional time. If you hate your job, there can be a pretty strong motivation to fill your personal hours with as much pleasure as possible to make up for the soul-draining hours at work. That cycle can add up to some pretty empty feelings that can manifest themselves as boredom and unhappines with overall life and result in some serious financial miscues.

What would you enjoy doing with your time? Spend some time really thinking about your career and your job and decide what you would most enjoy and value doing in terms of your profession. It may be – and in fact probably will be – something different than what you’re doing. Then, do what it takes to start transitioning to that new professional path.

You may find that the best transition is going back to school and earning a new degree. You may find that the best transition is going to a trade school for a fairly short time. You may even find that the best transition is to start a side gig where you start dabbling in that new thing today. Whatever the route, start thinking about and working toward that new direction now and use your improved financial state to help you make that happen.

Fourth, reboot your social network. You may find that the people you hang out with the most often are not encouraging you to be financially responsible. When you’re in the “heat of the moment” when it comes to figuring out your finances, you might not necessarily notice that, but your social network – especially the people you hang out with the most – have a lot of impact on you over time.

When I suggest “rebooting your social network,” I don’t mean dumping all of your friends and sitting at home like a hermit. That’s absolutely what you shouldn’t do. What I mean is that you should make a concerted effort to seek out new social situations with new people. For starters, try checking out Meetup and seeing if there are any interesting social things going on in your community that you may not have heard about. Try to build some connections with the people you meet there, and then let your social calendar evolve organically.

This won’t happen overnight, but it will happen as long as you keep exposing yourself to new social experiences and new activities. You will gradually meet people who have values more in line with your current thinking and they will become a greater part of your social life. In that situation, it becomes much easier to have more positive thoughts about being frugal and saving for the future.

Finally, consider cutting back on your automated savings. The fact that you’re saving for the future at all puts you ahead of the pace set by more than three quarters of Americans. If you’re saving at a rapid pace, then you’re way ahead of the curve.

Sometimes, people caught up in the excitement of personal finance find themselves tightening the belt too much, so that when the excitement wears off they feel really constricted and unable to explore any new avenues in life. While financial progress is a great thing, overdoing it isn’t. It’s akin to sucking in your gut really tight to make it to that next belt notch, then finding you basically can’t breathe.

While the choice to cut back a little bit does move the goalposts of your long term goals further away, it does give you more flexibility in your day to day life and that can make all the difference when everything begins to feel too constraining.

No matter what, though, don’t let a sense of boredom crush your goals for the future. While there are some tweaks you can make to your life that can help greatly, undoing everything and returning to old patterns will put you right back in the difficult place you started in, and that’s not good for anyone.

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