Karen writes in:
Over the last six months, my husband and I have paid off $11,000 in credit card debt. It feels great. But it’s also really, really hard. In order to do that, we’ve stopped going out and doing a lot of the things we used to do. I feel like I’m missing something from my life and overall I think I’m unhappier now than I was when I was juggling all of that debt.
Karen is going through something that a lot of readers go through – and I went through. At first, making radical financial change in your life feels great. You see tremendous changes in terms of the debt situation that scared you in the first place. Your retirement savings are in better shape, too. You get a thrill out of all of the opportunities to save money in your life. Everything is good.
At some point, though, the honeymoon is over and you find yourself in Karen’s place. The memories of the way you spent money before stick with you and you feel deprived.
There is one word that sums up the solution to all of this: balance.
I don’t know the specifics of Karen’s life, but based on her email, I’m guessing that she and her spouse used to dine out very regularly – probably several nights a week. Now, they’re not dining out at all and are preparing meals at home. They seemed to also engage in a lot of nightlife activities of some sort and have eliminated a lot of those.
My advice to Karen is to bring some of them back into your life.
If you get a lot of personal value out of eating out with your husband, eat out with your husband. The balance part of the equation comes in when you look at how often you eat out together. If you used to eat out together five nights a week, try eating out one or two nights a week instead. When you do go out, just choose the best places – the ones that will make for a great experience for you (keeping in mind that best does not equal expensive).
Don’t just sit at home, either. Go out and do some of the other activities you used to do – again, choosing the best ones. For the other nights, look for free stuff to do out and about. Community festivals. Free open air concerts. Volunteerism. Block parties. Dinner parties. There are many, many things that you can do in the evenings that don’t involve buying tickets or pouring out cash.
If you’re unhappy, eventually you’re going to rebound back to the very place where you were to begin with. The key is to make small steps that you’re genuinely happy with and keep them in place. Even if you just cut five dinners out a week down to four, that’s still an improvement. Three is even better. Two is great!
If you make a mistake, cut yourself some slack. Don’t get caught up in a sense of guilt over one bad choice, because that kind of guilt and self-resentment usually builds into throwing your goals and plans into the drink. We all mess up sometimes – I certainly do. The best thing to do is to simply move on with your plans and goals, treating your setback as mere water under the bridge.
Never forget that you do have a life to lead right now. Just keep in mind that the specifics of that life don’t have to be exorbitantly expensive or over the top to be really, really enjoyable. Fun things with people you love are the best parts of life and you don’t need to shell out the cash for them.