The Center

When I first got started with personal finance, I began by cutting away at my spending. First, I trimmed away the obvious things – buying too many books and video games, for one. I moved on from there to more difficult things, like moving to cooking more foods at home, cutting a few subscription services, and so on.

Eventually, I reached a point where it was difficult to find additional things to cut. A lot of the “fat” spending is obvious and easy to cut, but once you reach a certain point, it begins to feel more difficult as you cut away things that feel important to you.

Even worse, I often felt somewhat conflicted about many of the things that I had cut. I’d convince myself that my life was worse because I had cut some stream of spending in my life. Often, this attitude did far more to bring my mood down than any actual spending cut that I made.

More often than I would like, I felt resentful toward personal finance. I would often go through periods feeling as though living frugally was keeping me from things that I would enjoy, and I didn’t like it.

It is very easy in that mindset to backslide and start spending money again. My speculation is that many people backslide at that point.

What I didn’t realize then was that I was taking the exact opposite perspective from what I should have taken. Rather than taking my life as it was right then and cutting away fat, I should have started at the center.

What do I mean by that?

As soon as I realized that my financial life was out of whack, I should have taken it as a sign that my life in general was out of whack. If I’m in a big pile of consumer debt, my values and my behaviors are misplaced.

How do you fix that? You revert to the center.

Don’t worry (directly) about cutting this or cutting that. Instead, spend a few weeks getting in touch with the things that you value most in your life.

Re-establish your key friendships and relationships. Get in touch with the hobbies that you love but try to convince yourself you don’t have time for. Find the time for things like this by dropping back from many of the elements of your normal day.

I’ve found that a big debt hole often comes from a life that’s going off the rails in a lot of ways. For me, I was so caught up in the stresses of my job and a seeming need to “show off” to a circle of friends that weren’t really good friends that, to a certain degree, I lost track of who I was, what I valued, and what I enjoyed doing.

When I corrected those things, my finances began to practically correct themselves.

After concert
My three children, at the end of a concert

I feel happiest about my life when I have a book that I’m engrossed in. I feel most centered when I’m creating new things, usually via writing. I feel like a day has been a good day when I’ve spent some time with my kids and spent some time with just my wife.

That’s the center of my life. The more time and energy I spend maximizing that center, the better I feel each night when I fall in bed, the happier I am with the direction of my life, and the easier it is to keep my finances in balance.

When your whole life is centered, personal finance balance follows. When things are out of line, the money tends to go astray as well. Thus, if you find your money going astray, ask yourself what really matters in your life and focus on just that for a while. Amazing things will happen.