Updated on 12.08.09

What’s Your Motivation?

Trent Hamm

As I sit in my office and look out the window, I can see a number of people and a few pieces of construction equipment busy at work about a quarter of a mile away. It just happens to perfectly line up that I can see the workers if I turn my head to the left from my natural position at work.

At first, the construction somewhat annoyed me. I can hear the construction noises throughout the day as I’m working and they, at times, can be a mild distraction. The workers are also building something that is going to sit right in my view out of my office window.

What are they building, you ask? A house. A very nice house, in fact.

A few days ago, while I was working on an article, I turned my head and watched the construction work for a bit when I suddenly realized something. The house they were building is not too dis-similar from the house I would love to build someday. It’s fairly isolated with plenty of yard space but also with access to the forest. If I understand the floor plan correctly, it has nice, large bedrooms and a nice kitchen, which are the two features I most like in homes.

Since then, whenever I hear that noise, it actually pushes me a little bit. That noise, instead of being an annoyance, is a reminder of my big goals in life. That noise tells me to keep doing what I’m doing, to push forward to big things.

It has been extremely useful to have such a constant motivator around me. It keeps my nose to the grindstone all day long. Whenever I look out the window, I see the work. Whenever I pause for a minute, the noise from the work comes in loud and clear.

In fact, I’m going to dearly miss them when they go away. I’m considering setting up a series of sound files and some desktop wallpaper on my computer to remind me of them when they leave.

This brings me around to my central point: what’s your motivator?

Personal finance success is often borne out of specific, concrete long term goals. For me right now, my biggest goal is a nice home in the country.

Quite often, personal finance mistakes come about when we lose sight of those goals. We place short term wants and desires ahead of these big goals or we simply don’t even think of them when the moment of decision comes.

It’s in those moments that a reminder can really help. For example, if I’m sitting in my office and I get an email from a reader about some great deal they found, I might be tempted to take advantage of it. But all I have to do is open my ears a little bit and that construction noise comes in. That reminds me of my big long-term goal and makes me rethink my purchase.

What’s your motivation? What can you surround yourself with that will remind you of your goals? If you find a visual or audio reminder, here are some places you can put it:
+ on your refrigerator
+ taped to the bottom of the rear-view mirror in your car
+ as your desktop wallpaper
+ as a regular sound on your computer
+ in your wallet, wrapped around your credit card
+ on your bedside table

The key thing is to push your long-term goals so deeply into your thoughts that it becomes wholly natural to consider them before you make any choices. When you do that, you’ll be on the fast track to success.

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  1. lurker carl says:

    Trent, tape your “house in the country” goal on the rear view mirror of that new Prius. It will be a reminder that purchasing a rapidly depreciating asset pushed you $20K farther from that larger goal. Hopefully, a constant reminder will give you insight when purchasing yet another vehicle to haul your expanding family around in.

  2. Dan says:

    I thought your children were your biggest motivator- afterall, it was in that moment in your first born’s room that you realized what you needed to do.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have a few “things” I want just for me too, but after we had children, those “things” are pushed to the back of the line (and I’m ok with that too!)

    I look at my children, and realize the gifts they provide- free gifts- and it is up to me to secure their well-being. At the moment they are self-sufficient, THAT’s when I return to my next motivation.

  3. Chelsea says:

    My feelings on this are along the lines of Dan’s. Right now my biggest goal is for my husband to get his PhD in the next few years. There are many things that I do to help achieve that goal (keep a good paying job, manage our money carefully, support him emotionally, etc.) but I don’t have any physical reminders of those things or measures of progress. It’s not about a thing, but a commitment to a dream and what it takes to achieve a particular lifestyle. And I don’t know exactly what that lifestyle will be right now…

  4. Troy says:

    I find it a bit ironic that a “minimalist” and frugality conniseur and one who dismisses most material items yearns for the most material item a person typically possess.

    A nice home in the country.

    Don’t get me wrong. A nice home in the country is great, but in my opinion a poor motivator. It is a thing. Things are bad motivators…because the best things in life aren’t things.

    Freedom is a good motivator. Stability, Independence etc are as well. Never things.

    Things are rewards.

  5. So you suggest be make our lobg term goal a permanent fixture in our line of sight.

  6. Vicky says:


    The guy posts decent advice – set your sights on something and go for it – and you rip him to pieces.

    Anyway, I have a credit card I use for vet bills with a photo of my 3 dogs on it. This reminds me what this card is for, why I should never abuse it, and why it’s important to pay it off on time.

    I’ve got a magazine cut out of a Honda Fit – the car I’d like to upgrade to in a few years when I’ve saved up enough money to buy it along with the trade in on my current (and paid off) car – taped to the visor in my car.

    I’ve got magazines around the house about the equestrian community in Texas I will someday live in.

  7. George@MoneyLounge says:

    I need to create a portfolio for my dream job right now, so I have a notebook with different ideas and concepts close by all the time, a constant reminder to keep thinking.

  8. SMG says:

    @#4 Troy – that was a good observation!

    Lets see what trent has to say to this irony on “materialistic” dreams.

  9. Laura in Seattle says:

    This is not the first time I have seen this advice provided re:goals – I’ve seen it on other blogs and in books as well.
    I always tell myself I’ll try it and never actually do it. I think this time I’ll give it a go. :-)
    How wonderful for you that someone decided to build that house! (And kudos for your positive attitude – most people would be grumping about noise, new neighbors, etc.)

  10. Henry says:

    Lurker, I wouldn’t recommend obstructing the rear view mirror with pin-ups. That mirror is there for a reason! Doing so could make Trent a inconsiderate, selfish drive just like he is selfish and inconsiderate when it comes to family planning. Otherwise, that is a wonderful comment that I couldn’t agree with more.

    @Dan. “I thought your children were your biggest motivator- afterall, it was in that moment in your first born’s room that you realized what you needed to do.”

    You make yourself out to be someone following a soap opera more than a blog.

  11. J says:

    I’ll skip the big house and just go for the Porsche.

  12. katie says:

    Guys, stop picking on Trent. He wants a nice house to share with his family. Really, that’s unrealistic.

    And give him a break about the car already! He didn’t make you buy it!

  13. A Dawn says:

    I have my motivation planted in my brain and I think of it always – well, except when I sleep or may be I still think of it subconsciously in my sleep. A Dawn Journal.

  14. CB says:

    I have been inside a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright homes, and the first thing one notices is how small the bedrooms and baths are. He believed that these were rooms with a limited purpose and that the most attention (space) should be the shared rooms. It isn’t the standard American practice (large rooms all around and people were smaller back then), but I’ve come to agree with him.

  15. Shevy says:

    So, Trent, did you read my post from last night or what? I’m working on financial goals for next year and trying to come up with a way to stay on track. I found it by pulling up a picture of a property I looked at this past year. Looking at the land and thinking about how to site the house and where to plant lavender and veggies is my solution for getting and staying motivated, so I totally understand what you’re saying.

  16. Shevy says:

    Okay, and as for everybody giving Trent a hard time, just cool it.

    We know his family and his kids are number one. He wants to have a nice country house with enough room for as many kids as he plans to have and some land where he can grow veggies or whatever.

    Stop acting like he was dreaming of a McMansion in a gated community!

    His dream house isn’t an over-the-top monstrosity; it’s a decent, well-built place where he can keep his family safe and nurture them. When he talks about being a minimalist he doesn’t mean he wants to cram his kids into a shack. Wanting a decent home is not “materialistic”. It’s a reasonable thing for a loving parent to want for his family.

  17. C says:

    A week ago I made a cardboard chart right next to my computer. I have exactly $17,090 left on my mortgage and if I don’t spend a lot of money on gifts and “good deals” online I can finish this goal easily next year. But I need this chart right here in constant view or I risk blowing it. The countdown is on!!!

  18. Great post for those that have motivation in their lives. What about those who don’t? For those, I think they need to FIND their motivation first.

    Look inside yourself and find your passion. Turn it into something useful and make it your motivation!

    We all have passions, they just need to be identified.

  19. Courtney says:

    Good luck reaching your goal, Trent! My husband and I had the same dream of a big house in the country and now we’ve got it. Every minute of hard work that it took to get here was so worth it.

  20. annk says:

    I occasionally chide Trent for grammatical or spelling mistakes. In this case, he clearly used the wrong word, and it hurt his credibility.

    However, his concept is solid. If you make your goal specific and tangible, you’ll be more likely to achieve it.

  21. Sharon says:

    Good post! Like 17C my goal is to pay off our mortgage which is our only debt. We’ve got years to go but the thought of having that freedom keeps me on track. My husband says I’m obsessed but as I see the numbers go down it feels so wonderful and makes tangible the reason we economize.

  22. Heather says:

    Thanks Shevy, for your comment #16. It is so easy to pick one thing in someone’s argument and roll with it. It is much harder to pick that same thing and ask yourself how it fits into something larger that they have already expressed. i.e. Trent doesn’t want a nice house in the country because it’s a nice house in the country, but (I strongly suspect) for the intangibles that it will provide for him and his family.

    What motivated me on my journey to get out of debt and what continues to motivate me is this blog. Having a post to read each day keeps the ideas of frugality fresh in my mind. I cannot thank you enough Trent, your posts have made a tangible difference in my life.

  23. Jen says:

    Wow. There are some incredibly rude people who don’t seem to get the point on here. It’s possible to have more than one motivating factor (kids) to drive you towards your goals. He’s just talking about 1 slice of the motivational pie, if you will. For me there are many factors pushing me to get out of debt, and seems the more places motivation comes from, the more things that remind you of your purpose, the more reachable your goals can be.

  24. DivaJean says:

    My dream home is the one I am in. I am SO lucky to have found it. We owe only $30K on it and are just 6 years in our original $110K purchase price. We had put 20% down then have put extra in every single month towards the principal- as well as putting a 13th+ payment in December as the “Xmas Present” we give ourselves.

    While I understand those who dream of a country home, its not for me. I would rather be walking distance to a drug store, grocery store, laundromat, etc should anything happen. And have a bus route for alternate transportation purposes.

  25. chacha1 says:

    Right on Shevy, I’ve done the same thing. Since my motivation for saving/frugality/wise money management is a nice house to retire to, I found a property I know I’d love (right location, right features, right price) and printed the realtor.com photo. It’s taped to the wall of my workstation. I doubt it will be available (still or again) when the time comes that we are ready to buy, but for now it helps me with, e.g., not adding things to the Amazon wish list! It kind of makes the goal more real … financial projections are so dry and flavorless!

  26. Tammy says:

    I agree with Heather, Jen and Shevy…

    Some folks commenting on this post are just plain rude. Didn’t your mama teach you if you can’t say something nice, not to say anything at all?

    The size of someone’s family or their plans to have children are absolutely none of your business. Selfish? Inconsiderate? What a nasty thing to say to someone. Boo to you. Get some manners.

  27. MelodyO says:

    Trent, it’s to the point I don’t even want to read the comments on your posts because the trolls are so awful. I know you want to give everyone a chance to be heard, but this is ridiculous. They aren’t contributing anything but vitriol, and it would be appreciated if you could filter them out. They can scream censorship all they want…on their OWN blogs.

    Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with wanting material things – that’s the whole point of saving, so you can have the life that will make you happy. Don’t confuse “frugal” with “miserly”. Good luck with that house in the country – you know we’ll all want an invitation if you have a housewarming party. :0D

  28. Henry says:

    Yes, I would like to come to the housewarming party. I will bring some Planned Parenthood brochures and Trojans.

  29. Bill says:

    To all the Commentators calling people rude,

    Making a goal out of something like a ‘Country Home’ or a ‘Equestrian Community’ or even ‘Serving the poor full time’ are really reflections of the same goal, financial freedom. What ‘lurker carl’ and others where referring to was Trent actions where the opposite of his goals.

    Frankly since the ‘Prius’, I just skim Trent’s post and read the comments. Some of the regular commentators are very wise and I have learned a lot from them, and find great value in that. I enjoy Trent’s post about cooking and frugality, but his trend lately to: “This is what I do and why it is the right way to do it” is laughable.

    I hate to sound mean, but there are several posts I hope he re-reads in about 10-12 years. After you get to feel the full pleasure of a crazed 14 year old telling you they will run away rather than complete reading a book report.

    If I could reach back 10 years and give Trent advice, it would be to ‘Be more humble, ask advice, don’t preach’.

    And to kick that horse one more time, there is not a valid frugal or financially logically reason in the world to buy let alone finance that car, and once trust in advice is breached it is hard to recover.

  30. Motivation is a very personal thing. Different things will motivate people differently and what motivates us is not static. In the early days of my career (pre-spouse and pre-children) my motivation was to buy a modest sailboat and spend my time cruising the South Pacific on my own. Over the years the boat get replaced by a sports car, a home and most recently by the lure or early retirement as my primary motivator. I never purchased either the boat or the sports car (and probably never will) but the thought of them kept me motivated at the time in much the same way that achieving financial independence does now.

    If Trent finds the thought of a better home for himself and his family motivational, great. Of course, it becomes somewhat problematic if/when the things that motivate you end up diverting you from more important objectives like financial independence then it ceases to be a motivation and becomes a distraction.

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