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Monday, June 23, 2014

Short-Circuiting Self-Sabotage To Win At Financial Recovery

George Costanza - the ultimate self-sabotager
To me, the hands-down best episodes of the hit sitcom Seinfeld are the ones where Jerry and George get to make a TV sitcom for NBC, and fail in spectacular fashion—though ultimately the failure is not their fault.

True to form, it's the slow-witted George Costanza—who believes that God will never allow him to be successful—and his self-sabotaging antics that nearly ruin their chances at fame. First he tries negotiating with the network for more money, which results in him and Jerry actually getting less. Then he gets involved in a romantic relationship with one of the show's producers, whom he ends up despising, but he's too afraid of losing their sitcom to he breaks up with her. Then he begins irritating the cast members. Then he has that "white discoloration" on his lip that he's convinced is terminal cancer. All of his nervousness over the possibility of success make almost incapable of actually becoming successful. In fact, he is pretty much the quintessential example of a hopeless, self-sabotaging individual.

Self-sabotage happens a lot with financial recovery. After a few months of disciplined budgeting and careful spending, some people start to miss the excitement of shopping, swiping credit cards, eating out, or entertainment. So they find themselves wandering the aisles of the mall "just to look," but in actuality they're feeding the growing urges to spend. Or they might start borrowing money from one area, like grocery money, to splurge in another.

Over time these little decisions short-circuit the entire budget, cause the person to get discouraged, and throw in the towel because they "just can't do it."

If you can’t break your addiction to financial excitement, you’re never going to achieve the kind of financial life that gives you peace.

True, spending money is exciting, and, yes, it's true that getting out of debt can be a total bore, but nothing good ever came from lazy behavior. Words like "discipline," "steadfastness," and "structure," are words that successful people are very familiar with. You want to loose weight? Discipline! You want to change your lifestyle? Steadfastness! You want to be rich some day? Get structured!

Here's another word: routine.

When it comes to getting in better physical shape, for example, I've noticed that the people who actually succeed at doing this have established routines. They don't work out every single day because they feel like—although sometimes they may feel like—they just do it.

How should paying off debt and building wealth be any different? How do you create more routine with money, and, most importantly, how do you stay on track when you're feeling bored or resistant.

Here are some ideas:

  • Like Dave Ramsey always says, make a list. Even if the first item on your list says, "Make list," at least it will help you feel like you've accomplished something. Try listing your smallest debts first—credit card, car, house. Make a list of weekly budget-related tasks—Get groceries: $100, Get cleaning supplies: $20. Until you give yourself structure, you won't have any at all.

  • Hold regular budget meetings. For the first year after FPU Dani and I met faithfully every week to go over our budget. Once we felt more confident in the process, we started meeting every couple of weeks. The point is, we meet and go over the budget together on a regular basis because there is no "one size fits all" budget. It has to be revisited every month, or seasonally at least.

  • Dani and I have learned that we make better progress when we have hard and fast goals. We got more work done on the upstairs renovation in three days than we had in a month because we found out the realtor was coming to show our house on the weekend. And, in the past, whenever we have been adamantly focused on paying off a debt we have succeeded more quickly than we anticipated. Having goals works!

  • Having fun is key to staying sane throughout this whole process. So what can you do to have fun that doesn't involve spending money? Dani loves to go to the beach. I like to chill in my hammock and read a book or write on my laptop. During the holidays we like to go look at Christmas lights. Museums. Parks. Parades. There's lots of fun, affordable entertainment to find if you look for it.

It can be hard to shift your mindset from over-spending to something as mundane as list-making and budgeting, but you have to believe that this is what will have the biggest impact on your level of financial peace. The more routine you establish, the better your chances of nipping those self-sabotaging behaviors in the bud.

Keep pinchin' :-)

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