It’s October. Do you remember alllll the way back to January, when you made that New Year’s Resolution? You know, the one where you were going to finally kick the soda habit for good and hit the gym. How are you doing with that? Yeah… me too. And it turns out, we’re not alone. According to Nielsen, 43% of Americans said they planned to lose weight by eating better in 2015, even though 76% didn’t follow any kind of plan for doing so the year before. This year, also according to Nielsen, 67% of us said we were going to work out more. I don’t know about you, but there’s a gym right down the street from my apartment that’s changing its name to “12-Hour Fitness” because it’s just never busy. So what gives? We always make the same resolutions year after year. We know we need to eat better, exercise more, spend less, and read actual books, so why do we end up on the couch stuffing our face with cheese balls binge-watching Netflix every Friday night? Simple. Because our resolutions aren’t actually that important to us. We don’t see the long-term benefits as being worth giving up the short-term pleasures that will ultimately keep us from them. We start out with the best intentions toward overriding our bad habits and replacing them with good ones, but we inevitably will lose little battles in the process. We’ll miss a day at the gym, or we’ll go out for half-price burger night (and still pay full price). And when we do, we see that maybe life isn’t so bad the way it used to be, so instead of getting right back on the horse and continuing on, we just kinda… let it slide. Maybe we have a few more attempts a couple of weeks later, but before you know it, here we are in October on the couch while our gym membership card sits judging us from the key hook by the door.
The same thing happened to me with my finances. I’ve told myself time and time again that I was going to pay off my credit cards, that I was going to start investing, that I was going to save for a down payment on a house. But then I walked through the electronics clearance aisle at Target, and then Macy’s closed down and all of a sudden I needed a suit that I still haven’t worn, and– oh, a video camera? I don’t care if it’s 2016, I obviously need one of those! What finally got R and I to start making serious changes in our spending pattern was getting a “why.” If you’re going to pay off 80 grand, you need a big ol’ “why” or it’s never going to happen. Before we had a “why,” getting a second job just didn’t sound that fun. Before we had a “why,” our student loans were almost comforting in a way, since we knew they’d never leave. Our “why” isn’t one big thing, but it’s a ton of little ones. For example, did you know that there are things we can do with our money besides giving it to banks? You’ve seen those people on the news that give a ton to hurricane relief funds, or that buy a new car for a struggling single mom who just lost her house in a fire? That could be us! There’s nothing magical about those people, they’re just a lot smarter with their money than we are. And did you know that car payments are, in fact, not required by law? As it turns out, you can go to a car dealership, offer them money, and then drive out in a car without ever having to talk to the evil finance department. There are so many things we’d rather do than shovel money to a faceless banker every month. We’d love to be able to take people in if they need a place to stay, or go check out places we’ve only seen on Instagram, or give our kids a head start on college, or someday be able to retire and sit on a porch drinking from two different tea pitchers, one good and one filled with sugar water.
So every time we face a financial decision, our “why” is staring us in the face. We just had to make sure our “why” was an actual “why,” and not some vague idea of how we think we should be doing better. “I want to buy a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a yard big enough for my two dogs and three kids to run around in” is much, much more effective than, “I’m broke and I don’t like it.” Are the leather seats and the selfie cam in the rear-view mirror worth delaying our purchase of a house? Is that new phone for me worth having a little less to give little R when she moves in to her dorm? Don’t get me wrong, we’re not whipping ourselves every night ten times for every time we spend a dollar on fun. Sometimes, the answer is yes, our happiness now is worth a little setback later. But when you have a “why,” those little battles are easier to fight.