6 Ways To Get Back On Track After A Summer Of Spending
Summer is a fun an exciting time of year. Family vacations, weddings, travel, or staycations; there is usually something going on for people to enjoy during summer if they want. But with all the extra activities, so to does increased spending. Depending on how busy you get, it can really put a dent into the financial progress you've made during the rest of the year. Smaller bank account balances and increased credit card debt are common outcomes to active summer living. Because of this, I'm going to share 6 ways you can get back on track financially after a summer of spending. It's not a crime to enjoy your summer as long as you can re-engage those positive financial habits and disciplines that may have slipped away during the summer months.
- Creating proper perspective about your spending
- Avoiding the blame game
- The importance of getting rid of the bad debt first
- Pacing yourself so you don't come out of the "financial improvement" gate to fast
- Find a forcing mechanism in your environment you can rely on to help keep you going
- Creating positive reinforcements in your life that will allow you to celebrate and appreciate the micro improvements
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Tally Up The Damage
Do you ever just get that gut feeling that you just spent more money on something than you should have? It kind of hits you at the worst possible time and feels a lot like regret. It could be while your driving home from vacation and it just occurred to you that you spent a lot more than you originally anticipated. You can't recall exactly how much was spent or on what, but you just know it was far more than you should have. These feelings are a normal reaction for those of you who are fiscally responsible. In fact, it's the exact reason why you are overcome with this type of emotion to begin with. But when it hits, what should you do next?
Most of the time, the immediate reaction is to give in to those feelings and make instant and erratic change. You look for any way you can to get back on track financially so that gut feeling of regret goes away. Instead, you should resist the urge to give into those feelings and emotions. Human emotion is 35x more powerful than logic. It causes all of us to make irrational decisions when simple logic would serve us much better. This is why it's extremely important to quantify your spending before you let emotions take over.
In life, our situation is never as good or as bad as we think it is. Financial matters are no different. We just need to prove it to ourselves. So before you get worked up about having spent to much money this summer, do yourself a favor and look for quantifiable proof. Add it all up. Give the logical side of your brain a chance to compete with the powerful emotional reactions you a currently battling through.
This will allow you to create proper perspective about your current financial situation. You will no longer be led by emotion. It'll also force you to come face to face with the reality of your recent spending. No matter how bad it got, when you see it for what it is, your brain will instantly go to work to find logical and proven ways to get yourself back on track. It will also provide context to help you determine if you're making meaningful improvements. Don't get emotional, get quantifiable. Tally up your summer spending damage.
Blaming someone else for our shortfalls is a coping mechanism for lack of accountability. It's hard to take responsibility for our own missteps in life. Especially if those missteps are shared with another person. After a fun and exciting summer, it can be tough to face the reality that you spent far more money then you should. So instead of facing that reality and taking personal responsibility, it's much easier to blame someone else. Resist the urge to do this! Especially if that "someone else" is your spouse.
Blaming others for your own financial problems is a wonderful way to compound an already heated issue. It also creates a defensiveness inside of us that blurs pro-active decision making. When you back yourself into a corner by blaming someone else, you lose the brain power to find a way forward. You're constantly in a state of defense. This doesn't help your situation. It only keeps you in it longer.
It's also important to note that it isn't always blaming someone else that get's us in trouble. Blaming ourselves can cause further disruption to your financial situation. There is a difference between blaming yourself and taking accountability. Taking accountability is actually empowering yourself to fix the issue where blaming yourself will keep you from taking any action at all. Blaming yourself allows financial imposter syndrome to accelerate. "I must be awful at managing money", "I will never be good with money", "my financial situation is hopeless." When these thoughts are allowed to takeover our mentality, we lose the ability to control our future financial wellbeing. Stop blaming other people, stop blaming yourself, and take accountability for your actions so you can freely move forward in rectifying your current financial problems.
Get Rid Of The Bad Debt
There is nothing worse than being reminded of your poor money decisions months after the actual spending event has taken place. I take that back. There is something worse. Having to pay interest on poor money decisions months after the actual spending event has taken place is worse. And that is exactly what you're doing when you make a credit card payment each month for a purchase(s) earlier in the summer.
You went on vacation and you decided to go all out. You got caught up in the moment and you spent money on things that you didn't have money to spend on in the first place. So like many others, you take out the credit card and worry about it later. Well today is later and now it's a decision you fully regret. It's ok, remember no blaming. But, now is the time to take action and get rid of that debt. Put every ounce of financial firepower you have (within reason) to eliminate that debt. Don't keep a balance on a credit card that is forcing you to pay an interest rate that is in the high teens or twenties.
In my experience working with clients, credit card debt is usually the number one regret people have when they are trying to improve their financial wellbeing. Those monthly payments never go away (there is no credit card moratorium) and only serve as a reminder of the now painful decisions that were made months ago. But there is a bright side. For those of you who are trying to get back on track financially after an expensive summer, paying off credit card debt is a great prescription. Even if it doesn't completely take care of your problem, it does provide for a huge amount of relief psychologically. So pay off that debt and move on.
Over reacting to a problem can lead to even greater pain down the road. For example, let's look at all of those New Year's Resolutions we set on December 31st every year. Most of those resolution have a health component to them. I want to get in better shape. I want to lose weight. I want to run a marathon in June. It's great to have goals, but the pursuit of those goals need to be realistic. When they're not, we burn ourselves out and end up quitting. And it becomes harder to get started again in the future even though we have every intention of doing so. (Do you still pay for that gym membership you know you'll never use!?)
Financial improvement works the same way. We let ourselves go financially over the summer, but now we have every good intention to make it right. Problem is we come out of the gate with to much speed. You cut back your spending to an amount that isn't sustainable. You sacrifice to much of what you enjoy in life in the name of "fiscal responsibility." And just like someone who gets upset easily due to being overly hungry, you are now referred to as fangry. You're financially starving yourself which makes you irritable ("Fangry", Copywrite - PharmD Financial Planning. You heard it hear first!).
Instead you should be making improvements through moderate steps. I always recommend to anyone who is looking to get back on track financially after an excessive spending period to create a 2 month plan. No longer than that. And in that 2 month plan you should clearly lay out the steps you are going to take to begin to improve your financial positioning. That plan shouldn't be to strenuous but should provide some financial discomfort. After all no pain, no gain. The purpose of the 2 month financial plan is to re-engage those positive financial habits and disciplines that you may have lost touch with over the summer. Like a muscle in your body, build them back up slowly so they will be stronger than they were before.
Find A Forcing Mechanism
If we all had the willpower to do what we say we are going to do, we'd all be rich with a chiseled body. But that isn't how it works. We are humans after all. This makes it imperative to find something in your environment that you can use as a personal forcing mechanism. You want to make an improvement to your financial status due to over spending during the summer? Great, but don't rely on your own initiative to get you there. Find a forcing mechanism that can push you to the finish line when you get to the point where your own willpower isn't going to cut it.
Common examples of forcing mechanisms people can use are accountability partners, online support communities, or professional advisors. Let someone else know your intentions of wanting to improve your finances. Then make sure you report back to them in evenly spaced intervals. That way when you feel like splurging on something dumb, you will have to be faced with the reality your going to get confronted for doing that.
So let your spouse in on your plans. Create a profile online with like minded individuals who are trying to do the same thing. I am positive they are out there somewhere. Or, hire a professional who can not only hold you accountable, but coach you along the way. A professional could be any number of different people. An accountant, financial planner, life coach, or even a professional budgeter (that has to be a thing, right?). Regardless, find something or someone in your environment that you can use as a forcing mechanism to help you reach the financials goals you've set for yourself.
Create Positive Reinforcements
Creating financial wellness or wellbeing is a long-term game. Most of the progress you make on a micro level doesn't seem to be very satisfying. Sure, I just saved an extra $50 this month. Whoop Dee Doo. The true benefit of making good financial decisions today is allowing the power of compounding to work in your favor over the long-term. But waiting for that big long-term success can be very unmotivating along the way. This is why you need to create little positive reinforcements for yourself to celebrate the small financial wins as you progress
Every time you save an extra $50/month, give yourself permission to treat yourself (within reason). You made a decision today that will positively impact your financial future? Great, go get a massage to celebrate! Whatever it is that you find enjoyment in, give yourself permission to enjoy it as a reward for making those micro level decisions. The more positive micro impacts you make financially, will lead to bigger and much more rewarding macro outcomes in the future. So keep incentivizing yourself to make those small improvements.
In fact, these positive reinforcements could become part of your 2 month plan. This is a great way to balance financial responsibility and gratification. It's a delicate combination, but when done right can produce incredible results. Provide yourself with rewards throughout your financial journey, whatever they may be. It'll keep you motivated while also satisfying your natural instinct for immediate gratification.
It takes a tremendous amount of force to stop a giant ship after it gets going. But that doesn't make it impossible. If you've been hit this summer by the spending bug, you can still turn it around. Use these 6 tips to help get back on track financially. It won't be easy. It could get messy. You may even become fangry. But it's almost always worth it in the end!