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“How do I keep myself satisfied ’till I reach my goals?”

by J. Money on Tuesday, April 23, 2013

keep it up motivation

Got a good email from a reader which I’m sure a lot of you can appreciate – myself included. Some days I’m on point with all this goal stuff, and other times I just wanna quit and be done with it. It can be exhausting staying focused for years and years to come, not to mention DECADES! It’s not easy to stay on top of…

Here’s what our friend wrote:

I am currently running a house, paying off the mortgage, holding down a steady good paying job and running a budget. I have cut back on everything I can and I can’t cut anything else out. I live frugally and am saving £400 on top of paying all the bills, which is a little difficult, but I am managing well while still enjoying myself (got to allow yourself a few treats right?) I also valet cars as a “side hustle” and am pleased with my progress.

HOWEVER, from a psychological point of view, how do you satisfy yourself with playing “the long game”? I realise that to reach my goals (I have a list of things I would like to do, and places I would like to go, and home improvements to make) I am saving as hard as I possibly can without making myself miserable by not spending anything, I treat myself to “takeout” (We call it a takeaway in the UK) about twice a month and that keeps me happy, but my goals seem really far off.

How do I keep myself satisfied till I reach those goals?

I pretty much told him that a) It’s GREAT he’s incorporated some fun into the whole thing since going hardcore will only break you sooner, and b) I struggle with the same thing. Not as often as when I’m motivated, but I definitely have my days. Especially when it comes to paying off my damn mortgages – those things take freakin’ forever to get rid of!

So how do you stay on top of stuff and continue hustling along? Well, for me it helps breaking thing down in more “chunks” than these huge lofty goals. Take the mortgage situation for example – it’s MUCH easier and do-able in my head to knock out mortgage #2 at $30,000 left than it is the 1st at $280,000. The latter has a much higher interest rate and is *financially* smarter to get rid of first, but that doesn’t do me any good cuz I’d just quit before getting started going that route. So for me – and my personality – knocking down the 2nd mortgage is the best bet. Which is exactly what I’m doing now and have already killed over $25k in it since going this route almost 2 years ago – hooray!!

But it’s still hard. And it sucks. So I take it another step further and then try to chunk it down into $10,000 intervals and throw myself a little mini-party at home when I complete these phases :) I’m the only one in attendance, but it makes me feel good. You can do the same with saving up to a certain amount, or paying off your car loan or student loans, etc, etc.

Another thing I do is ask myself where the money would go if I wasn’t applying it to wherever it’s going? Would it just sit somewhere adding up for no real reason? Would I hit the town every night making it rain wherever I go? Buy a Benz or spend it on blow and hookers? New cute outfits for my baby? (Wow that felt weird going from hookers to babies, haha…).

The answer I usually come up with is “nothing that important.” If it’s not going towards my mortgages or maxing out my retirement funds or into my businesses/etc, it would literally just sit in an account somewhere doing nothing. Granted that seems to be a good position to be in – only having a few uses for extra money – but the point is *asking* myself these questions when I’m in doubt helps me to keep pushing forward more than other stuff. Knowing that the money is going to the #1 priority at all times feels good and that you’re doing the right thing for yourself, ya know?

Letting *time* work its magic for you also helps out immensely. We’ve talked about the power of time plenty before, but it really is some fascinating stuff. Imagine closing your eyes for like 30 years and letting everything continue on as they are automatically and on rotation while the “real” you is out there hustling. Then you snap out of it and check your accounts and financial reports – what would they look like? How much would you have saved or paid off by then? The answer would probably excite the pants off you. All stuff you already know, of course, but the “envisioning of it” can help remind you again why you’re working so hard if you need an extra push that day.

Anyways, those are all the things that help me ounce by ounce when I’m struggling to stay on track. They don’t always work and then I get just as frustrated as everyone else, but it’s the best I’ve come up with so far. Hopefully you guys have better tips to share with us today :)

How do you all stay on top of your long-term goals? What do you do when you just want to quit and give up? Tell us in the comments below to help both our British reader up above and yours truly when he’s grasping for straws… You can’t be on fire all the time!

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(Photo by stevendepolo)


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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1 My Financial Independence Journey April 23, 2013 at 5:58 am

You really need to figure out what “fun” (I leave this word purposely vague, since everyone’s definition of fun is different) and budget that into your goals. It might mean that you save a little less, but if that’s what keeps you sane in the long run, it’s worth it.

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2 Giddings Plaza FI April 23, 2013 at 11:35 am

Some $$ aside for fun, for sure! I have really pared down my expenses to reach financial independence early, but I’ve gotta tell you, I have a pretty big chunk of money in my budget for fun–for eating out with friends, drinking out with friends, etc. Because if I can’t enjoy life and friends, what’s the point of having the money?

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3 J. Money April 24, 2013 at 10:20 am

AGREED!!!!!!

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4 Lance @ Money Life and More April 23, 2013 at 7:26 am

It is definitely a tough to stay excited, but I guess that’s why they call it debt fatigue! I actually have a guest post about a reader who has $68,000 of student loan debt today and she talks about how she avoids debt fatigue here: http://www.moneylifeandmore.com/how-to-avoid-debt-fatigue-3711/

We personally just keep track of all of our debt on a spreadsheet and every time we make an extra payment we watch the payoff date get closer to today! It is pretty cool to see $200 or $400 change the payoff date to a month or two closer to today :)

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5 J. Money April 24, 2013 at 10:22 am

SpreadsheetsAreSexy.com :)

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6 John S @ Frugal Rules April 23, 2013 at 8:12 am

It really can be tough to stay excited, especially when it feels like it’s so far off. For us, we break it down to smaller chunks as well as that makes the goal much more tangible and breeds momentum. I also look back to what my life was like before I was disciplined financially and I have no plans on going back.

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7 Johnny @ Our Freaking Budget April 23, 2013 at 8:48 am

This is the very reason it took the Mrs. and I a few years to finally contribute to our 401k plans at work. Granted, we were in the middle of paying off our debt, but the thought of putting aside hard-earned money into some account that we wouldn’t touch for almost 40 years (!!!!) did not sound like a fun idea. In fact, it still sounds pretty lame. :)

For us, it requires a little chat about our future and what we want and how our goals will help us get there. That’s usually enough motivation. But the easiest way by far for us to stay on top of goals is setting up automatic deposits/withdrawals, etc. The pain is there on initial setup and then it’s all out of sight, out of mind. Sad that we have to rely on that, but whatever it works for us.

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8 Walnut April 23, 2013 at 9:41 am

A couple ways to avoid debt fatigue: avidly updating a spreadsheet with the budget, amortization tables, account balances, cash flow, etc.; and read PF blogs – J. Money motivates me to keep throwing extra at my mortgage. I have a feed reader full of lots of PF bloggers in different stages of the game.

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9 J. Money April 24, 2013 at 10:23 am

That’s what I like to hear :)

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10 Elvin @ Journey To Millions April 23, 2013 at 9:52 am

Basically, what we’re doing is chunking big goals down into mini-goals. This way it’s easier to stay on track. Also, it is best to add fun while doing it so that we can focus more on the fun part rather than the pain-in-the *** part. We’re usually celebating our small wins to keep us motivated in pushing and reaching our goals.

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11 SavvyFinancialLatina April 23, 2013 at 9:53 am

I think it’s common to become fatigued. I know I do and I’m only 22.
I try not to think about the long term future actually. Frankly, thinking about how much I’m suppose to have in 30 years freaks me out. Not only because I can’t imagine being 50, but because it’s way too long. Instead, I take in increments, setting yearly goals that will eventually help me accomplish long term goals. I know that I want to F.I. and I don’t want to keep working for the man unless I want to, so it’s important to save and invest.

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12 J. Money April 24, 2013 at 10:24 am

You probably also don’t want to think about what it’s like to be in your 30s, but I can assure you it’s nice! Haha… 30s is the new 20s according to Jay Z ;)

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13 Jake Erickson April 23, 2013 at 9:58 am

All of your tips are great and things that I personally do to stay motivated. Another suggestion I have is to surround yourself with a community of “like thinkers” which is exactly why I enjoy reading and writing personal finance blogs. It helps keep me motivated constantly reading other peoples’ stories and get inspired by what they are doing to create their own wealth. Other than that, you just have to make sure to take mini-breaks (or vacations) in order to enjoy the progress you’ve made. If you keep going hardcore nonstop then you’re bound to blow up one day and that won’t be pretty.

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14 J. Money April 24, 2013 at 10:25 am

Yup! Surrounding yourself with like thinkers most DEF helps – well said. Forgot about that one!

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15 Cameron Thomson April 23, 2013 at 10:13 am

Thanks J money for posting your answer to my question on your fantastic blog! As I said Im a longtime reader, and this has helped me out immensely!

Thanks go to your readers who have commented too, picked up some tips there too! Thanks guys! Its good to know we are all in the game together :) We are team-mates lol!

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16 J. Money April 24, 2013 at 10:25 am

Anytime! Thanks for the idea for a post :)

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17 writing2reality April 23, 2013 at 11:22 am

I think finding ways to break things into smaller goals is crucial. For example, if I wanted to make $2,500 this year in side hustles, then I need to make $625 a quarter or $208 a month! Amazing how $208 sounds way easier than $2,500 in this case!

For me, this is why I do monthly updates on my investments and income. It is the only way to keep your head in the game during the slow spells as you wait for time to pass.

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18 Opposable Thumbs April 23, 2013 at 11:32 am

I try to remind myself of the Sheryl Crow lyric from Soak Up the Sun:
It’s not having what you want
It’s wanting what you’ve got

Suddenly a new bike, camera, car, etc seems not so necessary!

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19 J. Money April 24, 2013 at 10:26 am

It’s cool to see Sheryl Crow on The Voice too – seems like an awesome person :)

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20 Cat May 19, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Every time this song comes on the radio it’s like a new attitude for what I have. I do the same thing! It’s refreshing!

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21 Jacob @ iHeartBudgets April 23, 2013 at 11:37 am

Gotta keep those goals in mind. When I help people budget, I ask them what their goals are, and then what their priorities are. If it’s a goal that will take some long discipline, I definitely have then plan in some spending cash each month, and like you said, throw a mini-party at different checkpoints along the way.

For us right now, the goal is to pay off the student loans. With the unknowns in extra income, it’s hard to know how long it will take, but thinking of being debt free and having all our money go towards things that grow is VERY motivating. We also still take vacations. Having something to look forward to after being ultra frugal for quite a few months at a time helps ease the pain.

And lastly, priorities are pretty much what you called out above. Where do you WANT your money to go vs. where WOULD it go if you didn’t have a plan for it. This is KEY, because even goals lose their luster after a while, but your priorities list is steadfast. Like, for me, if I lose motivation, I just look at my wife and son to know why I am working 3 jobs. And I see our family enjoying time together and realize why we bought our house. Those motivations NEVER change.

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22 J. Money April 24, 2013 at 10:33 am

yeah dude – you’re a hard ass worker! So good for your family :)

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23 My Shiny Pennies April 23, 2013 at 11:52 am

I think offering yourself small rewards is definitely a positive motivator. Like writing2reality, I also like to break down my goals into smaller chunks, so I can celebrate the individual milestones. My ultimate goal is retirement by 50, but that’s still 20 years away. I set yearly goals and 5-year goals to keep myself on track.

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24 Retire By 40 April 23, 2013 at 11:58 am

You just have to find fun stuff to do that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Sports, hiking, and other activities are fun and cheap. Try to be happy now and enjoy life. Just think how much money you’d save over 30 years once you learn how to have fun frugally.
Learning to cook good food for example takes some time, but once you know how, you’ll be able to do it the rest of your life.

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25 J. Money April 24, 2013 at 10:28 am

That’s one of the reasons I love taking walks so much – good for your health AND free! And takes you away from the addiction of the computer too :)

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26 Nick @ ayoungpro.com April 23, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I guess I am just weird because I consider watching my debt go down or my savings go up to be more fun the spending money on random crap. :)

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27 Jon @ MoneySmartGuides April 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I follow your method as well: I break it down into smaller chunks and get motivated more when I hit the mini-milestones that I set up in place for myself. They are usually in the $10K increment. That excites me. I remember getting my student loans under $10K and I was so excited! In the interim, you just have to stay focused and plugging away. It sucks at times and it isn’t easy. If it were, everyone would be dong it. It’s almost like a professional sports star…we don’t see them everyday practicing free throws or corner kicks, but the great ones are doing that every day. If you want to be great, you have to put in the work and time.

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28 J. Money April 24, 2013 at 11:05 am

YES!! EXACTLY!!!! Just like you never see all those fails from people who invent things too! Didn’t Benjamin Franklin fail thousands of times before coming out with something game changing?

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29 @debtblag April 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm

They can’t all be grand victories. Have weekly and monthly checkpoints and celebrate them — perhaps with a movie at home.

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30 Brian @ Stocks and Cents April 23, 2013 at 4:28 pm

I definitely get the fatigue thing. It all moves slowly and takes a great deal of time for anything to really change. It’s SO tough at the beginning but as you go on, it gets easier.

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31 Shafi April 23, 2013 at 6:37 pm

If you are serious about it, goals can be accomplished one after the other. Sometimes you rush, other times you go for it slowly. As long as you don’t procrastinate, you can accomplish your goals.

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32 Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce April 23, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Breaking long-term goals into concrete, small blocks seems to help many people. Small steps take us to great places.

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33 Mike Carlson April 26, 2013 at 12:21 am

I feel at ease already when I know that I am doing something to improve my life and to eventually reach my goals. I always bear in mind that things cannot be accomplished in just a flick of a finger, but doing something to eventually reach my goals is something that willkeep me satisfied for the moment.

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34 Darren April 29, 2013 at 5:17 pm

I’m going to start using the phrase “side hustle” from now on :)

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35 J. Money April 29, 2013 at 5:38 pm

You should, it’s awesome ;)

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36 Mike April 29, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Keep it up. We should really persist until we achieve our targets. Paying off those mortgages and other forms of debt can be our motivating factor. The good thing about reading these points is that the reader will surely get upbeat to strive harder.

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37 J. Money May 1, 2013 at 10:51 am

I HOPE SO!

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38 Anton Ivanov | Dreams Cash True May 1, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Your suggestions to break bigger financial goals into smaller pieces and to reward yourself for financial accomplishments are golden. It may seem like basic advice, but it usually does the trick for my motivation. Sometimes if the grind gets really tough, I consider “treating myself” just because, obviously keeping within my budget.

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39 lana May 2, 2013 at 1:17 am

I’ve been trying to cut our visa charges in half each month. When I’m successful, I buy an article of clothing or something for the house. It’s nice to see something that is concrete for me to be reminded of a goal reached.

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40 J. Money May 3, 2013 at 2:19 pm

LOVE THAT!! “Some for you, some for me” – brilliant.

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41 slinky May 25, 2013 at 8:40 am

When i start feeling like I’m not getting anywhere and everything takes too long, i stop focusing on my finances and just live my life. If it’s going to take a long time, I’ll just leave it to do it’s thing for a while. This only works because my budget and income and expenses are pretty steady. As long as i keep track of my fun money and don’t eat out too much, everything just takes care of itself, except a couple bills once a month. Took me many years before i could do that, but it’s nice to not worry so much about it for a while.

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42 J. Money May 25, 2013 at 9:36 am

I like that a lot :) So very true – lots of this stuff just needs *time*. You implement the game plan and then let time take care of the rest! Easier said than done, but still very much true :) Thanks for sharing, my friend.

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