An Extra Credit Reality Check

If you’re itching like crazy to make even more progress on the goal you’ve picked for the 31 Days to a Better Bank Balance series, and you want to get super intense, there’s one more step you can add to the exercise from yesterday.

For Day 16, you can list the things you’re doing that don’t (yet!) align with your stated goal. Those are often the hardest to see, because they often look like everyday life. So do some careful examination, and ask others to help so that you get an outside perspective too.

A heads up though: we’re not doing this extra credit item to feel bad or to get discouraged. If you even think for a second that you might feel that way afterward, just read the exercise for now instead of doing it. (And that’s probably the only time you’ll hear me urge you NOT to take action yet!)

Instead, come back to this in a few months. Focus on doing more of the positives in the meantime. Continuing a positive momentum until you feel certain you will reach your goal is more important than a little soul-searching.

Anyway, my list of things I maybe didn’t want to see or was overlooking goes like this: I say I want to pay off our mortgage very quickly, but this month alone I’ve spent $406 on clothes, about $200 eating out, $40 on a book that I’ve not yet started reading, $300 on photos, and some additional money on a trip. Plus there’s the entertainment center I’m buying.

Now analyze your list, without beating yourself up. Just state the facts.

Here’s my analysis. Yeah, there’s a misalignment between my words and my actions. That’s a LOT of money that I could have sent to the mortgage. It’s actually more than our entire mortgage payment. It’s also more than half of my monthly take-home pay from my job, although I did have the money available.

Finally, do a little soul-searching.

How much of what I spent that money on was really important to me? That would be the pictures, the travel, and the entertainment center. The rest? Not so much. It turns out I could have felt happier and gotten further by spending $640 less on stuff that I didn’t really value that much.

And what was I doing with (non-emergency fund) money in my bank account when I could have sent that to the mortgage anyway? That’s probably a desire for more security, a lack of focus, or a failure to fully commit for some reason.

Now that you’ve identified some areas that aren’t yet aligned, you can make the changes that will help you get the thing you want faster while feeling better in the process.

I do want more security (which major spending wasn’t helping with) but I can get that the fastest by getting our mortgage paid off, because our bare-minimum monthly expenses will drop to $286 each. Travel is still a major want for me, so I’m not willing to cut back on that for even just a short period.

So the changes I choose to make are these: I’m going to eat out more wisely so I get more value for less money, set a maximum “random crap I feel like buying” limit of $200/mo., and then put ALL of the remaining extra (after tax) money I make toward our mortgage. That feels l kind of scary for some reason, but it also feels right.

How did your list-making go, if you made one? Will you be making any changes?