Succeeding in life with first grade math

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Do you like …

Addition or Subtraction?

Approx. read time = 6 minutes

Make sure to read to the end where we give a few practical tips!

Have you ever tried a diet?  A diet always starts out with the best of intentions to get healthier and eat better. Come to find, 2 weeks in, it just stinks.  Your body wants all the old junk you’re used to eating, and it becomes a mental battle with yourself to stay on track.  As your hormones adjust to the new “food reality” you’re giving it, you start to feel like you’re taking crazy pills!  If people could hear your internal self-talk, they’d think you were nuts!

A recent study found that 2 out of 5 people who start a diet quit in the first week.  Only 1 out of 5 make it a full month.  Pretty sorry statistics if you ask me … and anecdotally, I’d confirm the same. 

See, the problem with diets and most things in life like them - they’re all about restriction.  And human nature just doesn’t like that.  Plain and simple. 

And this translates into other areas of our lives.  Like money as an example.  We often have clients come to us and tell us they’d like help figuring out their budget and making sure they’re saving enough money (and often they’ve put together the greatest wiz-bang spreadsheets for their plan, but it still didn’t work for them).  Well, I’m here to tell you it’s not rocket science!  The math is pretty simple … save more, spend less, you’ll be better off.  The whole premise of the financial independence movement operates off this principle.  Money isn’t everything, but for most things in life you need money, and certainly if you want financial independence and control of your time - you need money.

In my experience, budgets tend to go the way of diets.  Maybe they last a week, maybe some can power through for a month, fewer still last into multiple months.  And before you know it, you’re back to the old habits that made you want to focus on budgeting in the first place.  Rinse. Repeat.

So how do we break this cycle of crazy!  (Because let’s admit it, we’re all a little manic…)

I have a proposition.  This has worked in my own life in several areas and I’ve seen it work in the lives of others.

Addition, NOT Subtraction.

If we want to change, let’s do the opposite of what most people do.  When you want to change something in your life, I bet your first thought is “what needs to go?”  Well, maybe there are things that need to go, but don’t start there.  It’s painful.  And as humans, we were hardwired to avoid pain.  So why don’t we start in a place that feels better?

Start by adding GOOD stuff that you need, and in doing so, let these crowd out the stuff that may need to go.

Let me give you a personal example.  My family has now been vegetarian for the last 6 years.  If you had told me this 7 years ago, I would have laughed in your face.  Give up MEAT? (My precious Chick-Fil-A sandwiches?) Give me a break!  I was that person who would say I could never give up those things! Why? Because restriction sucks!

But because I love my wife, I watched a couple of food documentaries with her … and, yeah … you know where this is going.  So, now I’m left thinking, “holy crap, I know all this stuff about my food I never did before” and with knowledge comes great responsibility, or something like that.  So, we felt compelled to make some changes.  But we decided to take a different approach (in part believing some of what was being told us in these documentaries, that my body actually wants good stuff, not the junk I usually gave it).  So, we started with small steps that didn’t involve cutting out things, but added more of the good stuff in (more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.). 

After a few weeks, it was crazy, I found myself beginning to crave things I never really enjoyed that much before.  Then it started to become a little easier to do things like eat a little less meat, have smaller portions (because most of the good stuff you eat is more filling), etc.  And after a few months of these small incremental additions, we soon found that the additions had crowded out the other stuff.  I never really thought about having to restrict or remove things, because my body began wanting the good stuff by ADDING it in, rather than just punishing my body by restricting it. 

Money is just the same.  You want to save more towards financial independence goals, so where does it come from?  Well, unless you have an upcoming raise or winning lottery ticket, most likely it comes from figuring out where you can cut back on your spending.  And if we’re honest, where do most of us have room to cut back … it’s on discretionary spending. And it’s probably on food.  But it FEELS good to spend on food … it’s convenient, it’s a treat, it’s social … so many reasons restriction alone makes cutting back here SUPER hard long-term.  So why don’t we try addition instead!  Because if you’re serious about your long-term goals, you probably understand a little delayed gratification translates into a lot more satisfaction later. Satisfaction in far more meaningful ways than that meal you enjoyed last week. 

To make this work we’ve got to lay a few ground rules:

  1. You have to spend your own money.  No credit cards (it’s too easy to get “slushy” with your spending because it’s NOT real money).

  2. You have to decide what you want to save each month (towards your goals).  I use the “stretch but doable” threshold.  More than what you’re saving now, but actually works within the income and other necessary expenses you have.

  3. Put your savings somewhere you can’t see it immediately after you get paid.  If it’s a different bank account, so be it! (no cheating and transferring money back, it’s too dang easy with bank mobile apps)

  4. Live off the remainder after you’ve saved first and then paid your necessary expenses.  More than likely you’ll have some margin there and be able to enjoy, guilt-free, the money left knowing that you’ve already set some aside.  Your future self will thank you!

Don’t focus on the painful cutting back.  Focus on the good saving you’re adding to your life!  And by setting up your environment to do these things, you can actually still enjoy some of the other stuff (you may enjoy it all a bit more without the doubt and worry!)

Would love to hear from others how they’ve found creative ways to ADD things to their lives that have helped change things for the better!