Think Sacrifice, Not Deprivation
- 2006 16 Oct
Every year about this time it's not unusual for the media to announce the latest Top Ten New Year's Resolutions. Without fail right up there with losing weight is some form of I'm going to get my finances in order.
Considering that Americans are fatter and more deeply in debt than ever before, I can only assume the obvious: Budgets and diets don't work.
Both diets and budgets are based on deprivation. We can handle deprivation for only short periods of time because it feels so terrible. It's only a matter of time before we cave in and give up.
I can't help but recall the times I attempted to stop using my credit cards. And I really tried to stop writing checks when there was no money in the bank. Cutting myself off from my ability to spend felt like a part of me was being ripped away-as if I was losing my security, comfort and status in life. I felt like I was being punished and deprived of what I loved in the same way a prisoner is deprived of freedom and personal choice.
Over and over again I tried to reform but the feelings of loss and the fear of deprivation were much stronger than any desire to change. A battle was raging inside of me and I controlled neither side. Instead I was controlled by overwhelming feelings and out-of-control desires.
The irony is that in doing so many crazy things to make sure I never felt deprived I was paving the way for the ultimate deprivation-the total loss of everything in my life that truly mattered. I get chills recalling just how close we came to total financial ruin.
Economics and emotions
I've come to realize that the whole subject of reforming one's financial situation has two distinct aspects: economics and emotions. If you have tried to cure your money ills only to fail, it's likely you were dealing only with the economics. Both sides demand equal attention.
I've found that the economic side of personal finance is fairly simple. It's math. It's adding and subtracting. It's agreeing that I cannot spend more money than I have. It's about finding ways to spend less and keep more. When it comes to the economics of personal money management, there are right and wrong answers, black and white issues that are readily available and easy to understand.
Then there's the emotional aspect of financial change-the part most ignored and least dealt with. Dealing with our emotions is much more difficult than handling the economics because emotions are subjective. We see their result but we don't understand them. We can't put them on a spreadsheet and move them around until they balance perfectly. We can't project emotions the way we project income and expenses.
I struggled because my emotions were so powerful they sabotaged any kind of meaningful change. That is until I discovered that I can control my emotions. I cannot pretend they don't exist but I don't have to be their victim, either.
Somewhere along the line in my journey to solvency I made a profound, life-changing discovery. I learned that I could replace my fear of deprivation with the joy of sacrifice. I learned to harness my powerful emotions and make them my ally, not my enemy. I purposely set out to embrace sacrifice and reject all feelings of deprivation.
Sacrifice or deprivation
Sacrifice means to give up something of value for the sake of something else that is more important or more worthy. Deprivation means to have a possession or enjoyment taken away. Once I learned the startling difference between the two concepts I understood immediately why meaningful change kept eluding me.
Sacrifice. It's a beautiful concept. Sacrifice involves purpose. Sacrifice acknowledges a goal that is more worthy and of greater value than the sacrifice itself. There's no deprivation involved, simply a choice to give up something of lesser value right now to have or achieve something far more worthy in the future. Sacrifice focuses on a goal. Deprivation focuses on poor me. Sacrifice lifts my head and lets me see the big picture. Deprivation turns my eyes inward so I see nothing but myself.
The practice of sacrificing in the context of changing one's financial condition is an art form that requires commitment and a lot of practice.
The key is to identify your more worthy goal. Without a very clear purpose your sacrifice will be nothing more than deprivation. You'll be tempted to quit before you even get started. You need a worthy cause on which to focus.
Perhaps your worthy cause is to get out of debt once and for all, or take a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation. Maybe your noble purpose is to save for college or invest for your retirement.
Let's use the example that you're committed to be debt-free three years from now and to that end you are willing to make the necessary sacrifices. Just saying you're going to be debt-free is nice but you need more than that. You need a specific strategy that outlines exactly how you are going to reach your goal. We call that a Rapid Debt-Repayment Plan (see CM, Apr. '03, page 4-5).
You'll need to establish bench marks so that you can measure your progress and look back to see how far you've come. Focusing on the worthy cause and visualizing its importance and value is the way to combine the economic and emotional sides of financial change. Living each day with the goal in mind and practicing how you'll feel when that final debt is finally wiped out is the way to control your emotions.
I'm not suggesting that sacrifice will not be significant or at times painful. But when you choose to focus on the more worthy goal, sacrifice becomes tolerable. With practice you will see the connection between a small sacrifice and the great reward. You won't be as tempted to quit the way you would if you were trying to survive deprivation.
If you are going to make the journey to meaningful financial change you're going to need lots of encouragement and understanding from your fellow travelers. We all need that because we are emotional beings. We thrive on approval and validation. We need empathy from those who understand what we're going through when the path gets steep and rocky. And when it does just fix your eyes on that goal and don't ever give up.
© 2004 The Cheapskate Monthly. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
"The Cheapskate Monthly" was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt. What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt. Today, "The Cheapskate Monthly" is read by close to 100,000 Cheapskates. Click here to subscribe.