Last week I started a blog post entitled “How I Would Max out My Credit Cards”. I was feeling a little daydreamy and started to think about all the things I would do if I just let loose and lived my life the way the Joneses do. Do you ever do that? Obviously it’s not exciting to think about the consequences, but those people don’t live that way anyway. So I just began to let myself be completely consumed by the euphoria of irresponsibility—until I realized that I couldn’t do it.
I mean, sure. I could max out my credit cards on vacations. I would live in a shack with no running water or electricity just to be able to travel more. That is, if my wife would allow it. I would fly to Germany to visit all my old friends and binge on street bratwursts and Döner kebabs. I would take my Harry Potter-obsessed wife to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure where we would stay in a resort and we would spend our days drinking Butterbeer and having wand duels. But that’s really about it. I can’t think of a single thing I would buy for the house or to surround myself with luxury. I guess I would spend a lot on eating out, but that’s really just boring.
If you want to obtain financial security, it’s not enough to change your behavior. You have to change your nature.
I’m a saver by nature. Before I buy anything, I try to determine if I can get it for cheaper or do without it. And if I can, I have no trouble just leaving it alone. I rarely suffer from buyer’s remorse because I just don’t buy a whole lot. But there are a few chinks in that armor. For example, I convinced my wife to go on two trips while we were in school and weren’t earning enough to cover our monthly expenses. This resulted in us having to take out more student loans later on. And I generally have to keep myself away from sushi restaurants, because once I’m in, I could drop $50 in a blink of an eye. For the most part, though, saving money for me is no longer a behavior. It’s part of my nature.
When it comes to budgeting, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about whether ours is up to date or not. I started budgeting back in 2009 when I was single, and it was hard to get used to that. It took a while before the behavior was established, and now that I’ve repeated it enough times, it’s hard for me to picture not living on a budget. It’s now part of my nature.
Behavior vs. Nature
So how do you switch from focusing on changing your behavior and focusing on changing your nature? That’s where you really want to be. That’s where your long-term goals are going to be sustained. To me, something becomes part of your nature when there is no longer any part of you that fights it. You’re no longer budgeting just because you were told it was a good thing to do. You no longer delay gratification because you know you should. You do it because you want to, and you can no longer picture yourself doing the alternative. The old man/woman of irresponsibility is dead and you’re a born-again budgeter 🙂 Or if you’re not religious, you can be like a Pikachu that evolved into a Raichu. I learned from my little experience that I couldn’t really identify with the irresponsible version of me anymore. The idea of maxing out those credit cards just wouldn’t flow without thinking about the consequences. So as exciting as it sounds to go back to my old stomping grounds in Germany or to surprise my wife with her dream vacation, ultimately, I don’t want it. Not on those terms, at least.
Debt and Weight Watchers
A lot of people who are heavily in debt rightly focus on getting rid of it, but they don’t stop to think about their after-debt plan. The problem with that is that if you are getting out of debt for the sake of getting out of debt, there’s no guarantee that you aren’t going to go back to it. Soon you’ll get bored and you’ll just start spending again. Your behaviors changed for a little while, but your true nature shines through in the end. If you think I’m crazy, check out your local Weight Watchers group. It’s filled with “eternal clients” who keep coming back because they keep gaining back all the weight they lost last year. They go with the mindset of changing behaviors, but they come back because they haven’t changed their nature. Eating well and exercising never became a lifestyle for them, and their short-sighted goals were focused on one of the measures of health rather than health itself. To them, that total goal of sustainable health isn’t worth giving up the little things.
How do you change your nature then? Is it by attacking your debt with gazelle intensity? Or by signing up for a budgeting plan? Those may be good at helping you change your behavior, but if you want a long-term change of nature, those aren’t enough. That change in nature stems from the desire to become better (from within, not without), engaging in steady, consistent efforts to change and looking beyond the measures of success and focusing on success itself.
When you get to that point where it’s your nature to be financially responsible, you’re going to realize that you’ve become a little more boring. Some people are probably even going to tell you that you’re boring. But don’t be afraid, because once you get to there you’ll realize that most of them have no clue how good it is to be just a little boring.