moderation is key too bad its not natural for me

March 15th, 2008

Moderation is Key – Too Bad It’s Not Natural For Me

Learning to balance and compromise and find a happy medium are great skills to have. I think some people have these skills intuitively – they can see benefits and positives and negatives and instinctively find the middle ground where all the needs are met to some degree and progress is being made. The joy of moderation and understanding how to achieve that balance in life – what a great skill to possess.

Unfortunately, I am not one of the people who naturally possess it. Why does the “gazelle intensity” and single-minded debt reducing focus of methods like Ramsey’s instinctively appeal to me? Because compromise is not my strong suit. I’ll never be a high-level negotiator. I set sights, and then I trod heavily towards them, knocking down everything in my way. The finesse of compromise and the joy of moderation doesn’t come naturally to me at all.

This ability to single-mindedly focus is good in some ways of course, especially in the short term, but it can completely sabotage itself in the long term if there isn’t any compromise at all involved. But why am I afraid of compromise? Because I fear that once I give a little bit, I’ll end up giving a lot and somehow we’ll just end up at best treading water, and at worst, back where we started.

I’m finding it hard to wiggle. Or even contemplate the actual idea of wiggling.

When my spouse read the wiggle post, he, as I knew he would, got pretty excited about the idea of having a little wiggle room. He has been beyond patient with me and my debt-reducing schemes, and although he is invested and supportive and on-board with the debt reduction, he also has wanted a little more room to breathe. He hasn’t complained, but I know him, and I know he has. So when he read that post, he started suggesting a few (very reasonable) things we might add to our budget to give us both some enjoyment and reward for hard work. Things like him trying the new low-fat turkey bacon sandwich at work (developed in fact for his weight management class). Or even me bringing the kids to his work at lunch someday soon and us all having lunch in ther cafeteria. I used to bring the kids to work to visit for lunch once every month or two, and I haven’t in a long time.

Yet I started freaking out and basically said “We need to talk about this before we go all crazy and start spending money willy nilly!” My immediate response is panic and feeling out of control. My moderation button doesn’t yet exist, I’m afraid.

The thing is, we’re trying to make life changes here. Changing habits for life. Doing that in a black and white manner isn’t going to help us in the long term, because we’re not learning the skills necessary to survive out of debt-reduction mode and apply it for the rest of our lives. I know that, intellectually. But still I keep having freak out panic attacks that giving a little is going to derail our whole plan.

My brain is a complex and scary place – I don’t know why I gravitate towards such extremes, and yet I do.  Or maybe it is that my brain is not a complex enough place.  Hopefully I can teach it to see in more shades of gray financially rather than strictly black and white. Gray’s going to be how we manage from the here and now until the rest of life happens, so I might as well learn to deal with it sooner rather than later. Neither extreme will serve us well for the long term, and as much as intellectually I can say that, emotionally I still need to accept it.

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11 Responses to “Moderation is Key – Too Bad It’s Not Natural For Me”

  1. TheIndieChic Says:

    March 15th, 2008 at 9:28 am

    This post hits close to home with me right now. We’ve made the decision — after 18 mos of all-out debt reduction dedication — to use my quarterly bonus to buy our 4 y/o twin boys a playset rather than apply it to our debt.

    Every cent of bonus money has been applied to our debt for 18 mos, and during that time I’ve been dreaming of a playset for our kids. My year-end bonus (paid in July) will finish paying off our debt, and we’ve decided to “allow” ourselves to buy the kids their playset now with this smaller amount.

    Our snowball is staying the same, we’re not incurring more debt, we’re just *spending*, and we’ve done very little of that in the last year and a half.

    It’s a strange feeling!

    My advice….take the kids to lunch once a month. Budget for it. Enjoy it.

    You’re doing great work!

  2. Do you think maybe you need to think of it more as confidence in your newfound personal finance skills – rather than compromise? Just like when we are parenting our kids – we have to at some point believe that we have taught them the appropriate skills and give them a chance to spread their wings.
    I know when I was younger, the boys were small, and money was tight – trying to control everything was exhausting. Sometimes necessary… but, exhausting. Maybe start to give yourself a little pat on the back that you have mastered your new p.f. skills – if you start to feel out of control, then pull back. You hit the nail on the head, as far as I’ve learned – it’s all about balance. Life is really short & a lot more fulfilling if your not hanging out in the extreme ends of the spectrum. Think confidence – not compromise!

  3. “My brain is a complex and scary place.”

    I’ve got one of those brains too. What I find with myself is that I budget, plan and make lists in order to make myself feel safe. It’s a way to bring order to the chaos in my stressed-filled life. Not following the plan feels like a breach in my security system. All my internal warning signals go off. It’s very upsetting!

    With that in mind, can you have a planned “wiggle”? You could set aside a small amount of budget for “fun money”. Or maybe a certain percentage of your snowflake budget could be for fun money.

    I think you hit upon something important in your wiggle post. You’ve been SO good on your budget, SO restrained that you’re in danger of going wild. It’s just human nature.

    My advice is to do a planned wiggle. Tell your brain that by allowing yourself to have some fun that you’ll be able to BETTER stick to the plan. Being nice to yourself is going to help you in the long run.

  4. I agree with both Dawn and Marsha. I think it takes a certain amount of confidence to be able to say “ok, I can this (e.g. a Subway sandwich), but only this and not that expensive dinner at …” What Marsha said about using some snowflake money for “fun” is exactly part of my current snowflake plan. While I allow myself more wiggle room than you do, I recognize that when I start feeling deprived of something, I’m apt to go a be a glutton for whatever that thing is, if I don’t allow myself a little here and there. Besides, I figure with the snowflake treating, it’s not money out of my normal budget, and I deserve a treat now and then for all the effort I’m putting into debt reduction. :) If I have a high snowflake month, I doubt I’d take it all for “fun” money, but I’d give myself at least a portion of it. (note: my current plan is to allocate my snowflake money to different things each month — e.g. credit card, student loan, saving-for-a-home fund, travel, fun, etc.)

    Good luck!

  5. You’ve all made excellent points. And they are all true! :)

    I do need to come up with a specific budgetary amount for “fun” or “wiggle” or whatever I call it. I’m having trouble deciding what is enough but still reasonable. We’re on a strict budget because we almost need to be – we don’t quite make enough on my spouse’s salary alone and the tutoring right now is balancing that out, but summer will come and tutoring will go bye bye for a while. The reason we can snowflake still is the “extra” stuff I do like surveys and blogging.

    BUT. there has to be some breathing room, I just am having trouble with the “how much”.

    I do need to have more confidence in myself that I won’t blow this. That I won’t go back to frittering away waaaaaaaay more money than I realized I was. I’m working on it. It still feels scary. But my brain is adjusting. Thanks :)

  6. I really had the same issues when working on my diet. For two years I tried to just “cut down” and it wasn’t working. So I went cold turkey on cutting out addicting items such as sodas and candy. After going 3 solid months, I realized I was no longer addicted and could start working them in on occasion. (as in a couple times a month, I’ll grab a soda or a candy bar with the kids for fun and make an entire event out of it)

    I’m hoping to apply the same scenario with spending. We’ve had to go cold turkey on so much, I only hope we can learn to start working some things back in IN MODERATION. I think you’ve proven yourself to be able to stick to a plan pretty well with a great track record. You should be more confident!

  7. I tried to focus with “gazelle like intensity” on debt for a short time. I realized that it was truly making my wife unhappy to sacrifice so much though. She felt that rather than being frugal, I was just being cheap at times. In spite of the fact that she approved of the ultimate prize, the distance and abstractness of it compared to some luxuries in the here-and-now was disheartening. I then realized that sometimes I felt the same exact way. I also realized that life is never guaranteed, so while if I died, it would be a comfort for my wife to have less financial obligations (though most of our debt load is student debt that would cancel anyway upon my death), would she be comforted by that when she thought of all the things that we could have enjoyed together if we were not so focused upon one solitary goal.

    Anyway, I think this has led me to realize that while living within your means is CRUCIAL to financial success, sometimes you need to do nice things, guiltlessly, within those means rather than focus every last penny upon abstract concepts such as debt and retirement.

    That said, we were not hopelessly drowning in debt (though before about 8 months ago when I became more disciplined, I too often raided our savings to pay a minimum payment), and I can only comfortably live like this after I made some artful money moves to reduce my APRs all to less than 8% for the life of the balance. I think that if you are paying 19.99% or 29.99% on a balance, the sheer amount being wasted in interest might crush any joy that comes from paying it off quickly.

  8. I struggle with this too. We need to have a tree cut down on our property because it is dangerous and rotting out. We are so focused on getting rid of our student loans, that these unexpected expenses really bother me. I hate having to change our plans slightly, but I know that is life.


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