As I look around the world, there are two problems that stick out to me, both in my life, and in the lives of most people in America:
1. Money problems
2. Eating problems
I read an article the other day about how people often convince themselves that they are eating “healthy” food when they buy organic chips and the like, and it got me thinking.
We’ve been on our getting out of debt journey for nearly a year now. Along with this “journey” is our never ending journey to make healthy food choices. You see, we are HUGE foodies in this family. All of my growing up years, family gatherings were centered around great eats. We love to cook, and even more than that, we love to eat. As you can imagine, this creates some problems. My extended family has their fair share of weight problems, along with a heavy dose of Type 2 Diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Although there is a genetic factor to these diseases, many, many studies have proven that there is also a large diet connection as well. After watching so many family members suffer from painful, and often deadly health problems that are largely the result of an unhealthy lifestyle, I’ve made the commitment to do better, and to teach our kids the same.
And, it’s the same in my family (whom I absolutely adore, lest you get the wrong idea 🙂 ) when it comes to money. Debt and an anorexic savings abound, as does the belief that all of their money problems just “happen” to them and are out of their control.
This is largely what happened with our finances too. We fell for the belief that our money issues were out of our control.
Finally, sick and tired of watching so many family members succumb to financial pressure and large amounts of debt, we decided that we were going to “change our family tree”, so to speak, and become financially healthy. Not that we don’t still struggle in both areas – we do. But we are learning more every day about discipline and finding a balance in these areas. When I “woke up one day” this year to find myself
20 30 pounds overweight, after 4.5 years of maintaining my goal weight, for instance, I had to work again at making healthy food choices over those immediate cravings of chips and chocolate, in order to dump the extra poundage.
Is making the hard choices easy? Heck no!! I hate it often. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. But after I’ve made it through the tempting situation with success, I’m always SO relieved, and that is MUCH better than spending several hours beating yourself up because you just downed three Snickers bars.
Money is the same way for us. The kids want things. I want things. I love to go out to eat. I’d love to splurge on fancier foods. I’d love to take the kids on a splurge shopping spree or to a hotel with a waterpark for the weekend. But I have to keep in mind why we’re doing what we’re doing. Here’s why we are choosing, on a consistent basis, long-term success over instant gratification:
1. We don’t want our kids to have to support us.
2. We want to be able to help them out when they reach adulthood.
3. We want to model and teach them good money habits. The last thing we want is to see our kids struggle financially like we have for so many years.
1. We want our family to enjoy good health.
2. We want to teach them to minimize the risk of disease.
3. We don’t want them to fall into the trap of spending so much money on junk food.
This is not an anti-my-family rant, by any means. But I truly believe that in order to change a behavior, you must know – at least in part – WHY you behave the way you do. Thus, as we’ve worked this year to change our money habits and take the steps toward financial freedom, I’ve also worked to analyze my past, my family history, etc., in an attempt to discover the “whys” about our spending, and to change them.
This path of analyzing behaviors, role models and attitudes has lead me to discover that, in general, most of the money (and weight) problems boil down to one thing:
Choosing instant gratification over long-term success.
When we don’t stop and think about the ramifications of our choices before we make them, we’re bound to choose instant gratification first. Think about it:
You’ve had a long day of work, and you’re starving and stressed out: in the fridge are the makings for a salad, on the counter is a bag of chips. I don’t know about you, but when I’m hungry, I want it NOW. The chips, at this point, have a large likelihood of winning the battle here.
Same goes for spending. You’re out, you see a cute pair of boots, or the latest Smartphone, or whatever your spending candy is, and the first thought, by and large, is “I want that”.
But at this point, you have a choice. You can focus on the (likely temporary) joy and/or convenience this will bring to your life, or you can think long-term. How do you think long-term? You get into the habit of asking yourself a couple of questions about your decision. Questions like:
1. How much will this cost me in hours of work? Or, how many hours, weeks or years will this purchase delay my early retirement/financial freedom by? Think long-term. Ask yourself how this purchase will impact your wish to bring your family to Hawaii next year, or whatever your longer term goal is. Once you’ve seriously considered those questions, you can make an informed purchasing decision.
The same goes for food choices. Yes, that fudge looks awfully good right now, and you know it will taste SO yummy. But you also have to be concerned about tomorrow. How are those extra 500 calories going to feel when you try and put on your favorite jeans tomorrow, or when you have to put on that swimsuit for your winter vacation in February? Again, the fudge itself isn’t necessarily bad, but when you couple it with the value meal you had at Mickey D’s and the donut you had for breakfast, you have a losing combination on your hand that has the potential to have you beating yourself up by tomorrow and creating even more of a love/hate relationship with food and decision-making? Is it worth it? Only you can decide, just make sure you’re thinking your choices through before you make them.
2. Is this ________ more important to me than __________ ? Is that new gadget more important to you than being able to spend time with your family, knowing you’ll have to work X extra hours as you work to pay it off? Is the fudge more important to you than your self-esteem and your confidence? I don’t know about you, but being someone who struggles on and off with weight and food choices, I’m learning that it’s just not worth it anymore to me. I’d rather say “no” to that extra cookie and not be obsessing with my weight for the next week as I work off the junk food binge from Saturday night. I’d rather just have a handful of Fritos and be done with it, knowing that I’ll wake up in the morning not chastising myself for the bloated, icky feeling I have from downing the whole darn bag.
Don’t get me wrong: making the right choices is, at least not for me, about willpower, because on most days I have very little.
It’s just that I don’t want to do battle with my conscience anymore.
So, when you’re face with those money-spending, food-eating time-spending decisions, don’t leap until you’ve looked.
Ponder seriously the long-term effects of your decisions, and make your choice with an informed and honest mind. Whatever your decision, you’ll sleep better knowing you didn’t give in to instant gratification, and that you made a well-informed choice.
Where do you struggle with the desire to give in to instant gratification, and how do you work to make the right choice for you?