You don’t celebrate your financial victories enough.
If you don’t choose to acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments, you will find yourself jaded and grumpy about your money and the demands on it.
A late-night Instagram perusal session helped me understand the power and possibilities of celebration. A friend of mine was celebrating the defeat of her biggest nemesis of the last decade — her student loans. She gathered her friends, popped the champagne, and acknowledged a true moment of achievement. The pictures of the moment had everything — looks of relief and excitement, exuberant support from friends and a modestly priced bottle of champagne, all seen through an artsy filter.
Maybe my head is still filled with the excitement of the recent holiday, but I think you need to celebrate financial progress more. If you don’t choose to acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments, you will find yourself jaded and grumpy about money and the demands it puts on you.
Your financial life will be a tedious trudge unless you establish meaningful milestones. I shudder thinking about people who see their financial life as one long odyssey. It’s very difficult to live the financial life you want to live if you never recharge your battery with the sweet taste of victory.
There is celebration in our financial lives, but people tend to celebrate the wrong financial moments. Of course, it’s all relative, but there are moments which might be exciting and monumental but are the beginning of a story, not the end.
Getting approved for a mortgage is nice, but the financial accomplishment is owning the home outright. Graduating from college is undoubtedly a huge accomplishment, but the real financial accomplishment is paying off the student loan. Buying your first car is a nice experience, but the final payment is the moment worth celebrating. Putting $500 into your savings account is great, but putting the final $500 to reach a full emergency fund is the real accomplishment which begs for a celebration.
It’s the theoretical difference between layaway and a store credit card. With layaway, you make periodic store visits to make payments and say hello to the item you will eventually take home once you’ve paid in full. When the sweater, skirt or ascot makes its way home with you, a mental party is warranted. If you buy a pair of boots on your store credit card and resolve to figure out how to pay them off later, then the pleasure already happened. With layaway, pleasure and satisfaction are aligned.
You need to understand the relationship between your financial health and both pleasure and satisfaction.
At the most basic level, seeking pleasure is seeking what feels good, while seeking satisfaction is seeking what is right. Ideally, your financial decisions and actions will bring you both pleasure and satisfaction, just as ideally I’m 6-foot-10 and have a great jump shot. See my point? Most financial decisions and actions will not naturally bring you both pleasure and satisfaction. This is precisely why you need to manipulate the situation.
Your financial life will feel rightfully tedious if you never experience pleasure. That’s why you shop, dine-out and sometimes buy things you can’t objectively afford. You’re looking for hits of dopamine. The unfortunate truth is seeking pleasure, without experiencing satisfaction, can create a vicious cycle of financial failings. If you’re only doing what feels good, you won’t make any financial progress. And while satisfaction is a wonderful feeling, it could be could be much more with a little pleasure added in.
Unless you inject pleasure into a feat of discipline, you will gravitate toward the pleasure which keeps you from accomplishing your goals.
Let’s assume for a moment that you don’t have a healthy emergency fund to cover three-months’ expenses. That’s a pretty fair assumption given the abysmal savings and liquidity statistics of the average American worker. You know that hitting your target savings goal will be satisfying, but there really isn’t much pleasure in it. In fact, you will have to deny yourself pleasure via decreased consumption.
If the draw of pleasure is what keeps you from experiencing satisfaction, then inject pleasure into your satisfaction. Celebrating your financial accomplishments will align pleasure and satisfaction.
Clearly gaining financial advantage via discipline and discernment only to celebrate yourself back into debt is a really bad idea. The reward can’t invalidate the task at hand. Popping a bottle of sparkling wine after more than 100 student loan payments seems appropriate. Purchasing a car in celebration seems a bit much.
Let’s say you’ve paid $350 per month for 120 months to finally pay off your student loans. Take what would have been the payments for months 121 and 122 and purchase a new bicycle as a reward. Only celebrate the completion of financial events, not the genesis.
Identify significant accomplishments, motivate yourself with visions of pleasure and satisfaction aligning beautifully, and get to work. When the moment is right, and when you’ve reached the point of victory, drink in the pleasure. Celebrate. It will be the fuel you need to willfully and gleefully do it again.
Peter Dunn is an author, speaker and radio host, and he has a free podcast: Million Dollar Plan. Have a question about money for Pete the Planner? Email him at AskPete@petetheplanner.com.
Peter Dunn, aka Pete the Planner, writes a weekly financial-planning column for The Indianapolis Star and Fox59.
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