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Financial Planning is like dieting...
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Photo by creampuffsinvenice   Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

It’s officially been one year since we started living on a budget, and although we are in a better place financially, we haven’t progressed as quickly as we thought we would. Lately, I’ve been feeling like living on a budget is a little like dieting. You start out on a new diet, ready to do whatever it takes to lose weight, counting every calorie and watching every morsel you put into your mouth. You’re a little bit hungry all the time, but you put up with it because the pounds start to come off. As time goes on, you still feel hungry but now counting calories gets annoying because the pounds aren’t coming off as easily and you start to feel like it’s not worth the effort you are putting into it.

Well, that’s how living on a budget has been for us. At first we were all fired up to keep track of every dollar we spent. We sat down and planned our spending for the month, and how that would be allocated each week. We had weekly budget meetings, and emergency budget meetings when something unexpected came up. We were gung-ho and for a while we were seeing our credit card balances go down, and our savings crept upward. We felt like we were in control of our spending, and that the sacrifices we were making were worthwhile.

"We felt like we were in control of our spending, and that the sacrifices we were making were worthwhile. Then came the temptations."

Then came the temptations. Mine was our annual summer vacation to Cape Cod. I struggled with that temptation as hard as I would against eating pizza or cheesecake. I felt so deprived when we decided to take the “stay-cation” instead. (I may have indulged in some extra calories during the weeks after that decision).

My husband’s temptation appears every time one of our “pre-owned” cars would go into the dealer for yet another repair. He would look longingly at the shiny new cars on display and feel that pull to spend. (I don’t remember if he ate more at that time or not, but I do remember the look of sadness on his face as we drove away empty handed).

The final straw came when we realized that the holidays were approaching. All year long we had procrastinated budgeting for gifts and other holiday expenses. That was a huge mistake. When it came to Christmas, I knew I couldn’t make the drastic spending cuts that were inevitable. So, I applied to a local retail store, and got a seasonal part-time job so that we wouldn’t have to charge everything. While this is helping our bottom line, things at home are falling through the cracks. It’s overwhelming keeping track of home life and work life and the holiday preparations. I will learn from my mistakes, however, and start budgeting for next Christmas starting January 1st.

I don’t think the desire to spend will ever decrease and it is increasingly difficult to resist because it seems like no matter how much we sacrifice, we still have a balance on our credit card, and while we try to maintain a balance in our savings account, we are not seeing that amount increase the way we want it to. We are definitely reaching a  “plateau” on our financial plan.

I know, I know, the best way to lose weight, (and keep it off), is to change your life style, not rely on quick fixes. It seems that in order to have a healthy financial picture, we also need to make permanent life style changes. The best way to see improvement is to keep at it every day. Make the right spending choices, and keep your goals in sight. That all sounds great, in theory, but we just want to get to the point where we can cheat a little, and not gain back all the weight. Maybe next year…