I’ve paid off $40,000 in debt. I’ve lost 30 pounds. And during those processes, I was often reminded of how paying down debt is a lot like trying to lose weight.
It’s easier to get into debt than it is to pay it off. It’s easier to gain weight than it is to lose. It’s all about setting a budget – either in terms of money or in calories – and sticking to it. It’s all about your attitude.
The hardest part comes after you reach your goals. The struggle to maintain is one of the hardest battles to fight.
We had paid off our debt just before I became a stay-at-home mom. I pinched pennies, I economized, and we did okay. But then life happened. A string of unfortunate mishaps and unexpected repairs repeatedly have drained our savings, making it very difficult to maintain our debt-free-except-the-mortgage status.
There were illnesses and stressful situations, busy schedules and out-of-town travel that just made it easier to resume bad eating habits and stop counting calories. And a few pounds crept back on.
It has been a struggle to maintain things. And it has been a struggle to build on past successes. It’s hard to stay out of debt and it’s hard to keep the weight off.
Why the struggle to maintain is so hard
It’s really hard to pay down debt. It’s really difficult to lose weight. Both require dedication and hard work. They both require constant vigilance.
It’s pretty easy to get tired during this process. And once you get tired, it’s easy to get lazy. It starts with simple slips like forgetting to keep track of all your expenditures. You stop tracking what you’re eating. You suffer from coupon fatigue. You start to suffer from frugal fatigue. You get bored with what you’ve been eating. And you start to slack off on saving money. You start eating out more. You stop paying attention to the little money-wasters in your life. You stop paying attention to every penny that goes out and calorie that goes in. Convenience starts to take over for perseverance.
It’s easy to get a bad attitude. It starts with giving yourself a few rewards. After all, you worked hard and you deserve it!
And a few of those expenditures, a few extra snacks, and now you hear yourself saying, “Well, I already screwed up today, what difference does it make? I’ll do better tomorrow.”
Except you don’t. And now you start to wonder if you’ll ever change. You question whether your success with your personal finances was really success or just a lucky break. You wonder if you’re just destined to weigh a certain amount.
This is the low point of the struggle. This is the point where you’ve got to change your mindset or you will stay stuck in a bad cycle of over-consumption. It all starts with attitude.
How to survive the struggle to maintain
Stop what you’re doing. It’s not going to get any easier to climb out of the hole you’re in if you keep digging. So stop doing all those things that you know are bad for your wallet and your waistline. Stop making excuses. Stop putting off the changes you need to make. The time to get back on track is right now.
Remind yourself of your past successes. Look at how far you’ve come. You may have suffered a setback, but if you hadn’t made positive changes before, your situation could be worse off than it is now. Remember how good it felt to reach your goals. Celebrate that success.
Determine why things started to go wrong. What started things off on the wrong track? Was it an unexpected expenditure or a stressful situation. What emotions were a factor? When you can identify why things became a real struggle, you can begin to take measures to prevent those from affecting you in the future.
Set new goals. One of the reasons it is hard to keep the momentum going is because you’ve reached your goals and it feels like you’re not working toward anything. You got where you wanted to go. Now what? So set some new goals and apply the same intensity to those new goals that you did to your old ones. If you’ve paid off your debt, then set a savings goal. If you’ve made it to your weight loss goal, set a goal for fitness. Setting goals can help you stay on track.
Revisit the strategies that helped you to get out of debt or lose weight. The best part about having met your goals is that you already know what works. And you know you can do it! So remind yourself of all those strategies you used to reach your goals. Re-read books and websites that inspired you to save money or lose weight. Reconnect with friends and family who supported you in your initial journey for a shot of encouragement.
Help someone else. It is so easy to wallow in self-pity, to let ourselves become depressed and jealous of those who seem to have it all together. But look around. Someone you know is at the beginning of their journey. Lend them a hand. Show them how you changed your life for the better. Help them by sharing the strategies you used. Help someone else and you will help yourself.
The struggle is real. And in some ways, it sometimes feels harder than reaching the initial goal. Remember that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s okay to walk part of the race. Just keep going. You can do this.