Sense & Centsibility Blog

New Year’s Goals: A Journey of Accountability, Part 2

Back in January I wrote a blog post   about my New Year’s Goals and stated I would enlist all the readers of this blog to help me reach my goals. I talked about one strategy that I read over and over again: write down your goals, and then enlist help in being held accountable. I also read that having to confess that you haven’t kept a goal can be motivating as well. How is it going? Read on….

Goal #1: Spend 50% less on dining out, take out, and alcohol

If you recall, my husband and I were going over our spending report for 2018 and were shocked by some of the areas we spent too much money on: namely dining out, take out, and alcohol.

We decided we would cut back this spending by 50% so that we could start saving for our dream trips to the UK and Spain. I thought tying our reduced spending to something we really wanted would motivate us to spend less.


Failure is not falling down; it is refusing to get up

Chinese Proverb

Things didn’t go quite as planned. Late January, February and March turned out to be incredibly stressful and busy months for us. My husband missed some work due to a wrist injury, our daughter experienced some health issues, and my workload increased.

Between being stressed and tired and having too little time (and energy) to plan or prepare meals, we continued our old habits of ordering take out or going out. Our spending records also show that we did not reduce our spending on alcohol, but at least it didn’t increase!

Moving Forward

Last weekend we had a “money meeting” and recommitted ourselves to this goal. We instituted a couple changes as well:

  1. Implement a pain-point: Humans are risk averse; we hate to lose things we’ve already earned. We decided to use this information to help us reach our goal. In May, we will budget $230 per month towards our dream trips and anything we overspend on take-out, dining out, or alcohol will have to be pulled from this spending category.
  2. Make a plan: Instead of going out to dinner (or ordering in) just because we “feel” like it, we made a plan for the nights we will order in or go out for dinner. This gives us something to look forward to. Also, we bought easy-to-make items as an option for nights we just didn’t feel like cooking.
  3. Check our emotions: A huge realization we had was that we often ordered in or went out to eat on the days when we were tired, upset, or stressed. We agreed to check-in with each other on our emotions when we felt like straying from our plan.  So far we have avoided unplanned ordering or dining out twice using this strategy: in just one week!

Goal #2: Plan for the “Big Exit

Turning fifty this year led to this goal: I will complete my health care directive, put together a will, and plan my funeral. As I said before, I want to make sure my funeral is planned so when my loved ones are grieving they have little to do except grieve (and they will be less susceptible to expensive up charges from highly skilled sales people). I pulled out my copy of "Get It Together" and started making some lists. So far I have:

  • Made sure all my beneficiary information is up to date on my checking and savings account as well as my life insurance policies and 403(b) retirement account
  • Put together a list of all my online accounts, including emails and social media accounts, along with usernames and passwords so that my spouse and/or family can close these down.
  • Gave my husband contact information for work in case I pass away while still employed

While that’s a very short list of activities, it all took time to pull together. I still have the biggies to attack – completing a health care directive, making a will, and planning my funeral – but having these little things taken care of will make some things easier to deal with when the time comes.

Goal #3: Move more for physical and mental health

Like I said in January, as I get older I don’t want to be a burden to anyone and I want to live an active lifestyle. The best way to ensure this happens is by taking care of my physical and mental health now. The research is out there that exercise is just as important for our brains as it is for our bodies. I live with Anxiety and Depression and have read study after study about how important regular exercise is in treating both of these conditions. My goal for this area was to increase my happiness, soothe anxiety and have a healthy body by starting a 22-minute a day workout routine. And I did just that…for about a week.

Moving Forward

Let’s face it: behavior change is hard. And when times are stressful and busy those things you are trying to add to your life can get pushed aside. In my thirties exercise was something I did daily without a second thought. In fact, the days when I wasn’t engaged in something active were few and far between. As I’ve gotten older I have found it more difficult to get back into the habit of exercising; especially in the winter with the short days and bad weather. I consulted an article/podcast from Life Kit, a series from NPR, to help me figure out how to improve in this area. Here’s what they said:

  • Give it a month: apparently there is no magic number of days to create a habit, but after a month you may see a habit forming
  • Try temptation bundling: this is where you bundle something you love doing with something you have to get done. For example, only listen to podcasts while exercising.  This would work with TV shows as well. Or exercising with a friend (see “make it social” below)
  • Avoid the “What-the-Hell” effect: The “what the hell” effect says that if we fail to meet our goals we can give up and go crazy. How can we avoid this? Set goals that are achievable and ambitious, but give yourself a pass if you don’t meet them.
  • Be flexible in your schedule: If you decide you have to work out in the morning, but miss it one morning it’s easy to fall into the “what the hell” effect. If you give yourself permission to exercise at other times of the day it can help you avoid this trap.
  • Make it social: Are you competitive? Check in with your neighbors, co-workers or friends about their workout schedules. How do you measure up? Another option would be to schedule time to work out with a friend (see “temptation bundling” above).
  • Put some money on the line: Remember how I mentioned above that people are risk averse? One of the things we hate losing most is money. Set up a commitment device, a sort of contract with your future self to follow through on your goals. Life Kit recommends the website as a means of doing this. At this website you can commit to giving a certain amount of money to a person or charity if you don’t reach your goals. They even go so far as to suggest committing your money to an organization you don’t want to support for further motivation. Diabolical!

I think I’ll start with the first three strategies. If those don’t work I just may check out What have I got to lose?

Author Shannon Doyle is an LSS Financial Counselor.