Tuesday, February 18

Financial Goals Take More Than Money, They Take Time

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I’ve been working full-time for the past six months, and bringing in a second income to the household has made my life infinitely easier. I earn enough to comfortably pay my bills, save in my TFSA and RRSP, as well as enjoy little luxuries like dinners out and new clothes.

But I’m still not where I want to be financially.

Financial plans on paper always feel different than their execution. Even though I understood that the MBA would take 3 years to pay off, I didn’t really consider that that would mean I’d feel desperately behind for those whole three years. The worst of it? Those three years start right now. I was so precise in my calculations, I actually accounted for working income in 2014, so getting a job before graduation doesn’t actually put me that much further ahead. Wow, talk about a rough reality check, huh?

When I enrolled in graduate school, I understood liquidating my savings meant taking account balances to zero. What I didn’t grasp was how watching months of hard work and diligent saving disappearing to tuition bills would feel. Or how hard it would be to rebuild.

I realize I made the mistake of thinking a certain income would solve all my financial problems.

I thought the right salary would erase the monetary sacrifices I’ve made over the past two years to go back to school. Surprise? It didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love the job and the income that my MBA has gotten me, but the truth is I won’t feel the real power of my paycheque until early 2018, when I’m finally done playing catch up on my savings.

A three-year ROI is still relatively speedy, all things considered, but when you’re at the beginning of the journey, it feels like a small lifetime. It’s the same way I felt when I graduated with my student loan debt. I understood that investing in a post-secondary education had secured me higher earnings for every year thereafter, but my tens of thousands of student loan debt was crushing. Even though I knew I could and would pay it off, it didn’t make doing so any easier. Now I face the same challenge of rebuilding my savings.

Eventually, after you get your finances under control, you cannot modify your behavior any further to get closer to your financial goals.

You just have to wait for the time to pass.

You can calculate the amount you need for financial independence, or figure out your debt-free date. Then you can automate your savings or debt payments. But after that? You just wait. And wait. And wait. It can take years until those payments translate into the tangible results you want. The waiting game to see the results of good financial habits might be one of the hardest aspects of taking care of your money. Because it’s boring. Because the initial rewards are few and far between. Because every step of the way you’ll wonder if progress is really happening or not.

The first day you decide to start paying off your debt will look exactly like the day before, when you were at your limit.

Do you owe $60,000 and have now decided once and for all you’re going to get out from under this? Good. You still owe $60,000. Maybe if you send a payment towards the balance right now, in 2-3 days you’ll owe $59,900. It’s hardly progress considering you’re making a HUGE life change.

This is comparable to being overweight and deciding to change your diet and exercise regime to get fit. The first day of your new life, you look exactly the same. Two weeks in you probably look the same, even though you’ve made drastic modifications to your daily habits. It takes at least a month, possibly two, for you and your friends to notice changes to your body. Then it will take months, even years, until you get the body you want, and you have to be disciplined and dedicated the whole way through. Changing your finances is like that, except you’ll never get the outside reinforcement you do with health & fitness — “omg you look so great!” — because no one can see your bank account.

Which is one of the reasons personal finance blogs are so great for both their readers and their writers: we show our progress on the outside. When you make strides in paying off your debt or saving for a big goal, you get to celebrate out-loud. It doesn’t make the time go any faster, but it does make it a little easier!

If you’re feeling stuck on your debt repayment or savings journey, be patient.

These things take time.

A long time.

But we all get where we want to be if take the steps.

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About Author

Student debt killer, super saver, and stock market addict. BSc. in Chemistry from the University of Alberta, MBA in Finance from the University of Calgary. CEO x 2 and MOM x 1. Currently residing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, but hooked on travelling.

13 Comments

  1. For me, discovering that things take time was actually a blessing. Staring at one big debt number (or conversely, one big retirement target number) was pretty daunting.

    The various calculators and spreadsheets that I could use to chart out a plan meant that my debt wasn’t so much an insurmountable mountain, but rather a temporary logistical inconvenience… with an expiration date.

    And the one thing that’s more and more clear every day I spend in my 30s… is that time always keeps moving 🙂

    • That’s a good way of looking at it… having charts and spreadsheets makes me feel in control of it all, but I still feel tired when I see the figures.

      “temporary logistical inconvenience” haha I love that!

  2. Great post! We have been spending some of our “planned savings” lately for wedding down payments etc, and the anxious feeling I get as I spend the money I had planned to spend it crazy! I didn’t expect that at all. I am now more determined to save for the long haul even more. I’ve always put a bit a way for retirement (I do have a great pension) but I now know I want to save more and be able to live the life I want when I retire. I guess striking a balance between your long term savings for retirement vs. your planned spending is key!

    I love love love the new blog btw!!

    • arghhh wedding spending is the hardest! My fiance & I are paying a lot of the expenses as they come out of our joint chequing account ($400 deposit here, $1000 deposit there etc) and it feels like we’re hemorrhaging money… and we’re having a cheap wedding!

      So I totally feel you. Spending is hard even when it’s what you planned to do with the money all along!

      So glad you love the new site =D

  3. Thank you so much for posting this (and for fixing the comments section here so I can tell you all about it!). This was exactly what I needed to hear right now. I’ve been really focused on getting my finances in order (and my debts payed) for a little under a year now, reading blogs and trying new apps and paying as much as I possibly can toward my debts, but a lot of the time, it feels like an arduous task I’ll never see the end of, or like a permanent part of who I am, rather than something temporary I’m working on. I just started the DebtCrusher eCourse, and was a little disappointed to find out that I was already following most of your advice, already taking all the “right” steps to pay down what I owe. I know it’s silly to feel let down when you realize you’re doing something right, but I kept thinking, “if I’m doing exactly what I should be doing, why am I still in debt?” This post was a great reminder that, no matter how perfectly you follow the experts’ advice, and no matter how honestly committed you are to prioritizing your finances, it’s still a process, and a slow one at that. I’m going to bookmark it and reread it every time I start to feel hopeless, to remind myself that all the little things really do add up, it just takes some patience to see it.

    • I’m so glad!!

      This made me laugh: “I just started the DebtCrusher eCourse, and was a little disappointed to find out that I was already following most of your advice” — it’s actually a compliment, because it at least reaffirms there’s good advice in there!

      We all have a long ways to go before our finances get where we want them to be… and then there’s a 100% chance once your reach a goal (ie. debt-free), another will just take its place =p

  4. When I make a plan it’s usually just a one page plan, so my visual is pretty small. It’s really tough when I realize on day 3 of the plan that I have 52 months to go. Good post!

  5. Hi,

    Great post, it is indeed much more exciting to develop an excel spreadsheet with a financial freedom objective than actually doing it over a long period of time… I think that being in “achieving objective” mode for finance minded people is good, but also has negative impacts. You are never really in the moment, you simply are at X% or X years before Y happens. Sometimes I think it is the chasing that we are after, not the getting. Once we complete a goal (like FI) we’ll just think of another one…. I’m working hard to live in the present and enjoy what I have now.

  6. I have no doubt that this is why so many people struggle with finances at any stage. We have found the key is to set smaller goals and ways of tracking progress to keep motivated. We continue to do this to this day as we prepare for our early retirement.

    One simple trick we used when paying off debt was to set up an Excel spread sheet and then look at the increased impact that each payment has as less of your money is going toward interest and more to principle each and every month, even if only in small increments.

    Another is to celebrate smaller milestones along the way. $60k can start to look pretty insurmountable, 6 $10k goals may seem more doable. 10 $6k goals or even 20 $3k goals look much more achievable and allow you to see progress on the way.

    Whatever works for you, don’t give up! It will be well worth it when you begin to taste increased freedom.

    Cheers!
    EE

  7. It does take patience. I keep a little progress bar on my blog and that helps keep me motivated. I love seeing the little bar get closer and closer to the end!

  8. This is a hard reality for impatient people like myself. When I have a great idea, I want it to be a success – right now! Realizing that financial freedom requires time means that patience is definitely necessary. It also means that we need to enjoy life’s journey – and not get caught up on purely accomplishing our goals (financial or otherwise).

    Great article. Thanks for writing and I’m glad I came across it on RockstarFinance!

    • Glad you enjoyed it Rob! =)

      Patience is the hardest part for me and it sounds like it is for a lot of people. At least we’re in this together!

  9. I love it! I’ve always been on top of my financials and you got it right on the money! It can be boring. To me being creative with it is the key. I build my own tracking system and it makes me feel in control. I add graph, charts so that I can clearly see the progress. Seeing where you come from, where you are going makes waiting less boring as you are getting excited each time the next paycheck comes in because you want to see the progress you are making now!
    Good job on the post!