Financial Independence Is NOT Like Going On A Diet

I really enjoy eating food. I don’t crave sweets so much, but rich, home-cooked meals. If only food loved me as much…

Over the last month or so I’ve been trying to cut back on the number of calories I take in. You probably wouldn’t think that I need to reduce my calorie intake by looking at me, but that’s just the problem. I’m thin enough, but I’m not especially fit, and I don’t eat particularly healthy. I’m a father of 2 (almost 3) and I work behind a desk all day, so if I overeat by just a little bit each day over the winter, it definitely shows up by spring. Years ago I was active enough on the basketball court/frisbee field/tennis court/softball field that I would burn plenty of calories, but no longer.

So here I am again, going through my annual “cut back on X” diet plan so that I don’t have to keep a shirt on when I go to the beach. Sometimes I cut back on carbs, sometimes on calories, sometimes it’s simply sodas and junk food.

But inevitably I end up returning to my poor eating habits because I enjoy food more than I enjoy looking good for 2 months during the summertime each year.

I read an interesting article over on Hull Financial Planning last week called “Make Monkey Brain Proud“, in which Jason described how taking pride in something is a much more powerful motivator than the fear of shame or guilt. That describes my dieting perfectly. If I was unmarried and worked in a physically demanding job (or played more sports) my pride would probably drive me to better eating habits, but fortunately I am married, which means that those are not the case. 🙁

Financial Independence

So getting back to my main point: Financial independence is not like dieting!

When I talk with people about the decisions my family and I are making in the pursuit of living debt free and quitting the “8 to 5 ’til I’m 65” mentality, people usually respond with something along the lines of “I couldn’t live on less money than I bring in each month right now” or “I’m just trying to keep up with the bills I’ve got, there’s no way I could sustain a higher savings rate”.

They tend to think of changing their life the way I often think about going on a diet, but you can’t think about financial independence that way. This isn’t a temporary spending freeze. The road to financial independence starts with understanding just how much you have, and how much is really enough for your needs. Financial independence begins with the mindset that there’s more to life than making and spending money, and it’s possible to escape that cycle.

The Fulfillment Curve

If you’ve read my article on the fulfillment curve you already know that the “buzz” we get from making and spending money is addictive. We begin to experience that buzz early in life when we have a lot of basic needs to take care of. But soon after that, the impact of buying things begins to wear off, and so we begin to save for (and buy) bigger and more expensive things to compensate for it.

Just saying “no” to those tendencies isn’t the way to address the issue long-term. The real solution has to do with perspective. W have to come to grips with just how much money has really passed through our hands (and will pass through in the future) and understand the lifetime of possibilities that we are forfeiting by blowing that money on the insignificant day-to-day things we so often do.

We need to take a look at the big picture in order to change our daily habits and achieve financial independence.

With that in mind I’m trying something new this go-round with my diet. Instead of attempting to starve myself for a month to drop the 10 pounds I’ve been accumulating, I’ve tried to make some small changes instead. My thinking is that I’m only going to change things that are sustainable over the long haul, like leaving sugar out of my coffee, giving up sodas for long periods at a time, and eating smaller portions whenever possible. They won’t shrink me overnight, but my hope is that these changes are ones that I can turn into habits, and get a little bit better at maintaining my health over time.

Small, sustainable steps. For improving your health or reaching for financial independence, those are key. And whatever the outcome, they’re worth a try. There’s a lot of life left to be lived!