Getting your finances in order is a lot like weight loss.You start off great in the beginning. You drop a lot of debt quickly. It’s almost too easy to cut expenses. You realize that you’ve got lots of things you can cut and you eagerly drop unwanted services, renegotiate bills, stop eating out, and stop shopping so much. Then the day comes when it’s not easy anymore. All of the big cuts have been made. You feel like there’s nothing left to cut and nothing left to do. However, you may still have debt to pay off or other goals you want to reach, but it’s not so easy now. You’ve hit the plateau. As with weight loss and those last fifteen pounds, there’s more work to be done but it doesn’t seem possible. You may even want to give up.
Don’t let the plateau get you down. You can get beyond it, but you’re going to have to work harder. The first thing to do is to be really honest with yourself. Have you really made all the cuts you can or is there something you’ve been holding on to? Pull out all your expenses and study them. Look for little things that are slipping in, or big things that you’ve overlooked (either accidentally or intentionally). Cut what you find. Chances are you’ll find at least one thing to cut.
Second, it may be time for big sacrifices. If you’re still struggling, it may be time to do some things you don’t want to do. It may be time for a second job. Maybe you have to pull the kids out of private school. Maybe you need to get a smaller house or learn to live with one car. Maybe you have to give up your annual vacation. These things are called sacrifices for a reason. They aren’t fun and they are a big deal. However, giving them up may get you past your plateau and back on the road to your financial goals.
Third, challenge yourself more. If you want to lose weight, you have to challenge yourself with ever harder and longer workouts. You can’t just do the same routine and expect it to have the same effect. Same with finance. Shake things up periodically and challenge yourself. See if you can funnel an extra ten dollars a week into savings. See if you can put an extra $50 onto a debt. See if you can reach that big goal like paying off the mortgage. See if you can cut your power bill by twenty percent. See if you can live without something (like cable) that you don’t think you can. Think of a challenge and then try to meet it. You can always adjust your challenge if it’s too hard or too easy. These challenges make you stronger financially because you’re forced to make new adjustments and work on new skills.
Finally, make new goals. Maybe your goal was just to pay off a credit card. When that’s done, make a new goal and strive for it. Maybe now you aim to pay off the house. Maybe you have other areas to work on like retirement or estate planning. There’s always something to work towards so never find yourself without a goal. That’s a sure way to keep your financial situation exactly the same.
A plateau is disappointing and frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be a reason to quit. You can get past it with some extra thought and work. Soon you’ll find your finances are improving again and you’re learning new things.