Smart Spending

Keeping deprivation away on the Journey to FI

You’ll often hear people claim that they have never felt deprivation on the journey to financial independence (FI). Especially from those aiming for financial independence, retire early (FIRE) because the extreme versions of it are what is more often portrayed by the media. I myself have often written about our continuous efforts to enjoy the present on the way to FI.  

Reflecting back on my own journey, I realized that in some ways, it’s not that I’ve avoided all desires to spend money on something that would bring me enjoyment immediately in order to later on achieve FI, but rather that I’ve learned to turn this into a game. The objective is to find the optimal means to meet my present desires all while doing so in a way that doesn’t compromise my long term goal of FI. 

This really has been a key process to enjoying my journey towards FI and not feeling deprived.

Tricking my mind through other paths to fulfillment

Such a process essentially requires me to trick my mind through other paths of fulfillment. If I have a desire to spend money on something, rather than instantly making the purchase, I take a step back and approach this strategically.

Just yesterday I was researching the purchase of a VR set, as our oldest kid has been saving up diligently for this purchase for over a year now. Looking at all the cool games and options got me excited about the idea of purchasing two sets rather than one. Wouldn’t it be fun if two of us could play at once? Wouldn’t it avoid conflicts between the two kids? All of that sounded quite appealing! 

That being said, the price tag of $450 per set (or still $350 if purchased used) wasn’t so appealing. As such, I took a step back and reflected on the reasons that made me want to purchase two sets rather than one in the first place:

  1. It would be fun to play together
  2. It would avoid conflicts when the kids did not feel like sharing

Looking around my house, I realized we have lots of things we can “play together”. Plenty of board games, an old Wii console gathering dust, numerous multiplayer games on our computers and so many toys which I always despair at wanting to declutter. Having a clear list and inventory of these toys and games could be a quick solution to those moments of searching for something fun to do as a family.

On the “avoiding conflicts” aspect of my desire, I’m sure many parents understand this sentiment. In the end though, it’s much more beneficial for my kids to learn about sharing. By teaching them tools to deal with such conflicts, I’m actually addressing the problem rather than avoiding it. Although let’s be honest that in some cases it can totally be worth it to buy 2 of something to “choose a different battle” yet perhaps not with such an expensive item.

Additionally in this specific example, one kid has been saving up for so long to buy this! It would kind of go against the whole delayed gratification lesson of that entire process if I were to simply say “let’s just buy a second one for your sister”. 

Once that reflection was done, I felt good and happy with my decision to only buy one VR set. While this example was a quick process of reflection in reaction to a desire to buy something, I invite you to be proactive in keeping feelings of deprivation away on your journey to FI through a simple 4 step brainstorming exercise.

A proactive approach to keeping deprivation away on the journey to FI

So let’s discuss how you can implement this proactive approach to keeping deprivation away on the journey to FI. I like to do this in bullet form in a simple Google doc where I can quickly return to and modify, yet you can get creative and fancy with it if that is motivating for you!

Step 1. What is the deep down value I wish to fulfill?

The first step is to list the 3 to 6 values that are most important to you. If this does not come easily to you, tave a look at your spending from the last couple of months and ask yourself: With which value or life objective is this purchase or category of spending aligned? Are those values the ones most important to you? If so, list those. If not and the bulk of your spending is dedicated to such an area, list that as well.

You could also pick a very specific category of expenses where you want to see lower spending. One area like this for my family is our Food expense category. While I value good food, I’m not sure I would fit it into my top 5 values. 

This type of spending though, does fall under two other values that matter greatly to me : Family and Adventure.  When we have big meals with family or when we experiment with new recipes, this spending taps into those values. As there are so many different ways that we spend on food though, for this exercise in being proactive with keeping feelings of deprivation away on the journey to FI, it’s beneficial to address this category separately. 

Example:

  • Food
  • Travel/Vacation 
  • Learning
  • Family
  • Sports
  • Outings/Adventure

Step 2. How do I tend to spend to meet those values and when do I specifically overspend?

The next step is to list, under each of those values or category of spending, concrete ways in which you spend. Make sure to focus on those specific moments where you end up spending more money than intended. These are often referred to as spending triggers. It could be tied to a specific place, moment or even person!

Be honest with yourself as you reflect back on this. It might again be very beneficial for you to look back on your actual spending of the past few months. When my financial coaching clients begin tracking their expenses, they are often surprised with how their spending does not necessarily align with what they consider to be their most important values. So make sure to look at some of those real numbers and try to reflect back on the details and circumstances surrounding periods of higher spending. 

Example: 

Food

  • Lazy evenings when we decide to order in instead of cooking
  • Going to restaurants
  • Buying more than we need
  • Etc.

Step 3. How could I be proactive with those spending triggers and still meet the deep down need I am trying to fulfill?

Thirdly, under each of those concrete ways of spending or spending triggers, brainstorm strategies to be more proactive in addressing the actual need behind your behavior. 

Look at each item on your list and identify what deep down need or desire would be met by your spending behavior. In my example of having a lazy evening when we decide to order in instead of cooking, we’re obviously trying to meet the need of feeding ourselves and our family. Yet, another important aspect behind this is that this will happen when we lack energy or time so one need is for simplicity and I guess, giving ourselves a break! 

Identifying the needs & desires that are being met by your spending behaviors will be helpful in coming up with some proactive ideas to avoid overspending when facing these spending triggers. We’re not aiming for the perfect no-spend situation, we are just listing as many different ways we can address these desires in order to open up our brains to the various options that exist. 

Example:

Food

– Lazy evenings when we decide to order in instead of cooking

  • Plan to make extra when I am in the mood to cook.
  • Have a few extra easy frozen meals for days when I’m truly out of leftovers.
  • Make a list of our favorite and least expensive take-out orders to pick from.
  • Set a limit of times we can order take out every month.
  • Meal plan and consider having one or two evenings per week that is leftover night or an easy barely any cooking option.

Step 4. The magic lies in the details!

Finally, you’ll want to get specific and add details to all the proactive ideas you generated under step 3 in order to make these more concrete and actionable. 

Having more clear details will serve to increase your chances of sticking with the new habits and behaviors you want to put in place. For inspiration, check out my post on simple ways to stick to good money habits where I go more into the depth of the Formula of Behavior Change  from  Atomic Habits written by James Clear. In short, the four laws of this formula are to make the new behavior obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. 

Example: 

Food

– Lazy evenings when we decide to order in instead of cooking

–> Plan to make extra when I am in the mood to cook.

  • I will make a meal plan and double the recipes every couple of days to make for leftovers.
  • Every Sunday morning I will cook up a big batch of an easy recipe that goes well with many sides (list ideas of specific recipes/foods) & chop veggies to have easy options to put a quick meal together on lazy evenings.

—> Have a few extra easy frozen meals for days when I’m truly out of leftovers.

  • I will always keep at least 2 frozen pizzas in the freezer and add this item to my grocery list when I have less than that. 
  • I will make a spaghetti sauce once a month and keep some containers in the freezer with portions that can be defrosted quickly. 

Conclusion

Voilà! With this four step process you’ll have created this list of proactive ways you can overcome your spending triggers and keep spending in alignment with your important values. This will be a great tool to come back to often in order to keep feelings of deprivation away on your journey to FI. 

Just remember that you are not aiming for perfection. Treating yourself every now and then is so important! Is just important to be mindful of doing so in a way that doesn’t compromise your short and long term goals. 

How have you kept your journey to FI pleasant and absent of feelings of deprivation?

4 thoughts on “Keeping deprivation away on the Journey to FI

  1. Thank you so much for this! I’ve saved and invested all my life but got super serious 4 years ago. I’ve really been struggling with this and you’ve brought some perspective on how to look at this through a different lens!!

    1. Hi Jodi! I’m so glad this is helpful in some way to you. Good luck with finding ways to enjoy the journey while reaching your savings goals!

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