getting to the finish line: staying encouraged when your goals seem so far away

 Photo Credit: Cameron Kirby

Photo Credit: Cameron Kirby

My senior year of college I decided it would be a great idea to run a mini-marathon.  My two roommates at the time had done one the previous year, and as my soccer career had come to an end that past fall, I needed a new challenge for myself.  So I signed up (along with 3 of my friends) for the 500 Festival Mini here in Indy and prepared myself to run 13.1 miles straight – about 9 more than I’d ever run at one time prior to that. Holy Jesus.

The day of the race I was feeling pretty ok about the whole thing.  I had a killer playlist lined up on my iPod (yes, those things were still in circulation back then), a running buddy (my BFF, Mallory), and my adrenaline was in the sweet spot.  And in fact, the first 9 miles flew by fairly quickly – when you’re constantly trying to dodge the swarm of people in front of you, you don’t realize how many miles you’re putting in.  Between miles 9-12, though, I started to feel my motivation and energy slowly wane; luckily, I managed to find another girl who was running at a good clip, and I focused my attention on following her all the way until mile 12, when I noticed the signs. 

What signs, you ask?  The ones that break out that last mile in quarter mile increments: 1 mile remaining, ¾ mile remaining, ½ mile remaining, etc.  Those were my personal hell…because just when I thought I was near the end, I seemed farther from it than ever.  A ¼ mile seems like nothing when you’re not 12 miles in already, but at that point in the race, that stretch of asphalt seemed like it took a decade to conquer.  Seriously, each ¼ mile seemed like it was a mile long in itself.  I could have shot the person who decided that those signs were a good idea – to me, they were just a reminder that I was close, but not close enough.

 My time after my first mini-marathon.

My time after my first mini-marathon.

So what does this have to do with money, per se?  Well, when it comes to saving, I constantly feel like I’m running that last mile – continually chugging away but never getting anywhere.  I know, you’re screaming, “Amen, sister!” right now.  I hear you, ladies.  Currently, I’m saving up to buy a new car and remodel my kitchen, both of which I’d like to do within the next 2-3 years.  But those goals are so far away that it’s hard to say “no” to the instant gratification of those new boots I spotted at Macy’s or going for dinner and drinks with friends downtown.  I mean, with this horrid Indiana winter weather I kind of need the boots, right?  And how often do I really get the chance to go out with my friends any more? 

When the finish line of our goals are so far off in the distance, we tend to rationalize spending the hard-earned dollars we should be putting towards debt or a down payment on minor buys instead.  Is the $50 you’re spending for a night out going to get you that much closer to paying off that student loan quicker?  By itself, probably not.  But when you add that $50 to the $200 you spent on that leather jacket and the $100 you spent going to see Wicked when it was in town and the $150 on that new Fossil watch, it all adds up. That’s $500 that could have went straight to Sallie Mae, saving you interest, lowering your stress, and giving you a sense of accomplishment. 

How do we stay motivated, then, to continue to contribute to our savings goals without completely screwing up our entire budget?  Well, lucky you, I’ve come up with some ideas to help keep your eyes on the prize.  Here are a few tips:

  1. Happy Birthday to Me

    Birthday as in presents, people.  Those lofty, far-off goals sometimes can be, well, lofty and far-off.  The solution?  Set smaller goals along the way and reward yourself when you get there.  Trying to save $10,000 for a down payment?  Allow yourself to get a massage (off Groupon, of course) for every $2,000 you conquer.  Need to pay off all those student loans?  Get a manicure every 6 months you make payments on time.  You get the idea.

  2. Make an Appointment

    We often tend to forget why we’re working towards the goals we set 2, 6, 15 months ago.  Life tends to take over, and all of a sudden we’ve lost sight of why we started in the first place.  So set a reminder on your phone every 3 months or so notifying you to sit down and re-evaluate those goals – you may find out that some just aren’t that important anymore and you can use the money you’ve been siphoning towards those trashed goals for something more in line with your current wants and needs.

  3. Loser Does Dishes?

    I’m pretty competitive, so turning any type of activity into a challenge is going to get me motivated.  And who better to compete against in your saving game than your spouse, best friend, brother, etc.?  See who can save more of their disposable income and the winner gets a prize – like lunch paid for by the loser.  Or better yet, make the loser do your laundry for a month.  I’d be living on Ramen for that one.

  4. Playing in the Snow

    Ever heard of Dave Ramsey?  Well, he’s a pretty famous guy in the financial world who has come up with a different way of paying off debt than what you learned back in your college personal finance class.  Most books will tell you to pay off the loan with the highest interest rate first, and financially, this makes sense – you’ll save more interest.  But Dave’s Snowball method of paying off debt instead tells you to pay off your smallest loan (as in lowest amount of $$$’s) first; then, once that is paid off, you can use the extra funds to tackle your next smallest loan and so on and so forth.  With this method, you feel a sense of accomplishment in getting your loans paid off, which leads you to be more likely to stay on track.  And who knows, you may love that feeling so much that you skip that dinner out when you don’t want to cook or pass on buying another dress for New Year’s when you have 4 acceptable ones in your closet.  Holla!

We all battle with foregoing the instant gratification of a new pair of jeans or a $5 cupcake to achieve our larger goals.  Yes, shout it out:  the struggle is real.  But I hope utilizing some of the tips above will help you stay in the game and get you to that major goal you’ve been working towards – as someone who has achieved one of her goals (20% down payment on my house!), I can tell you, the sacrifice is worth it. Happy saving!

 Photo Credit: Vaida Tamosauskaite

Photo Credit: Vaida Tamosauskaite