Updated: Aug 2, 2021
A client of mine exceeded her financial baseline the other day.
It was a proud moment. She went from saving 20 dollars a week to 25 dollars a week. I was pumped!!! You should have heard me. I was screaming, 'Let's go!!!!' during our meeting. She was amused but did not understand why I was so excited. She quipped, "It's only five additional dollars."
I said, 'Only??? Only???? No. Those five additional dollars represent how you've steadied the ship and have greater financial stability. They represent how you've created and stuck to your spending plan. They represent you breaking emotional and psychological barriers. They represent you trusting me; You stated that you were skeptical about all of this. They represent a change in your mindset and demeanor. You are more confident. You are more at ease... YOU ARE WINNING!!!!"
She replied, "How am I winning when I feel so behind?"
I quickly interjected, "Comparison is the thief of joy. I do not celebrate people who can easily save $1,000 a month. That's their baseline. They should be doing that. It's easy. There was no discomfort to do so. They aren't stretching themselves. You are. In my eyes, positioning yourself to save five additional dollars a week is worth more than someone who can easily save $1,000 a week... You are winning. And you are a winner."
That interaction reminded me to write this post because too many people give up when they are winning. The issue is that they can't see they are winning. They don't feel like a winner. That's why I recommend people get a financial coach - at least for a year. You need somebody to see and guide the new you until you can recognize and consistently operate in the new person you've become.
In fact, you might be that person I'm talking about. And, yes, if "all" you've been able to do is push yourself to save five dollars more than you were originally comfortable with, that's a win. You've exceeded your baseline. Now you have a new one. From this point forward, you'll keep making slight changes to exceed it a bit more. And little by little, what seemed like little progress turns into a force to be reckoned with - You!
When it comes to your financial baseline, you can overdo it too. Sometimes you might push yourself harder than you have the capacity to mentally, emotionally, and financially handle. You might notice significant discomfort during these times. This is your mind and budget telling you that you've gone a little too far. Trust me; you are not going to make up for your lost time in a month. I've tried. It doesn't end well. Instead, listen to those cues and slow down a bit. You should feel some stress, but not to the point where it feels unbearable. Unbearable stress is not healthy. And let's be honest, it's not enjoyable either. Your financial wellness journey will induce a little stress, but it should end with feelings of accomplishment and newfound confidence - not anxiety or shame.
It's okay to start exactly where you are. Otherwise, you'll set unrealistic expectations that are not achievable because you do not have the capacity to achieve them in your current base. If you know you can't sit down and budget for an hour, how long can you stay focused on the budgeting process? Start there. That's your baseline. Even if it's a minute, from there, gradually stretch the length of time you can stay engaged with the budgeting process. And, instead of one budgeting session, break it up into small ones that align with your current capacity. The way you engage with money has to be congruent with your financial capacity or baseline. If your financial activities and capacity are out of alignment, you will not sustain the effort needed to see progress. Plus, you'll start keeping score in an unhealthy way.
Keeping score is not about how well someone else is doing. Keeping score is about self-awareness and knowing whether you are doing your best or not. You and only you can determine whether or not you are hitting the mark. And, to do this, you have to play fair by doing the following:
Extend yourself some grace so that you can embrace where you are. A seed has to be planted before it can become a tree.
Do not compare your progress to the progress of others. Their situation is different from yours. And that's okay. You can still win your race. That's the only race that matters!
Employ self-compassion while you strive to get to where you wish to be. You are going to slip up from time to time. That's a part of the process. Falling means that we are strengthening the muscles we need to walk. Keep strengthening those muscles.
Embrace that growth takes time and that the fruit from your efforts will withstand the test of time. That's the real stunt: lasting success!
Surround yourself with people who see what you are becoming instead of those that will only remind you where you've been.
Knowing your baseline is incredibly important. It's your foundation. As I stated to my client, it takes a lot to establish or re-establish one's foundation. Once it's sturdy, you can build on top of it. Unfortunately, most people settle for building on a flimsy base and hope that it will hold. That's not you. Go slow to go fast. You got this. You are right where you need to be.
Embrace your financial base. It's the source of your future success!