Three steps to correcting your mistakes

My friends of the stealth wealth movement, I’ve failed you. Not only have I not written anything on the blog for exactly 21 days and nights, I have been a non-saving, non-side-gig-hustling, average-spending American. I’m not proud of it, but for a number of semi-valid to invalid reasons, I have had a hard time sticking to my own principles and rules that I’ve set out for myself. We’ve all been there at one time or another. You get busy at work, so a fast food burger is easier than bringing a cheap, healthy lunch. You have family in town, so you skip the gym. You accidentally back your car into a neighbor’s parked F250 so you can’t rent on Turo or drive Uber (that’s just me? ok…). So what do you do when you fall into a bit of a rut to keep it from snowballing too far? I can’t claim to be the expert on this one, since I’m only on day one of recovery, but my guess is that the old adage of “the first step is admitting you have a problem” will be as good a start as any.

Diagnosing the problem

It is fair to say that we will run into a time when we do not stick to our goals at one point or another. This could be for one hour, one week, one month, or beyond. Work gets busy, so you stop working on your side gigs. You skip breakfast and your co-worker brought donuts (or is it doughnuts…can never decide on that one), so you break your diet. Your fancy friends are all bidding on items at a charity auction and you want to keep up with the Joneses. At some point, you will have a momentary lapse in your attention or willpower and get off track with your goals.

I’ve been that guy for the last two weeks. Let’s look at the damage (beyond what I would categorize as normal expenses that have a home in my budget spreadsheet):

  • Backed my car into my neighbor’s parked truck and caused $750.00 of damage after insurance anted up for their portion. I don’t even get the luxury of saying that it was someone else’s fault or having a fun excuse like a rare Pokemon appearing in my driveway. My foot slipped off the brake onto the gas. I’m going to argue that this one was less controllable than the others, but it still ran me close to $1,000 all-in.
  • Uber expenses for not having my car or rental car for two weeks: $114.00.
  • Getting busy at work and paying for restaurant dinners, takeout or delivery on 8 different nights in the past two weeks: $141.68 over my allotted dinner budget.
  • Being “too busy to grocery shop” and eating 7 lunches out over the past two weeks during the workday: $68.53
  • Surrendering to my mountain of laundry, needing work clothes and dejectedly taking my pile of shirts and pants to the dry cleaner instead of washing and pressing them at home: $83.36
  • My wife and I falling in love with a puppy (an English Bulldog named Moose) and deciding to give him a new home. This was more of a life decision and one that we can adjust for in our budget moving forward by taking dollars from another line item, but a decision that came with some one-time vet bills and pet supply costs nonetheless. Cost: $373.66

Total Budget Hit: $1,531.23

While this is not necessarily a life-altering number over the course of a year, this is a whole lot of damage to the budget and saving goals for a two week period.

Getting the budget back on track

My wife and put a lot of effort into and take a lot of pride in our ability to stick to a budget and hit our savings goals. Thanks to my temporary surrender to the busy life, a few lazy decisions and some poor driving (don’t tell my wife that I admitted that), we have some digging to do. Our first step was the same first step that we took when we decided that we wanted to pursue a less complex and more financially free life: a sit down at the kitchen table.

We took one hour, looked at exactly where this put us with our budgeting, then decided on a few immediate action items that we can take to get back on track. The key here is that when you realize you are in a position like this, you first must decide that it will not continue. It’s really easy, especially for the goal-oriented among us, to admit defeat and say “well, we’re not going to stay within our budget this month anyway, so we might as well _____.” You must stop the bleeding.

Creating a short-term saving plan

We shifted our budget around as much as possible for the remainder of the month, reaffirmed our medium and long-term financial goals, then decided that we could make up some ground by doing a few key things:

    • One week of absolutely minimal grocery spending. We made a $40 trip to our grocery store, picking up only the absolute essentials. My vision of grilling a bone-in ribeye and a couple side dishes on Sunday will have to wait for football season. We picked up some inexpensive chicken in bulk, cans of black beans, a couple pounds of rice, and a cardboard tube of oatmeal that resembled a small cannon. We committed to spending the next week eating only these items and not spending anything additional on food. This is one of our most controllable expenses and one of the easiest places for us to start. We intentionally committed to only one week for this far less spartan than it feels existence so that it is a much more attainable goal and one we are more likely to continue at weeks end than if we had sworn to stick to it for a month. Maybe not your style, but we’ve found that this works best for us.
    • Hustle time. I’ve planned my week in a way where I can dedicate an extra ten hours to Uber driving to make up some extra cash.
    • Simplifying the weekend. This weekend, instead of making plans with friends, we have planned to clean out the garage and touch up the paint inside our house. It’s not that we are intentionally hiding from the world or becoming hermits. We just recognize the need to take a weekend off to reset and get our home base in order before going back out into the world of brunches, movies and Sunday Funday.
    • Getting back to the 2,000 item minimalist challenge. In the past three days, we have cut another 85 items out of our house. While this doesn’t necessarily make up for the saving gap, it still gives us a chance to recommit to a simple, minimalist life, while also getting rid of a few things on Craigslist to make a little extra money.

And that’s it. It may not completely make up for the past couple of weeks, but it is a far better plan than letting it continue to slide and looking back next January and wondering where we went wrong. By simply taking a few actions and acknowledging, without too much regret or guilt, that we are getting off track, we are able to jump back into the stealth wealth game. After all, 50/52 weeks of living humbly, hustling and saving is pretty darn good.

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