Reader Suggestions On How To Stay Motivated While Working Toward Longterm Goals

Today we’re discussing how to stay motivated when working toward a longterm goal (which you probably guessed based on the title… ). This is a special edition of doubly solicited Reader Suggestions! I first asked, in our Frugalwoods Facebook Group, what you all wanted to read about in upcoming installments of the Reader Suggestions series and then I selected a question and asked everyone to respond. I love hearing what YOU want to read about, so keep your suggestions coming! I plan to refer back to that conversation thread to select future Reader Suggestions. If you’re wondering what topics we’ve addressed in the past, check out the Reader Suggestions category. It’s important to me that I address the issues you all are struggling with and want to read about, so don’t be shy in letting me know what you’d like to discuss here together.

Last summer’s peonies in bloom

This month’s question was requested by a number of folks and I selected it because it’s a question I’ve received many, many (MANY) times over the years. I’ve never written a post on it specifically, but it’s something that’s always rattling around in the back of my mind, so I’m delighted to explore it today! Here’s the question:

How do you stay focused and motivated when you’re working toward a longterm, big financial goal? When you have quite a few years before you achieve your goal, what do you do to make the day-to-day more bearable and less of a slog?

Hmm, how indeed… is what I always wonder when people ask me this question (which happens a lot).

Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions!

How I Stay Motivated

Over the years, Mr. Frugalwoods and I have worked toward a number of major goals–financial and otherwise–and my approach to staying motivated in these endeavors is always three-part:

  1. Research
  2. Distraction
  3. Practice gratitude

Research

When I’m in pursuit of a goal, or waiting for time to elapse, I derive comfort from researching the topic exhaustively. It’s the perfect antidote because it helps me feel like I’m making progress toward my goal, while also giving me more information about how to reach that goal. Plus, it’s usually free! An all-around win.

Mr. FW and Frugal Hound back when we lived in Cambridge

When Mr. FW and I established our goal of leaving the city and moving out to a homestead in Vermont, we knew we’d need to save money for several years before making the move. Several years is not long, so I’m not qualified to speak to extremely longterm goal motivation, but fear not, the readers will below! In that timeframe, however, every month felt like an eternity since we knew we didn’t want to live the life we were living anymore.

To assuage our desire to get out of town (literally), we did extensive research into homesteading and rural properties. We checked out tons of books from the library on permaculture, gardening, forestry management, food preservation, and more. We watched YouTube videos from modern-day homesteaders and immersed ourselves in some hilariously intense shows about gardening (people have some strong opinions about mulch, let me tell you… ).

Another aspect of this research was into rural properties and real estate. We learned about septic systems, wells, forest assessments, and more. We went on a timber cruise with an experienced forester to learn how to analyze a forest for commercial value. We visited Vermont frequently and toured dozens of potential homestead properties. I analyzed school districts in Vermont and community vibrancy. Mr. FW reignited his love of cartography and went wild with rural property mapping systems. Although we were essentially treading water during this time–and just waiting for our savings to pile up–all of this intensive research made us feel close to our goal. More importantly, it helped inform our eventual decision and rationale for purchasing the property we did, when we did, and where we did. By the way, if you’re curious about this process, I documented most of our research in the early posts of my Frugal Homestead Series.

Most of our research was free and largely conducted online and at the library. No matter what your goal, there are likely books, blogs, and resources that can help inform your decisions. Additionally, thanks to the wonders of the internet, this research will likely put you in touch with like-minded communities of people working towards similar goals (such as our Frugalwoods community right here!). We’ve found helpful online forums for everything from tractor maintenance to fruit tree pruning to parenting. I can almost guarantee there’s an online community for your specific interest area that’ll be helpful to you on your journey. At the very least, you’ll have others to chat with who can empathize with what you’re going through.

Distraction

Babywoods and Littlewoods

Speaking of empathy, another major life goal that challenged my capacity for patience was our journey to conceiving our first baby (who is now a galloping 2.5-year-old and a big sister to our six-month-old second baby). I wrote a few years ago about the pain we felt in fearing we were infertile prior to getting pregnant with Babywoods. Our journey to parenthood ended up being very easy in the end (we got pregnant on our 13th month of trying), and I empathize deeply with people who are on challenging fertility journeys and I know that my brief inability to get pregnant doesn’t compare at all. But at the time, we didn’t know how it would end or if we’d ever have biological children and I experienced a lot of grief around this.

My solution for this was yes, to research. But after awhile, reading books on fertility and parenting started to depress me. I felt like I’d never be able to employ all of the parenting and pregnancy advice I was consuming and was sick of looking at pictures of glowing, pregnant women. Researching the homestead never felt depressing because I was confident we’d achieve that goal, but since I didn’t know if we’d ever get pregnant, I started to hate pregnancy research.

So, I turned to distraction.

I threw myself into two totally non-baby-related pursuits: yoga and writing Frugalwoods. I started volunteering at the front desk of my yoga studio (and taking out the trash every week) in exchange for free classes and I went to yoga all the time. I was in fabulous shape and I felt physically awesome. It was a perfect outlet for my excess stress about how my body wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do. If I couldn’t get pregnant, I could at least treat my body well. The other benefit of all this yoga is that I made friends at the yoga studio and created another community of people to hang out with, which all served to bolster me up and make me feel more positive about my life, even if I wasn’t pregnant. It was something I did just for me and that had a transformational impact on my mental and physical health.

Free yoga!

My other distraction outlet, writing Frugalwoods, did much the same. It gave me something to focus on, something to enjoy thinking about, and something to do other than stress about not getting pregnant. I also discovered my abiding passion for writing and helping people with their money and ended up growing a business in the process.

All that to say, sometimes the extreme focus of research helps as you work towards a goal and other times, you just need to get your mind off of it. Especially if it’s something you can’t do anything to hasten. I usually find that a balance of research and distraction is what I need, but it evolves with each new longterm goal I tackle.

Practice Gratitude

Layered over research and distraction is my most imperfect approach to motivation: the practice of gratitude. I would love to say that this is an effortless outpouring of my naturally compassionate brain, but, uh, it’s not. I will say that my husband is a naturally optimistic, grateful person and I have learned much from him. In order to practice gratitude, I actually sit down and enumerate all the things I’m thankful for. I list them out and then savor each one, recognizing my immense privilege, good fortune, and luck. Doing this helps me realize that my life is already wonderful and that whether or not I reach a certain goal won’t impact my overall happiness. It’s easy for me to get caught up in the mindset of “I’ll be happy when…. ” which is a dangerous, limiting way to live and one that doesn’t acknowledge the wonders of the present moment.

This was an especially tough practice for me while trying to get pregnant with our first baby. But Mr. FW and I made lists of all the ways in which our lives were great even without children and how they would continue to be great whether we had kids or not. That was one of the more difficult reckonings I’ve done, but it was a valuable exercise that made me recognize the abundance and the joy inherent to my life. Don’t tether your happiness solely to whether or not you’re able to achieve a goal. I try to encourage myself to think “it would be nice if X happened, but I am fulfilled and content either way.”

How Frugalwoods Readers Stay Motivated

This is a more nuanced question than we often address in Reader Suggestions, but you all tackled it with your usual aplomb and excellent insight. I hope that these ideas are useful to anyone in the throes of longterm planning.

Spring on the homestead

Heather suggests, “Break big goals up by setting mini goals. Is your goal to pay off your $100k mortgage? Figure out how much you can realistically put toward it each year and celebrate that victory. And never compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 12. Remind yourself of where you are – on a journey. You may not be where you want to be, but you are not where you were before either.”

Madison wrote, “While paying off $44,000 in family debt (parents lent money to get into the housing market; I would never accept that gift again but glad I got in when I did haha) and over the 4 years that I paid it off I always made sure I budgeted enough for one dinner out a week with my friends because that was our favourite thing to do and if I had tried to pay it off any quicker and sacrificing that one dinner it probably would’ve taken way longer. I think you have to know yourself and work within the things that you know could potentially cause you to falter and recognize that in the end that may push your goal further back then if you just recognized your values at the start.”

Amelia says, “Leaving some fat in the budget for things you enjoy stops you feeling miserable about the other areas you have constrained.”

Brian shared, “I’ve gotten a big boost from my yoga training lately. I’m learning to stay in the moment more and thinking less about the past and future. This doesn’t mean not planning, it’s more like knowing you have your plan, your goal and then leaving it to do its work while you focus on your day. Saturday I went to a local farm with my sister, picked berries and made a jam out of what I picked. Delicious, very low cost and healthier than anything I could buy in the store. I was frugal, helping to contribute to my goal, without really fixating on that future freedom. I think it’s about enjoying the journey, not just being fixated on the destination. 

And that’s all fine and meme-worthy, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, and that doesn’t mean I still don’t fall into the trap of looking at my investment account and shouting, “grow, damn you, grow!” Just like meditation, it’s not about perfectly separating from your thoughts, it’s about making the effort. But I recently had a punch in the face moment where I realized I was way to over-fixated on the end result of being financially free and ignoring enjoyment of my present life. I need to focus on this chapter while I’m in it – I can focus on the financial freedom chapter when I get to that point of the book! After all, there are only so many pages… ”

Our apple trees

Stefanie wrote, “I keep a spreadsheet with all of my end of month account balances. I started it a year and a half ago, and when I feel like I’m not making progress, I can compare my current balance with where things used to be. There’s another sheet with my plan/goals written out, and I cross them off when they’re done. It’s great for reminding me how far I’ve come, though I do tend to stare at it a little too long some months or try to wish the numbers into being bigger.”

Nicky shared a similar approach,”I do the monthly balances too (I even have graphs  😉). Regular reminders that you’re doing really well keep me motivated, and I note any big or unusual spend so we can understand whether variances are due to that or to general spending ‘drift.’ I find tracking the smaller amounts rather than thinking about a huge target much more motivating.”

Caroline wrote, “For me it’s about being really honest with myself, scheduling in some small wins or a break, and not letting perfect become the enemy of good. This is nowhere near as huge as a mortgage, but I recently completed my 3.5-year master’s degree while working at least full time (for a while I was working two jobs to avoid taking out student loans, because I refused to take on debt!). So it was partially a financial goal and partially just impacting my time freedom and stress levels. Along the way I had to really revel in each milestone (class) completed, so I printed out a little chart with my curriculum grid and empty squares for the number of credits in the degree, and keep it on my wall in my office where I’d see it every day. Then every time I finished a class, I checked it off my grid and colored in that number of credit squares so I could always visually see how far along was. I LOVED coloring in those squares! About halfway through though I was feeling really tired; it felt like I’d been going full tilt (working 50+ hour weeks between two jobs on top of classes, homework, social life, and no partner at the time to lean on for the cooking/cleaning/adulting slack), and I looked at my curriculum grid and realized I couldn’t just grit my teeth and “power through” another two years at this pace.

I’m a perfectionist and it hurt that “on paper” I had the time and the means to keep going… but I couldn’t. So I took a semester off, truly reveled in all my free time and my fulsome paychecks, and then put my nose back to the grindstone 4 months later and finished up–and graduated with high honors, I might add. Without that break I am sure I would have burned out and let some balls drop. Obviously a purely financial goal doesn’t have those built-in milestones, but my partner and I are now single-mindedly saving up to buy a house and I think I will use the same tenets… I am an eager budgeter and love to watch that house fund grow, but after a certain point throwing every possible dollar at it is just going to wear on me, and I will need to give myself a “reset month” where I don’t worry about the house goal at all. Nothing can be a Number 1 Priority all the time!”

Our apple trees in early blossom

Jackie suggests, “Celebrating every victory or anything we could make a victory. Under $10,000 in student loans left to pay? Milestone! Let’s cheer! Made it to 75% of debt paid off? Yeah! Hit $30,000 paid? Woot woot. We got paid weekly while we were paying off debt and every week we paid something towards the credit card/student loans/car, whatever the current “attack” was. So we got to see the balance fall each week. That was motivating.”

Blair wrote, “I make a list of the things that I’m looking forward to in early retirement, then figure out how I can either do some of them now OR prepare for them. I can have dogs and a garden now (and I do!) in my house in the city, so I already have part of my mini-farm dream. I can also have bees and chickens here, so I’m learning about those through books and workshops so that it can be my next goal. I can’t have goats or stargaze on my own land for awhile, but I CAN learn about goats, visit someone else’s farm, go to the free astronomy events at the Science Center, etc. Basically, it’s the frugality substitution rule applied to what I’m most looking forward to about early retirement.”

Ali said, “I try to take small actions now that will yield big results later on. For example, I added $100 to my mortgage payments, which doesn’t feel like a huge amount, but actually adds up to $13,000 to pay off the principal in the five year term. Add a little bit extra onto your payments and savings amounts, and you’ll soon be debt free or have a good savings account!”

Julie wrote, “Having several different accounts to save for different things simultaneously is what works for me. When I’m feeling like it’s taking a long time, I think about how far I’ve come and how different my life is because of being frugal.”

Amanda said, “I couldn’t do it without my husband. We have three current long-term financial goals (buying a truck, starting to try to have our first child, and the down payment in a second home to rent this one out as income so one of us can stay home and raise our child) and we encourage each other and talk everything through that makes it easy and brings us closer.”

Melanie shared, “As we paid down our $100,000 in student loan debt I kept a large hand drawn picture of a castle with boxes. We colored in the boxes as we paid it off. This reminded us of our ‘why’ behind paying down our debt. Another way was to share our story with others who helped cheer us on. If you have kids include them in the process. Nothing keeps you motivated like knowing your kids are watching. My son could talk about why we wanted to be debt free from a young age. He is now 7 and celebrated harder than my husband and I when we became debt free.”

Littlewoods + bookwoods

Jennifer wrote, “I stay motivated by reading success stories. I can’t get enough of them! You can find them all over the internet. This probably explains why I’m currently reading ‘Meet the Frugalwoods‘ for a second time… ”

Merry said, “I’ve tried to turn the pull of more from stuff to a pull towards more savings. As humans its hard not to try to keep up with the Jones’s but if you can use this to increase your savings rather than your stuff you end up better off. Every time I hear someone’s savings rate I try to figure out how they achieved that and then see if that is possible for me. I try to keep up with the savings Jones’s rather than the spending Jones’s. This keeps me on track towards my bigger goals.”

Amelia relayed, “We allow fun money still. We’re aiming to pay off our mortgage in 4 years, but in doing so, we’ve still allowed a budget for travel and dining out – we’re going hard, but not “spend nothing else” level hard.”

Jennifer wrote, “I started off with $83K in student loan debt. I have paid on it for 11 years! I have another 52 months to go. I now pay over $1,000 a month on the student loans…. I have $52K left to pay. I DREAM of the day that they are paid off…What I will buy…what I will do!  Every month that I make and extra payment even if its $100 gets me closer to me being debt free. This is my focus… 52 more months… ”

Carolyn said, “Two things that have helped me: 1) Having graphs of goal progress up on the fridge (spending by month, net worth!). I get to see the progress every day. 2) I reframe this ‘work time’ in my mind as ‘planning time’. While I’m saving towards my goals, I’m checking out travel books from the library, learning about visas, etc.”

Lauren advises, “Try to break it down into smaller goals. If you need to save $5,000 for something, celebrate each $1,000 goal along the way.”

Sarah wrote, “This is a really awesome question, and one my husband and I talk about frequently. As far as staying focused goes, we frequently talk about our goals and savor moments that remind us of them (for example, we’d like to eventually own land. When asked to house sit for friends who own land, we enjoyed the opportunity to have a taste of what it might be like). Crunching the numbers in a spread sheet is also always inspiring.

We struggle more with making the day-to-day bearable. My best tip is keeping a gratitude journal. It helps you identify the moments that are worth savoring, and then build them into your life. For us, that means evenings spent playing candle-lit chess (with red wine, if I wasn’t pregnant), long Sunday morning hikes with our dogs, and homemade breakfast out on the back porch. Meditation also plays a huge role in helping me appreciate the now.”

Sunflowers in the garden

Laurie suggests, “Break it up into smaller goals and at the end of each give yourself some sort of a reward. If your main goal is years away that is just too long. We all need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Also reading other people’s stories help me to stay motivated.”

Leonard wrote, “Using a mortgage (15 or 30, doesn’t matter, it’s long either way) as an example, automation takes focus and motivation, both difficult to maintain over the long term, out of the picture. Having the monthly mortgage payment taken automatically out of savings, versus writing a check monthly, not only achieves the same goal, but without the dread of having to write that big check out every month (apart from saving on stamps, envelopes, etc… with really is immaterial). The same can be applied to student loans, or even shorter term things like a vacation. Automatic deductions or transfers into a specific account/fund takes away some temptation to “skip a month” or otherwise change focus.”

Holly said, “I surround myself with positive motivation. I’ll listen to a financial podcast on my commute to work & it gets me fired up to keep on the path toward reaching our goals. I also keep a monthly tally in my journal of our savings & investment accounts and on the 1st of each new month, I total them up and look at the difference in just 30 days. It’s all part of moving forward.”

Vivek wrote, “I keep on reaffirming the importance of achieving the goal and keep on mentally visualizing the achievement of the goal and the sheer amount of happiness it will give me on that day.”

Summertime homestead

Nina relayed, “Everyday I remind myself of my goal. Verbalize a positive affirmation. Sometimes put a picture of goal on fridge or vision board to focus.”

The Joys Of Longterm Planning

As I read through all of your advice, I was struck by the fact that you all are some serious longterm planners! I was inspired by your determination to achieve big things and I realized that setting a longterm goal is an unusual undertaking in our frenetic culture of instant gratification.

Focusing on something beyond the immediate horizon takes grit and it requires forgoing short-term pleasure in order to get there. I think the very act of longterm planning is commendable. It’s not easy to look past this month’s spending, let alone next month’s and next year’s, but when you’re able to do that–to visualize what you really want–you put yourself in a position to achieve something remarkable. Sure, you can slog through month to month without direction or purpose, but my hunch is that you all, as a group, don’t do that. So be bold in your plans and then make them happen (and share your good news here!).

How do you maintain your motivation when working toward a distant goal?

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56 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    1. have a partner for accountability. eg. I do weekly 1/2 hour online spanish instruction sessions — primarily because I want to show my instructor that I am improving every week. And she encourages me to do so. (these are really inexpensive through italki.com btw.)

    2. Keep some kind of chart that you can (but don’t have to) update every day. eg. I have a simple document called “money I have saved”. Every time I get a frugal win, even if it is only .25 cents, I put it in there. Or sometime I don’t.

    But, seeing the sum at the bottom getting bigger everyday is a motivation. It actually becomes a border line obsession — but I’ll worry about that later!

  2. This is such an encouraging post! Breaking large goals up into smaller micro-goals is one of the things that really work for us as we colour our way towards our mortgage downpayment goal one tiny increment at a time. We do the research thing too. Perhaps a bit much at times, as it can take time away from potentially working on sidehustles and other fun stuff!

    • C says:

      All the coloring suggestions made me think why not get an actual coloring picture of a house, car, farm, vacation destination, whatever your goal is and label the sections with monetary goals, 5k, 1k, etc, or percentages, and color in each one as you reach it. Would be fun if you have kids to help or are a fan of those adult coloring books. Tip, free coloring pages of just about anything can be found online and printed. Anyway, love the tips and great comment here about applying extra time to side hustles rather than spending too much on analyzing/daydreaming/graphing stuff that maybe doesn’t need to be graphed. Then again, if I understood all that spreadsheet magic maybe I’d be more inclined to want to do it.

  3. Great suggestions! For me, I recently got the frugal fatigue and was just so tired of pinching pennies all the time. Then I took the following steps:
    – Ask myself what it is I want to splurge on.
    – Splurge on such item to see if I feel any better.
    – Ask myself if I want to keep splurging or resume my saving mode.
    – Ask myself what is the life I want to live right now if I don’t have to save.
    – Ask myself if I still want to pursue the long-term goal and if it would make me happier.

    After I splurged on some snacks and looked into some exotic trips, I realized that I’m happier and better off where I am. I resume my frugal habits and look towards the long-term goal I set out to achieve 😀

    • A says:

      I really like the plan of allowing yourself a splurge (however big or small) but being mindful about how you feel about it afterwards. Sometimes worth it, sometimes not so much. Definitely educational. 🙂

    • Kristine says:

      Ha! I love it! It’s so important to give yourself a break sometimes, and to make sure that your savings really are aligning with your values.

  4. Mrs. Cheapheart says:

    I’ll use this post as an opportunity to give a huge thank you to Mrs. Frugalwoods and the frugalwoods community! A few years of reading this column has really changed my financial life. We are now on frugal autopilot and saving money doesn’t hurt, it brings us joy. I made ‘salad for the week’ last week and joked with my husband that if we bought that large container of salad at Whole Foods it would have cost $35! Our financial situation is not perfect, but it is definitely on the upswing.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Woohoo!! Thank you so much! I am so thrilled to hear this and so happy that you’re in such a great place 🙂

  5. I’ve often found the SMART goal setting technique to be quite effective. SMART has you develop goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and perhaps most importantly Time bound. As an example, instead of saying I’m going to pay off my debt. You’d say I’m going to pay off $12,000 in debt in the next year by contributing $1000 per month to debt payments.

  6. kristi says:

    I keep a journal that I write in every day. I started it last year to document my daily thoughts for my last year in my 30s. I got a new journal when I turned 40 and write anything I feel like. But no matter what I write, I always include at least three gratitudes at the end to put my day into perspective. I even found three gratitudes the day my grandmother died and when my dog died. Some days it is hard to come up with three and some days, I’m flowing with gratitudes. But I think I might include at least one financial gratitude to keep me motivated.

  7. City Pittie says:

    Celebrating small wins. I recently changed to a less expensive internet provider and I got a $125 gift card for being a new customer. Gratitude. Small wins are everywhere. Last week my favorite go-to Lean Cuisine was buy one get one free, and I had a ton of coupons. Lunch at work is covered for a long time, for about $1. Gift card came in handy.

  8. Erin says:

    I too have really changed my life for the better after a couple of years of reading Frugalwoods! I’ve even (kind of) got my boyfriend riding the frugal bus, as he calls it. I didn’t think I needed this post but of course, I do. 🙂 Great motivation and ideas here, as always.

    For motivation, I find looking at spreadsheets and bank balances inspiring and have also used the act of physically colouring in something (I made a “savings thermometer” and coloured in each automatic payment). Gail Vaz-Oxlade (Canadian personal finance personality) has a good idea for saving for an emergency fund: break down each expense you’re saving for and check it off. Saved $25 this cheque? That’s a bus pass. Saved $100 from your bonus? That’s a phone bill. More real and inspiring than just trying to come up with $5,000.

    Also thank you PAUL for the great tip on italki.com! Wow! Just what I need! That can replace the free French classes I was getting through work, which have just been cut. 🙁

  9. FI Athlete says:

    I just wrote about motivation with regards to working out, but I think its relevant to other areas of life. For me I either make sure I inherently enjoy the activity I’m doing. With regards to FI, I actually enjoy making spreadsheets, planning, reading FI blogs.

    The other part is setting meaningful goals, which can help if you don’t inherently enjoy the activity. A specific net worth or FI date goal is going to be a lot better than “I want to retire early” and is likely going to help you take steps along the way to further your progress towards the goal. Its a lot easier to not buy an expensive item when you can see that it won’t help you attain your goal net worth by a certain date, but I could probably still “retire early” if I bought it. Its easier to lie to yourself when the goal is non-specific. And if the goal doesn’t mean anything to you its easy to just brush it off.

  10. Ugh this is so timely I’m thinking you might be psychic. I think most of these are great suggestions, I’m doing a blend of what Lauren and Laurie suggested – breaking down big goals to small goals AND celebrating the wins 🙂

    Other things:
    -Visualize your success
    -Plan for it before but don’t over plan.
    -Keep a deathbed journal (like me :p…its a little morbid haha)
    -Small wins are still wins
    -Stop caring what other people say, you do you!

  11. Norm says:

    I have this problem, too, where it feels like progress is so slow. I am pretty much on autopilot at this point. I’ve set up my life so at any time, I can really just look around myself and see the results of dozens of frugal decisions. There are always more improvements to be made, but I do find myself just looking at our balances and saying, “Really? This isn’t higher yet?” That’s when I look up average Americans’ net worth and statistics like that and remind myself just how unbelievably far ahead we are. Everything is relative, so when you’re on the rocket path to retirement, it’s easy to lose perspective.

  12. Lindsey says:

    We designed a spreadsheet and every single day before bedtime we enter in what we spent that day. On the rare times we don’t have computer access, like when we are on the road, I keep the tally in a notebook and enter it later. We also keep track of what we call “freebies.” Every time we save money, for example with coupons or negotiating down a rate for something or going to the library instead of buying a book, we enter it into the freebie column. This really motivates us, especially me, to find ways to shave a dollar or ten off something and to keep using the library instead of buying every book I see. (I still buy books, but I am more judicious about it. I used to buy five to ten books a month, based on a review I’d read. Now I might check out a book and like it so much that I buy it.)

    • C says:

      My library has started printing on the receipt, “you have saved 24.95 today by using the library and 423.00 since you started using the library” which updates with each checkout. Super cool.

  13. Rachel says:

    I’m sorry to be that guy, but something stuck out to me…it’s a simple mistake, but longterm should be spelled long-term (or long term if you’re using it as a noun). In this case, because you’ve used it so many times in this piece, I thought you might want to know!

  14. Gratitude is absolutely the base of this for me, as we are settling into a life that we don’t expect to change drastically in the next 15 or so years. I’m such a goal oriented kind of person that I need to learn how to settle in to this life phase and just live it rather than always looking out to the next big thing. A good place to be in the achieving goals sense, but hard to now feel that same satisfaction now that we’re here.

  15. KaLynn says:

    This article made me think of my kitchen. A kitchen renovation is about 10 years away…it’s hard to even type that. Until then I will make do with the dysfunctional layout, shallow sink that gets water all over the place, and Jennair range (3/4 burners work). The prior owners also embarked on a cabinet painting project which they abandoned about 2/3 of the way through….

    2 things have helped me:
    1. As someone mentioned above, gratitude. I am grateful I have a kitchen with electricity and running water. I am able to cook great meals for my husband and I. I have the ability to purchase groceries and use my kitchen to bring joy to others through cooking and baking. Complaining about my outdated kitchen feels like the epitome of #firstworldproblems.
    2. I purchased a small wall hanging at a craft show last weekend which has the feel of what I would like my kitchen to look like. Whenever I get discouraged I focus on it!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s a great way of thinking about it! Thank you for sharing your approach!

    • KaLynn, I’m in the exact same boat! I tell myself that because I have so long to plan out the renovation, it will be even better. If I spent tons of money right away, I might not realize the best use of the space and end up wanting to make changes again in just a few years. With a decade of planning I’ll know exactly what features I want and ‘get it right’ the first time!

    • Teresa says:

      You don’t have to a complete gut to get some improvements in a kitchen! People are always updating appliances, I’m sure you could find a “new” stove for next to nothing or even free. Finish or remove the cabinet painting. You may even be able to find a new sink from someone’s remodel, if it’s the same size it’s a pretty easy project to take the old one out and put a new one in.

  16. Jennifer says:

    I love Brian’s input- ‘knowing you have your plan, your goal and then leaving it to do its work while you focus on your day’
    and
    ‘I need to focus on this chapter while I’m in it – I can focus on the financial freedom chapter when I get to that point of the book! After all, there are only so many pages’
    So well said.. I would stitch this on a pillow if it weren’t so long 😉

  17. As a kid, I was always very good at delayed gratification. This helped push me in long distance running, school, etc. I’m definitely goal oriented person, but even I get fatigued. I have tried to break down our FI goals into shorter term milestones. Like where will we be in 5 years, 10 years, etc.

    I, also, do track our net worth monthly.

    My biggest fear is losing steam and just giving up.

  18. Donna says:

    I think of it like a health style versus a diet. You are making permanent lifestyle modifications that work for you day in and day out. If it’s just a diet, you are sacrificing temporarily, but then you return to old ways. In FIRE, you are looking for the mind shift and permanent changes.

  19. I love this series- it’s so much fun to read what people have to say!
    I think distraction is a great approach. It can’t be all about money, all the time. The hubby and I constantly come up with shorter term new challenges (the current is dry August) and succeeding at those builds willpower muscles.
    Fun distractions like movies, hikes and workouts are also great!

  20. Mary Beausoleil says:

    I would like to second the motion to develop a gratitude habit.
    It is actually possible to feel yourself feeling better if you adopt a gratitude practice, and especially if you do it daily. And not just for special things, but the ordinary things we usually take completely for granted. Such as running water. Electricity. Beautiful flowers and birds all around. The way your dog comes to greet you when you come home. When you’re feeling sad because your dog has died, be thankful for the memory of the way she used to come to greet you.

  21. Every day I try to do something towards the bigger goal. I wouldn’t even say I’m very goal oriented – which sometimes makes me feel like a bit of an odd duck in today’s very goal-oriented society. But I have done a lot in my life. I’ve tried to figure this out (still working on it!) Because we’re told that being clear on our goals will help achieve them. The main thing is I take steps each day. I’m motivated because each new day is a reset button :-). What will I work on in the hours that I have in that one day? And then those days add up. It sounds simple but you can accomplish big things by taking it one day at a time.

  22. Connie says:

    For the wannabe kitchen re-doers…. we bought a house in 1990, thinking we would redo the kitchen. Eighteen years later we sold our house to move and start a new adventure. Never did redo the kitchen. I smile thinking of all the family celebrations and milestone meals that came out of that kitchen, totally not mattering that the counter top was still Formica 😊

  23. Lucy W says:

    Frugalwoods nation! I do have a question for reader suggestions: How do you reward yourself frugally? I got a promotion recently, and want to find a way to celebrate that doesn’t involve and expensive dinner / new dress / pedicure / other way of “treating myself”. Or should I occassionally celebrate, provided it’s with people I love doing a thing I love? How do you reward yourself in big ways (like a promotion!), and small ways?

    • Daybyday says:

      We get out and do a field trip somewhere local we’ve always wanted to go, sometimes it’s a hike, or walking around a nearby town, or a local brewery, or a bike ride on a new trail. If it’s a group we may do lunch after or even bring a picnic. Organizing it with friends makes it special and it often feels like a vacation for a day!

    • Hollie says:

      We DO go out to a nice meal at our very favorite restaurant. It’s a special treat because it is a place we only go to when we have a cause for a celebration – so it’s meaningful for us. Plus, with kids, it’s a treat in and of itself just going out to dinner adults only! But we savor the meal and the wine and it’s wonderful not having to prepare it or clean it up and just ENJOY the celebration. And because it happens only very occasionally, it retains the special factor. And doesn’t blow the budget.

    • C says:

      Buy a new nail polish, foot cream and maybe a foot spa if you really like the bubbles and get lots of do it yourself pedicures for the price of one. New dress at the goodwill or thrift store can be had for 4-6 bucks or less if its half off day. Maybe plan a get together with friends, everyone can bring something, or a game night. One of the hotels around here lets you pay a buck or two and swim in the pool and soak in the hot tub. Cheap treat and you can pretend you’re on an exotic vacation (that you WON so its not even setting u back in your goals)

    • Sarah Dawn says:

      It’s something meaningful, enjoyable, and something I can’t do myself.

      For example, I sometimes celebrate by going out to a really nice sushi place! I love sushi, it’s something I can’t figure out how to make at home. And it’s meaningful, because I don’t go very often — only when I have something awesome to celebrate. It becomes something I savour, and look forward to.

    • Amanda says:

      I struggle with this too. So far, my frugal rewards are usually about time and relaxing. I’ll make time to go for an extra long walk in the woods near my house, take an evening off from whatever I’m doing to watch a movie I want to see on Netflix (already paying for it and sharing an account with extended family), reading a book, doing a crossword…really, anything I don’t usually make time to do that I really enjoy doing. While I try to avoid rewarding myself with food, I do have some really nice chocolate that I enjoy on special occasions or I’ll have an extra glass of (boxed) wine.

  24. Kim says:

    I think learning to be frugal can be uncomfortable but is also extremely liberating. However, I completely agree that being too frugal to the point of hating your life is counterproductive! Something that has helped us on the slow journey to FI though has been taking vacations every 6 months. We use travel rewards so we don’t have to spend too much–but having a vacation always a few months away gives us something short term to look forward to! It’s fun planning our vacations and when we return we usually feel refreshed again. This year we went to Greece in June and will go to Mexico in December (using 100% of travel reward points!)

  25. JD says:

    I enjoy reading the other’s comments. It sure can get hard, especially when there is a long, slow, slog ahead of one, but these are great suggestions.
    Gratitude is absolutely key to me. Our house is reaching its 20-year mark and we have a lot on our list — too much — to get done. New appliances, new flooring, and that roof will need replacing before too many more years. And our income was unexpectedly and drastically reduced 10 years ago; back then, before the reduction, we had been confident we would have plenty saved up for this by now. BUT:
    We have shelter, food, medicine, clothing, and transportation. We have a loving family. Having recently made a visit to some really disadvantaged people in Central America, where, for example, one of the women we were helping had a “kitchen” with no roof, a situation that her landlord refused to fix, and knowing he would raise her rent beyond her means if we fixed it for her, I can truly look at myself and say that I’m doing fine.

  26. Lyn says:

    I am looking at having to pay off about $36k to get debt free. Between a credit card from my divorce and needing to downsize my vehicle(pick-up to car), but only being able to get a new car (sales and incentives for new vehicles) racked this up. Due to my ex my credit wasn’t good enough to get something used financed. (Angry about that!!!) Due to being active duty military and having kids I don’t have the ability to take another job (or I would do so) to pay this off. So I’m looking at snowballing this debt and hoping to pay it off within the next 36 month, if I can push it 24 month! (Wish me luck!)
    After that I’m planing on saving up about $1 million for my retirement goal over about 10 years (5 years if I get out of the military). Reading this blog has helped me become more frugal. I am getting creative on adapting things to the military lifestyle (unpredictable and always on the go!).

    • Genx FIRE says:

      Take a look at USAA and the other military Credit Unions if you haven’t yet; they might be able to help you out with a used car loan. I was active from 98-02, and I want to share what I did. Some states, NY for one, does not charge income tax to active duty military folks who are not stationed in state. There are other states like that. Lots of businesses offer discounts for active military, even major league sports. When I was active, I would come home to visit friends and family, and Yankee Stadium was free for me. My dad would have to buy a ticket, but at least I was free. Home Depot, Lowes, and many others help us out. Many states allow you to buy your electricity from any supplier you want, and while its not much, you can save some money each month doing that. Cutting the cable cord is another idea. I save about $100 a month doing it, and my wife and I are convinced we have a better product. My son is too young to know regular tv, and we do have many normal channels via one of the streaming services; Sling.com.

      I had a lot of debt, although no kids, during my service time, so I feel for you. I am better now, and I am sure you will dig out. You sound like you have the right attitude!

  27. Genx FIRE says:

    I am a late comer to this idea, and have been slowly trying to find the balance between saving, spending, and living. I paid off my debts 10 years ago, and I save a lot; 20-22%, but I am far below a lot of folks I see that have made it to financial independence. It’s tough, particularly living in the NYC metro area. Thanks for the good advice, and my thanks go to the comments as well!

  28. Cubert says:

    There are a couple of factors that have helped me “weather the storm” with goals that seem way too far out there, impossible to achieve. First, where I came from in a blue collar middle class environment with parental conflicts the norm. Had no choice but to imagine a better future. Cultivating a vision when you’re not happy in childhood is a powerful thing later in life I reckon.
    No complaints at all. Could’ve been a very difficult childhood. Instead, just wasn’t “ideal”. But I use memories of what life “could be” to keep me motivated to always do better and work towards something better. If any of that makes sense at all…

  29. Lauren says:

    This article addresses the root of what we’re trying to reach with our long-term goal (and, why it’s hard to keep our eye on the prize if F.I. is THE goal): https://esimoney.com/the-one-thing-fi-cant-give-you-is-the-only-thing-you-really-want/

    I’m in therapy now to try to discern what I really want (besides F.I.). My job that comes with an amazing salary and flexible work schedule is soon coming to an end. The job has left me without passion work (due to the nature of the job and the schedule making other commitments an impossibility). We’ve reached a financial point that gives me the freedom to take a big pay cut while still saving for F.I., and I want to be sure this next move is fulfilling and not just a means of reaching F.I.

  30. Soggysuzzi says:

    KaLynn: I agree with the previous post about painting or redoing the cupboards. As an old broad who has moved in and fixed up and resold houses for more years than you are probably alive let me give you a couple of hints. I have NEVER ripped out and totally redone a kitchen. That is a horrid waste of money. I learned a long time ago that in most cases the best solution to any “fix up” project was to “add to” not “remove and replace”. Liz has a great post on how they redid their kitchen cupboards in their old house (which is now a rental). Check it out. I also recommend that you paint the inside of the cupboards as well. Who knows, you may decide to sell the house (a lot can change in ten years) and it will show better if the insides are painted (people will look) and it won’t look like a half baked paint job. In any case, the extra paint should be no more than a few dollars and will make a major improvement.

    If you have absolutely plain cupboards (no exterior trim on the doors) and you want that industrial look on the hardware, pass on the expensive SS or chrome handles and check out smaller towel bars. They will give you the same look at a fraction of the price. If you have a very minimal amount of trim on the outside turn the cupboard doors around to the inside and voila you have the plain side on the front. If you have seriously garbaged up trim on the outside your choices are to paint or make new doors. I recommend the new doors. Easy to make if you have a router and a table saw. If not, who do you know who does?

    This only works for me on cupboards that have exterior hinges as the cupboard doors with European hinges are made differently and in my experience this may not work without a lot of experienced carpentry which I don’t have.

    If the hinges are grungy put them in your crockpot with a handful of baking soda and apple cider vinegar (the brown kind not the white kind). Do not forget the screws. Turn it on low and leave on overnight. Clean in soap and water, let dry and spray paint with an “exterior” heavy duty spray paint in black, silver, or whatever. Match the color of your handles. Throw the handles in there also if they are worn looking, and handle the same way as the hinges if you decide to reuse the existing handles.

    You can even get fancy with an updated paint scheme and paint the uppers white or cream and the bottoms a darker color. Use your imagination.

    Do you want soft-close on your drawers. It’s just hardware. It isn’t limited to new kitchens. Do some research. There is probably something on You Tube to show how to do this. Try it on one drawer and if it works for you continue on. Do one a month if that’s all you have in the budget. If not return it and try another brand or? You can also add hardware to pull out the shelf in your lower cabinets if you are feeling flush. However, don’t get the cheap kind (generally sold at big box stores) as they tend to crash if you have a bunch of heavy pots and pans on the shelf. This is a case of you get what you pay for and you need a heavy duty brand.

    New stove, new sink, new frig, new washer, new dryer, more cabinets, etc.. Who do you know who is in remodeling work? I have a GC/Painting contractor friend who works generally in expensive homes. He is always getting free furniture and appliances that the owners are going to upgrade at their new house and don’t want to move or are remodeling their kitchens. Make a point of getting to know some of these folks. I give him my order and when he trips over “whatever” he delivers and hooks it up or puts it in the garage. I give him $50 or so for his effort.

    If all else fails hit the Habitat for Humanity, Restore, Craigs List, etc. Since you are planning to stick around in this house for quite a while, getting a freebe is your best choice. So what if it takes a few months or over a year at this point.

    If you do a little bit as you go along through life, you will have a beautiful home for peanuts. Use the “fix up” not “replace” thinking for anything else you want to do down the road. Good luck with whatever you decide to do. I hope this is of some help for whenever you decide to start a project no matter how small.

  31. Marleigh says:

    Mini goals/victories. I am working on paying the mortgage off in the next 4.5 years. Every Thursday is overpayment day, my favorite day. After I make a payment, I break out the amortization schedule and use a highlighter to mark my new balance. It’s so motivating to see that I should be on payment 37 but I’m on payment 100 instead. That keeps me going. Fixing the work truck that my husband is going to give me since he got a work van has been a pain and a huge amount of money, but I keep remembering how we haven’t had a note in 8 years on that truck and by the time all is said and done, it’ll still be cheaper than buying another vehicle, even used, with higher insurance. Then after the house is paid off, I will think about getting me another car. Every little bit helps when you’re trying to accomplish something big.

  32. Soggysuzzi says:

    Oops! As usual I left something out of my last post. ADD WATER to your crockpot when de-grunging hinges, etc. or you will end up with a fizzy mess. Sorry.

  33. I like Heather’s idea of setting shorter term milestones that you can achieve. Achieving the intermediate goals will help you stay energize for reaching the longer term goals.

  34. Trimatty says:

    I keep a journal. In 2015 I created a 10 year plan that includes increasing my 401(k) by 1/2% per year, maximizing my ROTH, maximizing my HSA, and paying off my mortgage. Every year since I have been journalizing my progress and setbacks.

  35. Elin says:

    Small goals along the way is the main motivator for me. “Save x amount for the emergency fund” “Save x amount in index funds” “Buy x needed item as frugally as possible” “Wait at least 3 months to buy x semi necessary item and reevaluate if it is necessary at all” “Reach overall savings goal x” etc, I think you understand what I mean. I don’t come from a family that buys stocks or saves in index funds so to not feel odd doing it I have decided to view it as playing the lottery (I know the chance of returns a million times more likely) and any money I get from them are lottery winnings. So if I sell stocks or funds I “won” the sum I get in addition to what I put in.

  36. I am working toward FIRE before age 50. I stay focussed by tracking my investments in a spreadsheet whic I update monthly, plus I plan ahead to project into the future with my spreadsheets. I’m a spreadsheet queen!

    I also printout a % to goal chart and out this up on my wall where I can see everyday how far I have come (and how far I still have to go) to goal.

    Thanks for a great post.

  37. Amanda says:

    Amanda’s comment in the post could have been written by me! My husband and I are also thinking about buying a truck, having a baby, and a down payment. And, we talk through everything. Though, we only recently defined these goals (as in, 3 weeks ago), so this post is pretty well timed. We’ll probably need all these different strategies to stay motivated while we reach for our long-term goals. Thank you for yet another great post 🙂

  38. “every month felt like an eternity since we knew we didn’t want to live the life we were living anymore”…the thing with identifying your next path or what’s “wrong” with your life… is well…now you know! so how to deal with it when the solution seems eons away… they say try to create a life you don’t want to retire from…well if that were true.. where would all the PF bloggers go?

    i’m glad you mentioned research… just call it searching on Google, but that serves as a distraction for me…so it’s a double win..but sometimes like you mentioned the research can bring you down… after awhile it gets to be a bit overwhelming or too far away…and then i wonder if i’ll even want it 5 or 10 years from now.

    I like the reader comment on small bite-sized goals. that generally works and you can practice gratitude there as well. ok. TTFN

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