Financial success can be defined in a number of ways — spending less than you make, saving for retirement, funding your child’s college education, even paying off all of your debt.
No matter how you define it, one thing is for certain. You will never win with your money until you cultivate contentment in your life. When we are content with what we have, we are more likely to manage our resources well.
But you can’t exactly buy contentment. How can you obtain the invisible?
Here are a few strategies to battle discontent and develop a character skill certain to impact every area of your life.
Flip on the TV and within seconds you’ll be bombarded with marketing enticing you to purchase something new and improved. Head to the mall, and you’ll quickly realize what you’re wearing is so last season. Scroll through the feed on your favorite social network, and you’ll be flooded with images of your neighbor’s latest vacation.
The good news is if you carefully choose your environment, you can avoid these traps of dissatisfaction. Stay out of those environments that create unhealthy desires for consumption. Limit your exposure to online and television media. Cancel your catalogs. Examine your home along with the patterns of your day to identify where your biggest temptations and struggles lie and then eliminate the triggers.
Choose your friends
We all struggle with comparison on some level. If your friend updates to the newest smartphone, it’s easy to want one for yourself. When someone goes on an adventure or purchases a new toy for their child or dines out at your favorite restaurant, you long to do the same.
All of the above aren’t necessarily wrong. However, if you don’t have the cash to support the purchase, you should avoid it at all costs. For some of us, this requires cutting ties or at least reducing exposure to certain friends.
Friendship based on consumerism can cause one or both parties to spiral in a financial tailspin. Be wise about the company you keep. Find like-minded friends who will encourage you in your financial goals instead of leading you astray.
Choose your goals
Being content doesn’t mean you have to sell all of your earthly possessions. You’re not destined to dress in potato sacks (which might be kind of scary because those are made from cellophane these days). It doesn’t even mean that you can’t do fun things or dream about those “someday I mights.” It’s also not just a free pass to sit back and let dust collect on your ambitions.
No, you can certainly be content with what you have while working toward a greater goal. Contentment is a state of mind and your heart and really has very little to do with what you own or hope to own. No matter how hard we try, our “things” can’t truly satisfy. Realizing this fact is the first step in setting long-term savings goals. Released from needing to have everything, we are empowered to focus our energies on those items or experiences we value the most.
Raise your hand, parents, if you have ever been met with the rejoinder “But everyone else has one!” This expression probably doesn’t fly in your house any more than it does in ours. Let’s be honest though, we often dress this rationalization up in adult terms to explain away our own purchases. We need a bigger house because everyone else with a family our size does. A more expensive car is required for our job.
Quit letting the outside world decide how you should spend your money. You are in charge, not everyone else. In the end, you’ll foot the bill and not everyone else.
Even after greatly reducing our lifestyle to pay off more than $127,000 in debt, I still struggle with contentment. My guess is that it will be a lifelong battle. However, carefully choosing what influences I allow into my life sharpens the financial focus of my mind.
Once again, intentionality is the name of the game when it comes to managing your money and resources well.
Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. Send questions, column ideas and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org