Step Back To Step Forward

I don’t know about you but the thought of stepping back sets off my internal alarm bells. I’m a big fan of getting things done, crossing items off my to-do list, and constantly moving forward. But I think this addiction to forward motion can often get us stuck in a hamster wheel. We keep running – thinking we’re moving forward – when in fact we are just spinning our wheels. If we do in fact move forward, we may find ourselves stepping further and further away from our intended destination because we aren’t willing to course correct.

My husband has a gift for course correction. He can look at a situation, no matter how attached we may be to it, and see new possibilities in the midst of it. He often begins this sort of conversation with a gentle question: “Is this what we really want to do? Have you considered this [insert new opportunity] before?” His gift of course correction was a life saver when we were deciding whether or not to keep our adopted dog, Luke.

For years, we had dreamed of adopting a dog. For over a year, we had worked to save up the money. And now it was time to get adopt the dog - we had decided and we were moving forward. Since we were such a trustworthy couple, the adoption process was expedited and in the span of five days we went from looking at dogs online to having one sitting on our couch. High five! We just met one of our financial goals! But it wasn’t that easy. We quickly found out that this dog needed more care and attention than we could offer him. In the span of two days, we bought about $1,000 worth of gear for this dog and as we headed to the store to buy yet another piece of gear for him we realized we’d also need to fence in our yard – a $10,000 expense. In that moment all I wanted to do was just barrel forward. We’d find the money somehow. This was our dog, this was our goal – we would make it happen.

That’s when Tyler put a stop to the hamster wheel: “Do we really want to do this?” I thought, “Hadn’t we already decided?” We adopted the dog. We’d signed the paperwork.  This wasn’t a “try before you buy” scenario. We were all in. Then Tyler said: “Think about all things we could do with that $10,000.” Immediately I imagined all of the adventures that we could have – Iceland, Paris, the National Parks. I realized we could pay off our student loan debt sooner and continue building up our emergency fund.

But, this decision wasn’t just about us. It was about the lovely puppy we had adopted. As Tyler reminded me, this was also the best decision for our dog, too. He needed additional care, attention, and training – more than we could offer with our busy schedules. He needed to be able to roam free in a large, fenced in yard. We didn’t want him to spend his early years pent up in a cage waiting for us to come home from our adventures. This decision was better for him – we were doing what was best for him and for us. So, we did something unimaginable at the time, we returned our foster dog. We’ve never looked back and I don’t think the dog has either.

Sometimes you have to be willing to yank the emergency brake, pull over, and reorient yourself before you move forward. That’s what I want to help you do with this blog – take an intentional step back so you can take a more confident step forward.

A girlfriend reached out to me after she read my recent blog post, “Should I Buy A House?” She shared with me that this was the article that first helped her to stop looking for a house. She had just signed a lease with her partner for two years. They were not in the market to buy a home, and yet she was squirreling away money for a home like crazy because she believed that buying a house should be her top financial goal. It was one of the primary ways to prove her financial stability – especially after going through a divorce.

After reading my blog article, she took a step back. For countless reasons, buying a home didn’t make sense for her or her partner – they were living in an area they didn’t plan to live in long-term and they weren’t sure yet where they wanted that long-term home to be. Plus, they had just signed a lease! So she decided to course correct. She took the Zillow app off of her phone and began focusing on the many financial goals they were looking to pursue in the short-term.

It's ok to take a step back so you can take a confident step forward in the right direction. Here are four questions to ask yourself as you take a step back:

1.     Evaluate your savings. Do my savings really align with my goals? Maybe, like my friend, you are saving a lot of money toward a goal that is no longer important? Take a look not just at the categories themselves but how much you are socking away – are you giving priority to the goals that matter most? Or, maybe like us, you’ve met a goal that you realize is no longer a fit for your lifestyle – it’s ok to divert that money toward something else.

2.     Take a look at your budget. Are there ways you are spending money that are getting in the way of your larger goals? Maybe you’re spending money on a gym membership that you never use? Maybe you’re eating lunch out every day – it’s convenient but is that really where you want to spend $50+ per week? Maybe you’re spending $100+ a month on a cable package when you really just watch Netflix? Sometimes stepping back involves making tough decisions about your money habits. But it’s also about trimming the fat from your budget – what are those things you’re spending money on without thinking twice?

3.     Review what you own. Are there things you own and/or maintain that are getting in the way of your goals? This is a larger question that may take more time to resolve, but it can lead to big savings and more alignment in your financial life. Are you spending money on two cars when you could really function as a one car family? Do you own/rent a larger home than you need? Do you own a home but really wish you could go back to renting? Do you have excess furniture, appliances, clothes, books, etc. you could sell to declutter your life and maybe even make some extra cash? Is your stuff owning you, not the other way around?

4.     Examine your debt. Are you living above your means leaving you underwater financially? Are you living paycheck to paycheck and charging the rest? Are you using debt to pay last month’s bills? Or, maybe like me a few years ago, you are living on such a stretched budget you have to borrow from your savings for even the slightest bump in the road? Maybe this is a good time to tighten down your spending, so you can right-size yourself financially and create a buffer in your bank account. Then, you can be proactive with your money, not just reactive.

It's healthy to stop, take a step back, and get another perspective on your money life. It’s ok to make mid-course corrections - it doesn’t make you a failure or someone who gives up too easily. Let’s step off the hamster wheel, take a breather, and celebrate turning down something good in pursuit of something better.