Reflect on how much progress you’ve made

Why and how to reflect on how far you’ve come, not just how far you need to go, so you can be stay motivated to continue.

I moved to New York City in 2003.

Life in NYC was hard, and my financial position didn’t make things much easier. I had some good months and bad ones, but I made $13 per hour in my first job there, which even in 2003 wasn’t very much.

Still, I kept track of my finances. I had to, as every dollar counted.

I have almost all of my notes to this day. But what I remember the most, what I can remember without even looking it up, is February 2004.

I remember that month because it was the hardest month for me, financially, in the entire time I lived in NYC, perhaps of my entire adult life.

That month, I recall I had less than $200 to spend. Total. For Expenses. On everything. On groceries, on visits to the drug store, on miscellaneous spending. Everything.

That’s $6 per day. In New York City. Where the sales taxes alone was upwards of 10%.

I remember how much I stretched everything that month. How I held my breath to make it work.

I had a credit card, and I confess that I could have charged a bunch on it to make getting through the month easier. But I knew how that movie played out. I would have to pay it back, with interest, making future months even harder. No thanks.

Now, I want to be clear: I never went hungry, I never was homeless, I never had any major life catastrophes like that.

I’m not even here to talk about how hard it was for me.

What I want to highlight is how far I’ve come since then.

And I want you to do the same for your life.

$200, then and now

I am not rich by our cultural standards. I am not a millionaire (yet). I live in a small place, and I still am paying down my mortgage. I drive a 15 year old car.

But today, I’m going to a cabin in the woods with my partner and some friends to celebrate the New Year in analog-style, no wifi, no cell service, just food, drink, movies, puzzles, and fireplaces. (It’s perfect.)

Know what it’s going to cost me?

The cabin stay will cost almost the same amount that I had to spend throughout the entire month of February 2004.

That’s what I mean when I talk about how far I have come. From an entire months of spending to a fun cabin adventure.

From a diet subsisting of hummus and carrots and frozen chicken nuggets on toast, to a high-quality vegetarian diet consisting of, well, pretty much whatever I want.

Look back

No matter where you are on your financial journey, it’s important not just to look forward to where you want to be, but also backwards to where you’ve come from.

The reason it’s important is that it affords you some perspective, and also some reprieve from the relentless striving.

If you’re always looking at where you want to go, then you never get a chance to give yourself any credit for where you are.

And as we know from the debt snowball method of debt repayment, if you don’t see evidence of progress along the way, you’re more likely to get despondent and quit.

And you don’t have that luxury. The path toward financial security is a long one, and we need all the help we can get.

Questions for reflection

If you’re always looking at where you want to go, then you never get a chance to give yourself any credit for where you are.

So as we tick over into a new year, I would love for you to spend some time thinking about where you were in years past. Use these questions to spark some reflection:

  • How has my situation improved in the past year?
  • What is one thing I can do now that I couldn’t do five years ago / ten years ago?
  • What is one thing I don’t have to do now that I had to do five years ago / ten years ago?

Even if you’ve experienced setbacks, I believe you can still find ways in which you’ve progressed on your path. Don’t minimize the internal work you’ve done too, the ways you’ve understood your money story, and changed your personal narrative.

As you think about your achievements, you have permission to be proud and say, “wow, look how far I’ve come!

And let’s keep it going in the new year. Onward!

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