A Balanced Approach to Life and Finances

May 19, 2014


During my little mini hiatus from blogging, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my life; what it used to be like, how it is today and the direction I want it to go. It’s not hard for me to reflect on how different my life is today from what it was like 1, 3 or 5 years ago. However, I’m still not exactly where I’d like to be, and life moves so quickly that it’s not always easy to map out which direction you should take.

When I look at the different areas of my life – which I consider to be my career, passion projects, money, health and relationships – and think about how each one has transformed over the last few years, two things become obvious. First, I’m simply grateful that “health” is even on the list now. Old me never cared much for making healthy food choices or working out. But second, until recently, I’ve never been good at finding a balance between all five areas of my life.

See, for years, my life could’ve been described in one word: mindless. I spent without looking, ate without thinking and drank without caring. I was oblivious to how unhappy I was, because I chose to consume my way – through spending, eating and partying – to a better day. I had no major goals, so I couldn’t see past the day or week ahead of me. Instead, I let my emotions guide me through life, which often led to bad decisions and less-than-ideal outcomes. Basically, I hadn’t yet realized that I was in control of my life.

Once I decided to take control of the financial aspect of my life, I immediately changed from being mindless to becoming painfully single-minded. Every decision I made was focused around how it would affect my finances. Could I afford to do this? Was that in the budget? Shouldn’t I have put the money towards debt instead? I (foolishly) pushed savings goals aside and limited my sight on one goal: to become debt-free as soon as possible. I accomplished that, of course, but have been trying to figure out “what’s next?” ever since.

After two years of writing about my debt repayment journey, it felt like my “what’s next” had to be finance-related. I immediately set huge savings goals, without factoring in how life – including multiple moves, a car accident and a wedding – might get in the way. When I couldn’t meet my savings goals, I tried making health-related goals instead. Because I can’t push myself as hard as I’d like to, I’ve been seeing slow results there. And without big results, it’s hard to stay motivated – and then my mind begins to wander…

The break allowed me to hit the pause button on all areas of my life, so I could reflect on where I was at with each one, how I’d gotten there and where I wanted to go next. I quickly realized that I did myself a disservice at the beginning of the year by setting savings goals which were out of reach. Not being able to achieve my savings goals left me feeling pretty down about my financial situation which, in turn, forced me to go after (and not reach) some other big goals. Had I just set smaller, more realistic goals in all areas of my life at the beginning of the year, I’d probably feel a lot better about where I am today than I do right now.

And that’s ridiculous. I’ve accomplished some things in the last few years that I never could’ve dreamt of before. But my debt repayment journey left me with the mindset that you have to go big or go home – and there is zero balance in that approach. Sure, I have some big financial goals for my future, but I can’t make them happen overnight. So, in the next couple of weeks, you’re going to see a much more balanced budget, a list of revised savings goals for the year, and hopefully an even better attitude about the other areas of my life.

Have you had to revise any of your goals (finance or not) this year?

Flickr: forgetmeknottphotography

  • Travis @debtchronicles May 19, 2014 at 4:46 am

    It’s also important t to remember the “Why” of your goals (I believe this was a lesson I took from Fincon last year). There should be a reason for those goals. Why am I not spending all my money and racking up credit card debt? Because I want to not stare at the ceiling wondering how I’m going to buy groceries next week, because I want to provide for my family, and because I want to have an enjoyable retirement. Why do strap on my running shoes or hit the gym every day? Not because “I should,” but because I enjoy working out, and I like how it makes me feel. There should always be a “Why,” and that “why” should ultimately end up with the answer “to enjoy life more.”

    • Cait Flanders May 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm

      Great point, Travis. I’m trying to figure out what my “bigger picture” goal is right now. I want it to be something that all areas of my life can guide me to, so it’s not just focused around money. I’ll let everyone know when I’ve figured out what it is. ;)

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach May 19, 2014 at 6:16 am

    I was JUST thinking about all of this as I was planning on writing a post soon about my yearly goals and how they are coming. I looked at what I wrote yesterday, and saw how in many areas I really shifted directions. Maybe I was too ambitious as well? At least in my case, sometimes I don’t have to set the world on fire, sometimes I can just chill and enjoy life too.

    • Cait Flanders May 19, 2014 at 4:05 pm

      Yea, I can look at my goals and understand WHY I was so ambitious… but most of them weren’t realistic. Rather than feel guilty about it, we need to readjust and move forward. :)

  • Michelle May 19, 2014 at 6:47 am

    I’ve had to make a few revisions to my goals for the year because my “Why” was not clearly defined and I still notice that I have trouble focusing at times. Patience and persistence are the two keys with the debt repayment journey. Like Tonya, I try to set the world on fire with my goals and expect it to happen tomorrow….it never does. At least I’ve learned not to give up and keep trying. I’ve also figured out that cutting myself off from some things is not the best of ideas…I only end up rebelling and spending. I agree that balance in life and finances is highly important.

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 7:23 am

      Not giving up may be the most important part of any goal – finance or not. :)

  • Nadia May 19, 2014 at 7:39 am

    I got to come up with a plan period as I finally got a job at the end of April! It’s not in my chosen field but for now it’s paying the bills and I do enjoy it. Not something I want to do forever though.

    I’m gungho to get everything paid off but I realize I also need some savings for anything that life throws at me so there is a category for savings.

    On a side note I saw somewhere (I think it was on one of your posts for Gail’s site) that you’ll be in Edmonton this summer at some point? You’ll be in my neck of the woods!

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 10:04 am

      Congrats on the new job! And yes, I think the only advice I’m qualified to give people is that we all need something in savings. I would’ve gone back into debt a few times, if I didn’t have a little something in the bank this past year.

      And yes, I’ll be in Edmonton in August! Mom and I are driving Baby Bro out for school, so it’ll be a quick family vacay. :)

  • AshleyD May 19, 2014 at 8:36 am

    We are still on track for our financial goal this year (to pay off my truck -$20k).

    It is coming along better then expected. It was a huge goal and we were not sure if we would be able to make it. We have had some good fortune with tax returns and extra money from work, plus our payment plan that is making it happen. We are half way there.

    That will not continue though, plus as you found out, life will be happening soon. I have a move to Victoria with an increase in rent, less opportunities for overtime at work for the time being, and several trips and activities with friends that will require some of that money that we use as an extra payment on the truck.

    I have given up and said no to several events and activities, and several large purchases because when I compared them to my goal. I made the choice for that money to go to my goal. (I have said no to a ski pass, commuter bike, kitchen appliances, a few dinners out, etc)

    It is also a balance, I am going to spend the money to fly to NC to visit with my sister (as a bonus my other sister who lives in the UK will be visiting the same time), I am going to take several trips, activities, events with my spouse and close friends, I have several races planned this summer, I will spend the money on a hotel plus event. If I find a nice piece of new clothing, I will buy it.

    No revisions needed so far, but I am looking forward to reading what your new goals will be.

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 10:14 am

      Sounds like you’ve found a great balance between paying down debt and spending money on things that matter to you. :)

  • Shoeaholicnomore May 19, 2014 at 8:45 am

    I had to revise my debt payoff goal for this year from $10k to $7500. $10k was just not going to happen. Maybe I could’ve made more sacrifices the first couple months of the year and put more of my bonus and tax return on debt to get there, but I didn’t and what’s done is done. Being my first year into the debt-payoff journey I think $7500 is a respectable goal for me.

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 10:15 am

      I’m in the same boat: if I’d made a few more sacrifices at the beginning of the year, I may not need to revise my goals. Anyway, no going back now. Good luck paying down $7,500 this year!

  • Alicia May 19, 2014 at 9:36 am

    My goals have been revised since January. I won’t make my retirement savings goal so I prorated it for 75% of the original one. But that is so much more than having nothing if I didn’t start at all. Even with falling short I am so much farther ahead than if I kept being oblivious to the need of paying down my debt, and saving some money for the future. It’s totally cliche (and I am totally cringing typing this) but “shoot for the moon, because if you miss you’re still in the stars”…

    I won’t quite make my debt repayment unless I get some magic money…. But aiming for $20k and paying back $17k instead is still a gigantic win! It’s all about perspective. And we all get way too gung-ho making goals without the reality of life situations coming up. I’m choosing the positive :)

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 10:17 am

      Haha, don’t cringe. Cheesy quotes exist for a reason.

      And $17K will be a huge, HUGE achievement, Alicia. I can’t wait to see your debt update at the end of the year.

  • Rob May 19, 2014 at 11:49 am

    ” I immediately changed from being mindless to becoming painfully single-minded.”

    See Cait, that’s the issue – single-mindedness, IMHO, is too focused and the “big picture” is at times not fully addressed. By that I refer to: financial (debt writedown, savings, investment), health, relationships, career, long term goals, etc. All these things have to be tackled simultaneously and in balance, with priorities set that best reflect you personally. As someone else here commented, the target, the “why”, the goal that you set (both short term as well as long term) for each of these items needs to be thought out. And sure, as time passes and circumstances change, these may change but at least you still will be focused in the broad sense.

    When I was younger, newly married and having just bought our first house, I tried to handle things this way, not always 100% succeeding of course. So back then, I would put a little money aside for the mortgage (long term debt), daily expenses (short term debt), RRSP investments (retirement savings), savings (for emergencies, future purchases). I would try to find time for sports (health) while still working hard at my job (career). You get the idea. Not all that easy to do at once, for sure, but I tried to set goals, where possible, because without goals why bother doing all these things.

    Now retired, things have changed, goals accomplished have now been replaced by new goals. It never ends. One of this year’s goals (painting the entire house) may have to be scaled back in scope due to recent health issues but time will tell. Live life to the fullest, day to day, and cross bridges when they come. All in all, I don’t sweat the small stuff, just keep organized and plug away.

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 10:41 am

      Yea, I’ll talk more about it next week, but I felt like I needed to tackle this huge $10K Emergency Fund savings goal ASAP, because… that’s what every other blogger seemed to do!? But it’s unrealistic – at least when you also want to live a somewhat balanced life, which also includes learning how to write and stick to a more balanced budget. Anyway, we’ll discuss more next week! Hope you’re doing ok over there, Rob.

  • Amanda May 19, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    I recently revisited my “101 things in 1001 days” list because the time was up, but only 10 goals were accomplished. Trying to set (and stick to) a new years resolution is hard – it’s even harder when you’re trying to set goals for the next 2.75 years! I ended up completely changing about half my list to better reflect what’s actually important to me now, and I imagine a lot of this will change again before the next 1001 days are up.

    It can be so disheartening to “fail” at a goal because it wasn’t realistic in the first place, but at least you’ve recognized that, and more importantly that you’ve accomplished A LOT, Cait! Never let a little bump in the road make you forget that!

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 10:43 am

      A list like that sounds so overwhelming – props to you for adjusting it and trying to go after all 1,001 things!

      And bumps are what make life interesting, right? Keeps us on our toes. At least that’s what I keep telling myself, haha.

  • Lisa E. @ Lisa vs. the Loans May 19, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    The ‘go big or go home’ mindset definitely works, but it isn’t sustainable a lot of the time. Finding balance in all aspects of my life is my current goal. There’s no need to rush it all – great things take time!

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 10:55 am

      I’m really starting to see that there it’s impossible to feel balanced if you’re rushing any of your goals; it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t rush some, but you have to know something else must give while doing so.

  • Kassandra May 19, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    This is why a little blogging break from time to time can prove so useful! I had a few set goals for this year that I had started working however I decided that some of them needed to be revised given what’s currently happening in my life and I also re-ordered them based on my priorities in life.

    Balance is something that we should all strive for because single-mindedness can be a blessing and a curse depending on what is the underlying purpose.

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 1:33 pm

      I like the idea of reordering goals based on your priorities. I’ll have to think of that, as I revamp my goals and budgets going forward.

  • Mackenzie May 19, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    I understand about goals and sometimes they just aren’t feasible anymore. I am a huge list-making, goal-setting kind of person. But I purposely didn’t set any specific savings goals this year because of our impending move to Oregon. Moving costs money no matter which way you look at it, and I didn’t want to be disappointed in myself for not reaching a specific savings goal. Once we move, I can set that goal :)

    Looking forward to hearing about your changes!

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      Moving is so expensive – and so many random things come up, while you’re in the middle of it. When’s the big day, M?

  • Melanie@Dear Debt May 19, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    My goals have shifted significantly since January. I was far too ambitious. Now, I want to focus on freelance writing and making connections, and also balance. It’s so elusive for me. I’m glad you are focusing on that, and glad you are back.

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      Thanks, Melanie! Sounds like you’re focusing on your career right now, which is an investment in yourself. :)

  • Michelle May 20, 2014 at 7:11 am

    Hi Cait,

    I’ve had to re-evaluate my goals this year already. I joined the gym in January (I have a gym at work but it is REALLY small and I wanted something a little better) and thought I’d be going 5 times a week (that’s what I was doing at work!) but I’m finding myself struggling to go 3 days a week. My goal is to go a minimum of 3 days a week and to bring it up slowly to 4 days and then 5.

    To me, goals aren’t set in stone — they’re “guidelines.” If you can reach your goal – AWESOME! but I’m not going to beat myself up either if I’m trying my hardest. That being said, sometimes I just don’t feel like going, but that can’t be my attitude all of the time or what’s the point of setting goals?

    PS, I really enjoy your blog and am glad you’re back from your break :-)

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      I like the idea of goals being guidelines. I’m going to try writing them out that way… so thanks for the idea!

      And I’m happy to be back. :)

  • Jordann May 20, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Ugh, this is a timely post for me. I did the same thing as you – set giant debt repayment goals, then set equally giant savings goals. It’s unsustainable, and I’m finally wrapping my head around that. Go big or go home is great for inspiration, but not great for long term happiness. Looking forward to future posts.

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      “Go big or go home is great for inspiration, but not great for long term happiness.” <- This exactly.

  • Michelle May 20, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Beautiful post. I feel you. I have been reevaluating my goals over the last month- especially with fitness.

    I ended up getting a fitbit and started encouraging myself to just walk. Being a former marathon runner, it is so hard to “downgrade” to walking, but I’ve already lost some weight and I feel my stamina increasing each time I get in 10k steps.

    Our money goals have had wrenches thrown at them too. And now we have an even bigger issue coming up too that will probably jeopardize our plans for awhile.

    It’s so disappointing, but I try to remind myself that life isn’t a competition. I can cry and whine about it all I want (and boy do I ever), but in the end, there’s another year out there.

    I’m glad to hear that your break was fruitful!

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      Please don’t cry, Michelle! All you can do is your best. <3

  • kelly May 20, 2014 at 9:44 am

    yes, I got sooooo excited I pd off one debt that I tried to “snowball” another debt without realizing the implications…THE BUDGET for the rest of the month….grrrrr..so one step forward and quite a few back..sigh but now I WILL redo the budget and have it out AT ALL TIMES…so i dont do that again..you learn right..man i just wish i would memorize it…

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      You don’t often hear of people making debt repayments so large that they go over budget. ;)

  • Morgaine May 20, 2014 at 9:46 am

    I also established an overachieving savings goal this year and while I might not have $10K in the bank at the end of the year (we’ve been spending on home improvement projects), if I have saved a good portion of my income this year and made these purchases out of savings and not debt, then I will consider it a win. I certainly haven’t been doing as well on my health goals this year and I want to focus on this in the coming months.

    Don’t be too hard on yourself, Cait, you can’t always predict where life is gonna take you, we just gotta do the best we can. And as much as I hate YOLO, we all need balance :)

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      Hahaha. I hate YOLO too, but life does happen. ;)

  • Meagan May 20, 2014 at 9:51 am

    I’m revising several of my 2014 goals – house- and finance-related. We had a few hits to our emergency fund in the first quarter that will keep us from hitting that one, and any spare cash we have that would have gone to painting and decorating the house and/or E-fund are now being redirected to our wedding – something I wasn’t expecting until he proposed last month!

    We’ll put off a few things this year and refocus on them next summer after the wedding – not stopping or changing current E-fund or RRSP contributions, but also not ramping them up at all as originally planned.

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      Sounds like you’ve found a nice balance and made the appropriate compromises, Meagan. And congrats! :D

  • Sara Hamil @ They Call it Gumption May 20, 2014 at 10:57 am

    I’m constantly having to re-visit goals I’ve set. I’m bad for overreaching in the moment and I used to feel like such a failure when I either couldn’t reach a goal or had to adjust it. But spreading yourself too thin just to hit an arbitrarily set goal isn’t any better and I’ve learned to be okay with it.

    Good for you for recognizing when and where things need to give. Do right by you!

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      Spreading yourself too thin definitely isn’t worth it. I’ll never regret paying off my debt in two years, but there were so many months where I was stressed, burnt out, sad, etc. that I sometimes think it would’ve been better if I’d given myself a few extra months. No going back on that one, of course, but it’s something for me to remember in the future.

  • Stephany May 20, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    Oh yes! I am a huge proponent that goals are fluid and need to be adjusted. Circumstances change, our priorities shift, things happen! It’s good you recognized that you were wearing yourself out from these goals, and are figuring out a way to make them more achievable. :)

    • Cait Flanders May 20, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      It’s not even that I was wearing myself out – I just wasn’t accomplishing anything, and continually felt worse and worse about it. The next round of goals should be a little more doable. :)

  • Dayle May 21, 2014 at 6:49 am

    Hey there, and welcome back. I LOVED reading this post because balance is, in my opinion, one of the most important things in life. Like you, I used to do very poorly at this. I just didn’t pay attention to money I spent, food I ate, how I spent my time, how little sleep I got, how hard I worked or didn’t work, etc. etc. etc. I would say that I spend the majority of my 20’s in this fashion. Sure, I have been building my career during this time, and I’ve never been particularly reckless in any aspect of my life, it’s just that as you mentioned, I wasn’t MINDFUL. I feel like I spent the last 10 years figuring it all out and now I can say with confidence “I got this” about life in general… what an amazing feeling! Through many mistakes and learnings, several moves, a few failed relationships, etc. I have learned so much to take with me into my 30’s and beyond. Now I know what I want, and more importantly I know HOW I’m going to get it!

    With respect to goals and your question at the end of the post, part of being mindful and balanced is I have learned to forgive myself and that it’s ok to miss the mark sometimes when it comes to my goals. Like you, my goals are lofty, and even if I don’t get all the way there, I’m still progressing and learning in the process. And when I miss a goal, it gives me a opportunity to decide how important that goal really is, if I should make an effort to improve so I make it, or if I should just scrap it. I love the quote “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”.

    A few examples for 2014:
    – I didn’t run in one of the races I signed up for this year – many reasons and it just wasn’t the right thing for me to do on that particular day
    – I missed my goal time on another race because I wanted to run it with bf and he is a new runner, it was more important to me to cheer him on than to beat my time.
    – I’m not on track with my goal to lose 10 pounds, however I am on track with all my fitness goals and as a result my clothes are fitting better and some things I had tossed aside because they were too small are back to fitting – it’s not always about the scale.
    – I am learning to be more flexible in my routine to make room for the new person in my life. Previously, dating stressed me out because I hated the strain in put on every aspect of my routine… that’s how I know this is the right person for me, because I don’t feel that way now.

    Sorry it’s long, thanks for reading!


    • Cait Flanders May 22, 2014 at 9:34 am

      You have definitely “got this”, Dayle. I think I’m almost there – I just need to stop trying to think I can change the world overnight! Small goals and small victories will (hopefully) lead to big wins. :)