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How to Cope When You’ve Financially Fallen Off-Track

You’ve decided to become ultra-financially responsible. You cut your cable, cancelled your gym membership and started eating meals at home more often. You developed a side hustle, started making detailed budgets within a spreadsheet or using some software, and began reading personal finance books for fun.

Then something happens that causes you to fall off-track. Maybe its something outside of your control: You lose your job. You get robbed. Housing prices crash and your home equity plummets by 50 percent. Or maybe its something fully within your control: Your college buddies invite you to a lavish party weekend in Vegas. You discover a passion for expensive, fine wines. You drop 20 pounds and decide to celebrate by going on a shopping spree.

Regardless of the reason, you’ve now deviated from your intended financial path. You used to see yourself as an icon of financial prudence, but you’ve fallen off the bandwagon, and your net worth has taken a hit.

You lose willpower. You get discouraged. You spend even more money, figuring that you already blew your budget anyway, so why not?

Obviously, that’s not an ideal situation. You don’t want financial hiccups — whether they’re small or large — to derail your lifetime of financial responsibility. That’s akin to eating an entire gallon of ice cream, just because you feel guilty about eating a slice of cheesecake yesterday. (“I already blew my diet, so why not?”)

Here are some tips that can help you cope when your budget falls off-track.

#1: Visualize a Road Trip

Imagine yourself driving from Virginia to California, following an old-fashioned roadmap (before GPS was invented). Many drivers get lost or take detours. That’s normal — especially when following such a long, winding route, one that takes you over mountains and through deserts and across several different time zones and climates. In fact, on a route that’s so long, it would be abnormal or strange (or nearly impossible) to NOT take a wrong turn at some point.

The important thing, though, is getting back on track — finding the highway again and continuing your drive along the correct roads. You wouldn’t throw your hands in the air, grow discouraged and just drive to Canada instead of California, would you? Of course not. You’d continue heading west, rather than north, to your intended destination. Keep that analogy in mind the next time you get stuck by a financial upset.

#2: Find a Buddy

Identify a partner who can encourage you to stay on-track and remain committed to your financial goals. This can be a spouse, a friend, or an online community. Having a buddy who helps you “stay the course” is invaluable. And the best part is that you can return the favor, offering your buddy words of encouragement when he or she gets discouraged. After all, the best way to encourage yourself is by encouraging others.

#3: Declare Your Goals

Share your goals with the world. Tell your friends what you intend to do. Post your goals online. Make it public. That way, you’ll be holding yourself accountable to achieving your goals. You don’t want to face the embarrassment of not achieving what you set out to do (or, worse, of giving up), right? As a bonus, publicly stating your goals can help you connect with new “accountability buddies.”

#4: Make a Chart

Some people find it helpful to make a visual chart, like a bar graph, that shows them how close they are to achieving their goal. If their goal, for example, is to pay off $50,000 in debt, they might create a bar graph that illustrates how close they are to that goal.

You might have to tweak your goal in order to get it into visual form. If your goal is to retire at 45, you won’t be well-served with a bar graph illustrating how many more years remain until your 45th birthday. After all, you can’t change the speed of time. But you CAN amend your goal to say: “I’ll retire when my portfolio reaches $1.5 million,” and create a corresponding graph.

This post is by Kennedi, who writes about women and money at Face & Fitness.

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