You know that feeling of taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back?Or like you were just starting to find your footing when the rug was pulled out?
Many people are finding themselves flat on their backs during this pandemic after suddenly losing a job, having reduced pay, or supporting a partner who is out of work.
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Especially for someone early on the path to getting out of debt or saving for an emergency, it is easy to get discouraged.
It is natural to want to give up on a goal when the plans gets blown up.
But if I had $1 for every time one of my plans got derailed…well…I would be financially independent by now.
In it for the long-term
These are very confusing, anxiety-producing times.It can be hard to think of anything long-term when there are so many people out of work.
The ‘right now’ feels way more important than the long-term.
But, regardless of goal, we will never get there if ‘right now’ always take focus.We need plans in times like these more than at any other point.
Our plans map out the path from right now – however shitty right now is – to where we want to be.
So, what do you do when your plan is no longer THE plan?
It is easy to say ‘adjust’, but how do we even do that?How do we not lie in the floor in a quivering puddle of I-just-can’t?
Here are 6 steps I have used to rebuild plans blown to hell and back.
Step 1: Give yourself a minute.
We all need time to absorb what is happening when there is a big shock.
This pandemic is a big…BIG…shock.It is ok to just take a pause and let your mind adjust to what is happening.
The only things you need to do right now are social distancing, wear a mask, and wash your hands.
Regardless of whether you still have a job or are recently unemployed, it is completely fine to pause your plans to adjust to the new normal.
Step 2: Remind yourself, ‘What was I trying to do again?’
I have done this multiple times with every big thing I have tried:Around finals time in nursing school…Beyond 18 miles while marathon training…After declining a family trip to Italy when paying off debt…
Guess what?Your goal probably was not ambitious enough if you never had to remind yourself what you were trying to do.
Doubt is part of the process of becoming amazing.
It is also ok to realize your goal was not aligned with who you want to be in life.
When I started nursing school, I thought I wanted to work in an ICU, become a Nurse Anesthetist, and make lots of money.
Then I actually spent time in an ICU and realized I not only did not like it, but I didn’t even like hospitals.Plan blown.
I ended up going into hospice care and absolutely loved it.
This is a good time to look at your goals and ask:Is this goal true to who I am and who I want to be?Will I like my life once I achieve this goal?If I were talking to myself on January 1, 2021, what would I be proud to say I did?
Step 3: See if your BIG plan needs some baby plans to help.
When you set a big goal, it may feel unreachable at first.
5 years ago I calculated that I owed $270k, a number that seemed insurmountable.
I could barely keep $50 in my savings account.There seemed to be no way I could ever pay off $270k.
Fortunately, much has been written about how to take big debt pay-off goals and chunk them up into smaller pieces.
I have actually written about how in What to Do With a Chunk of Money and Start Getting Out of Debt in 30 Minutes.
This is where the Debt Snowball kept me motivated.
The Debt Snowball required ordering my debts from smallest to largest amount owed.Then my only job was to focus on paying off the smallest one – $12,000 on a credit card.
How great would I feel with just that 1 credit card paid off?
If I did nothing else that year, at least having 1 credit card with a $0 balance would be fantastic!
Was it hard?Yes, absolutely!We had appliances break, unexpected fees, a friend’s engagement party.
Instead of seeing the obstacles as the reason to abandon the goal altogether, I saw them as temporary setbacks.
Ok, so maybe I cannot put $200 towards the card this paycheck, but I can put $50.
Overtime, the persistence paid off and the credit card debt was gone… then the student loan debt was gone…
And finally, last year, the mortgage was gone…
Is there any way to take the goal you initially set and break it into smaller pieces?Future you will be grateful for the persistence.
Step 4: Be real about what you need to achieve your plans.
In good times, it is much easier to be optimistic about it takes to achieve a goal.
If I just automate my savings, I will be a millionaire!
I have always hated that advice – who ‘just automates’ their money and lives happily ever after?
In times like these, being as realistic as possible about what you need is vitally important.You will get frustrated if you try to just muscle through.
You need to do some specific, realistic planning of your time and resources.There is so much uncertainty right now that hoping and praying are not enough.
6 years ago I set the goal of getting a master’s degree without more student loan debt.
To get there, I had to be real with myself:Quitting my job to go to school and finish in 2 years was not an option.I could not afford to keep the same pace as my classmates.More classes = more $$$.The tuition was more than I could afford on my salary.
So, I made some specific and realistic adjustments:
I took just 1 class per semester. It was a course-load I could manage while working full time, and it made my tuition payments smaller.
I negotiated a higher salary using the master’s program as a bargaining point. It would benefit me and my employer.
I decided I would be grateful to finish in 5 years. Simply getting a master’s degree still put me ahead of many others in my field.
I finished in 4 years without student loan debt.
Whatever goals you have during this crisis, you may need to make some adjustments.
If you do not have an emergency fund, you may need to pump the breaks on your debt pay-off plans temporarily to build up that fund.
You can resume getting out of debt once you have enough of a cash cushion to get through the crisis.
Step 5: Take just 1 step today.
Why ‘just 1 step’?
Because I am not a fan of planning in exquisite detail.Plans that are too detailed don’t leave room for things like global pandemics and market crashes.
“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” – some Prussian guy
So, I like to plan in broad-strokes and focus on the 1 step in front of me.
For you, that 1 step may be:Cancel 1 service or subscription you can live without.Watch 1 of the many YouTube videos on side hustles you can do from home and pick 3 you would try.
Pull 10 items you can sell out of your closet.Revise 1 section of your resume to apply for online work in your field.
Whatever that step is, your goal is to do it before you go to bed tonight.
Step 6 (a.k.a – the hardest step): Trick your brain into staying motivated.
Staying motivated for the long haul can be extremely challenging – I know, I have even written about it before.
Especially when things like a global pandemic and economic meltdown occur – it can feel next to impossible to stay motivated to the finish line.
I hate all thatdon’t give upandyou go girl!stuff.Motivational phrases typically de-motivate me.
What does keep me motivated is tricking my brain.Here is what has worked on me:
Rewards for achieving small goals:There is nothing like a good sticker, especially a sparkly one.
Give yourself a sticker, a cookie, or a mid-afternoon nap when you sell $100 worth of stuff online.
Make yourself an iced coffee, a mug of tea, or a cocktail (if you still having anything sitting in your liquor cabinet) because you managed to pay your bills on time.
And do it consistently – we are like Pavlov’s dogs and are motivated by reward.The more rewards we can get, the more likely we are to stick with it.
Cutting myself a sh*tload of slack:I set lofty goals, which means I will stumble on the way to them.
Not beating myself up when I do has kept me motivated to move forward.
Now is not the time to be a hard-ass, especially with yourself.There is enough negativity out there.
In here you get to pat yourself on the back for taking anything remotely resembling a step.
Focusing on what I can control:I cannot control the stock market, I cannot lock up everyone I love until this is all over, and I cannot make a vaccine come any faster.
What I can do is spend more time on my writing, learn how to pitch to editors, and continue the saving and investing plans I laid out in January.
That is all within my control, and it moves me closer to my goals.
You can focus on what is in front of you:Create short ‘to do’ lists each morning and take great satisfaction in checking things off.Only plan 1 week at a time, not months ahead where the uncertainty sits.If you find something is harder than you thought, take it slower than you planned.
Always, always, always practice gratitude.
If you have a job at all, be grateful for it.If you are healthy, be grateful for it.And if you are getting to spend more time with your family, be grateful for that.
There has never been a time when I was more grateful to be debt-free and have an emergency fund.
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I have friends and family who have contracted the virus and recovered, and I am grateful for that.
Most of all, I am grateful our parents are healthy and staying inside, and my husband is home with me.