Reduce Expenses and Get Out of Debt – Use Mental Toughness

No pain, no gain…use mental toughness to see you through to success.

When I was a two-mile runner in high school, many of the runners complained about aches in their sides from running long and hard. It was just part of the game. If we were going to push ourselves, it was going to hurt. During a race, you can’t just stop and rest a while when it starts to hurt, you have to keep going. Nevertheless, the pain and fatigue affected many runners and their ability to improve their times.

Our track coach offered a solution, he called it “mental toughness.” It’s a concept that stuck with me and has served me well. Sometimes we just need a mental image, a concept, a focal point to help us achieve success. This was the concept for me.

If we apply a little mental toughness to our daily decision-making, then we ought to be able to reduce the cost of living and that will help us accumulate funds necessary to pay down our debt. In many cases, it’s a matter of using mental toughness to overcome our emotional side that often keeps begging us to be less financially responsible.

I need to add that being mentally tough isn’t about taking risks so much as it is about reducing behavior that places us at risk. Here are some examples from my own experience:

My well used car and truck were essentially “beaters” yet I drove them to customer locations where most of the cars were only a few years old and in great condition. I wasn’t going to spend gobs of money on my image. That wasn’t important. Customers or co-workers would observe, “That’s your rig?” or “I thought you’d have a better ride than this.” I would simply reply, “No, that’s my vehicle and it does exactly what I need it to do. It brings me to work and takes me back home again. I don’t need to impress anyone with what I drive.”

While transitioning from bankruptcy back to a life of financial responsibility, I rented a small cottage that was poorly insulated and during the summer it was like a large oven inside. I was able to get the owner to paint the roof white to reflect heat and that reduced the temperature inside to something that was bearable, but it wasn’t a place of comfort. Nevertheless, it was what I could afford, it was a temporary place for me, and I toughed it out.

As part of restarting my life, I rented a cramped apartment in my new town and had to put up with neighbors of all sorts. I’m not a fan of “living on top of one another” but it was what was necessary to help me get back on my financial feet. I would soon leave it all behind, and that helped me maintain the mental toughness necessary to hang in there.

With a heavy financial burden associated with paying off my debts, for many years it seemed that all I did was travel and work and get ready for more travel and work. I had no social life to speak of, and recreation wasn’t something I spent much time engaged in. Again, I knew the situation was temporary, and I stayed committed to earning my way out of a deep financial hole. It required about four years of dedicated effort to get my head comfortably above water, and it was all worthwhile.

The concept of mental toughness can be applied in many different situations, and it can have multiple facets. For me, it involves a plan as to what needs to be done. Some level of sacrifice, knowing that delayed gratification will provide you with benefits in the long run. It’s also about making good and consistent decisions that support the objectives of your plan. Lastly, it includes some level of tenacity, a staying power on your part to see the effort through to the end.  Use your own version of mental toughness to:

  • Earn more
  • Save more
  • Spend less
  • Spend more wisely
  • Dedicate portions of your income to debt elimination
  • Resist temptations to spend foolishly
  • Stay focused on a brighter financial future

I am forever grateful to my track coach (who just turned 88 last week) for introducing me to the concept of mental toughness. To be sure, it means different things to different people, and I hope that you can make use of this concept as one of the tools in your toolbox of personal finance.

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About Clair Schwan

4 Responses to “Reduce Expenses and Get Out of Debt – Use Mental Toughness”

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  1. Dena says:

    Thank you for this.I’m in the middle of struggling to find a way to save more.I already do most of all the normal stuff.But it can weigh you down the longer you keep thinking about it.Just telling myself that it’s just temporary is enough to get me through.My problem at the moment is the grocery budget.I know I’m not alone there.The prices have gone nuts at the store.I really don’t have a stockpile of food.I shop weekly for what I will need.I’m swearing off Walmart.Going back to Save-A-Lot.It is in the next town but I will save more there than at Walmart.At least this way I can afford to buy a case of veggies once a week and build a stockpile.Slowly but it will save me money down the line too.I’m going to use some of that mental toughness to revive my grocery budget.Thank you!!!!!

    • Clair Schwan says:

      Dena, sometimes it just takes another perspective to help us find a little something to incorporate into our own set of “tools” for dealing with things. I’m glad you were able to identify with this attitude and approach, and get some value out of it.

      As for groceries, even with a little space, you can grow quite a bit of your own food. And, if you plan it right, you can harvest well into the winter. I like to tell people that for the price of three or four beets, I can buy enough see to grow 1,000 of them. Almost anyone with a balcony, patio or a good southern exposure indoors can grow some food to save on the food bill. If you don’t have the room where you live, perhaps you have a friend that does, or perhaps there is a vacant lot that can be used for such purposes, or perhaps even a flat rooftop that can be put to better use. Here are two starting points to consider:

      Grow your own food:

      Winter vegetable gardening:

      In any event, good luck with your adventures in mental toughness.

  2. debtgirl says:

    I am here! This is me. I need to learn so much and I am… however… s l o w l y. Old habits die hard. I was given the opp to have a basically free weekend in San Diego, so what did I do, I said.. Self, if its free, lets do something outragious, so I booked a Swim with the Dolphins for me and my daughter. That is the stuff that mental toughness is NOT made of.

    Anyway… I am really working on finding that money in the budget, not spending anything other than a few meals, like Subway and McDs while there.

    I am on a mission to replace those funds and not buy one more thing extra to make up for that stupid, CrAzY purchase.

    Also, a reader of mine suggested I turn it into an early xmas present, so that takes some of the sting out!

    • Clair Schwan says:

      I think the key to success is to make certain your splurges aren’t large, nor frequent. There is nothing wrong with enjoying yourself, and sometimes that means spending a bit of the green. If, however, you find yourself regularly doing such things, then perhaps a little self-assessment is in order.

      Nearly everything boils down to personal choice, so when we consistently make good choices, we’ll consistently get good and better outcomes. Next time the urge strikes you, swim in the neighbor’s koi pond. It won’t be nearly as fun or exciting (until they come out to chase you off) but it won’t cost anywhere near as much as a dip with the dolphins. 🙂

      Also, be aware, when you establish precedence with your child in terms of non-conservative spending, that can establish expectations for the future. It’s tough enough when we become our own worst enemy in terms of personal finance; it’s even more difficult when we have peer and family pressure to deal with.

      And, you are so right, old habits die hard, that’s where mental toughness can be a good approach. Good fortune to you as you continue on your journey of better decision-making and consequently better outcomes in your world of personal finance.

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