You Can’t Out Earn Bad Spending Habits


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My doctor expressed some concern over my rising weight during my recent annual physical. I told him that I have a solid exercise regiment, working out six or seven days a week. Unfortunately, I use my massive amount of exercise to justify eating anything I want. What he said next shocked me: Losing and maintaining your weight is 80% diet.

He must have seen the skepticism on my face, so he gave me an example. He asked me how long it would take me to eat a combo meal from a fast food place. My response was less than 10 minutes. He then told me that some of those combo meals could contain 1200 calories, and it would require at least 90 minutes of continuous running to burn the same amount of calories. Consuming calories is easy, burning them is not. I can exercise myself to exhaustion every day, but if I keep shoveling junk into my pie hole, I will not lose weight.

You cannot out exercise bad eating habits.

That same weekend, I found that our finances are not much different. Vonnie and I had our usual Thursday night budget discussion, so we both knew how much we had for discretionary spending. We walked away from our discussion with smiles on our faces because we were really happy with our financial picture. We have worked hard to increase our income over the last eighteen months, and our level of discretionary funds has never been higher. As usual, we withdrew our entertainment funds in cash and headed into the weekend. But before we knew it, our cash was gone.

Thinking there must be some kind of mistake, we sat down and totalled up the receipts of everything we had done. Sure enough, it all added up. Just like the fast food example, it takes a lot of hard work to earn a little extra money, but it’s very easy to spend a lot of money very quickly

In other words, you cannot out earn bad spending habits.

I’m extremely proud of what I’ve accomplished with my fitness, but I could do better. I’ve made a commitment to myself to make each calorie I consume have value. If I’m going to make exercise a priority and make my way to the gym each day, why would I want to ruin that by shoveling handfuls of chips into my mouth late at night? Next time I’m about to break out the cold pizza late at night I want to think of the effort I put in at the gym earlier that day.

I’m applying that same perspective to our finances. Next time I’m about to order take out because I’m too lazy to make dinner, I want to remember how I got up at 4:30am that morning to start my day as a software engineer or how I stayed up until midnight the night before writing that last blog post

What do YOU think EOD Nation? Have you ever got a big raise and thought there’s no way you could spend it all, only to find out differently? Can you ever make enough money to cover up bad spending habits?

FYI: Establishing good spending habits is extremely important but you might also consider a fraud management degree online to help better protect yourself and your finances.

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43 Responses to “You Can’t Out Earn Bad Spending Habits”

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  1. JMK says:

    Great analogy.
    When first attempting to get onto a budget the cutting of wastefull or fun spending can feel painful. You see it as deprivation. Sometimes all it takes is one stumble in a month and a single nice dinner out can undo all the purposely skipped coffees or all the bagged lunches you packed. It can be easy to throw up your hands in disgust and say you are doomed to be in debt, or unable to save, or whatever your goal was.
    We were force suddenly to assess and cut drastically due to a layoff. Fortunately (I guess) there was plenty of wasteful spending to cut. It’s awful the level of nonsense spending that had been going on, but at least it was easy to figure out what had to go, even temporarily.
    Now that we’ve settled into living on way less than we take home, saving for our early retirement should be a no brainer, but we still slip some weeks. Every week on our spending plan the last item of the week is a row called “Transfer excess to _____” and the amount is blank. This is our weekly opportunity to scrape all the unspent funds out of the account and make an extra mortgage payment or contribute to our retirement accounts. In theory there should be excess every week, some weeks more than others, but always something. When we’ve slipped from our normally ultra frugal path and I see there is really no excess to move that week, it’s a complete smack in the face and we need to review where we went wrong that week. Was there a valid and completely unpredictable expense that week, or were we just uncharacteristically careless or impulsive? Having this weekly expectation of excess to transfer keeps us honest about our goals and keeping motivated. It’s just painful for me to enter a zero in that transfer line. I used to delete the line when it wasn’t used, but now I leave it in the spreadsheet and highlight the cell red. A big ugly reminder that we wasted what should have gone to a better purpose.

    • Travis says:

      We always say that if we have something left over at the end of the weekend that we’ll save it as well….but there never seems to be any. I like the idea of having a standing line of “Transfer excess” in the budget – maybe it would give us a little extra kick. OR maybe we just need to take extra off the top! Nice to hear from you JMK, it’s been a little while!

  2. Stephanie r says:

    how true this is. you have to change the want and urge to spend it all and reform the habits that support that!

    • Travis says:

      Or even worse the want and urge to spend MORE than you have, Stephanie – that’s how we got into trouble in the first place! But you’re right, it’s all about a change of perspective – it get value from every expenditure and know that it’s OK to NOT spend everything you have!

  3. It’s very easy to take your eye off the spending ball when it feels like the money’s rolling in. Then, unfortunately, it’s really hard to dial back spending when income takes a hit. Maintaining focus on all–spending, saving, and earning–is The Holy Grail. Much easier said than done!

    • Travis says:

      Very easy, Kurt…’s a lot like saving for retirement – it always seems like there’s plenty of time – until you get to the point when you need it!

  4. Mackenzie says:

    “You can’t out earn bad spending habits”. Love this! Writing it on a post-it note and putting it on my fridge ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Kevin Vesga says:

    “Can you ever make enough money to cover up bad spending habits?”

    Although earning more money is difficult, I think it is much more feasible than out-exercising a diet. Comparing the amount of calories you can burn to the number of dollars you can earn in the same period, I think the latter would be higher. Your personal priorities and habits play an important part too. For example, I am much more interested in having a nice gaming computer than luxury cars, yachts, or huge mansions.

    • Travis says:

      I think it all depends upon your vice, Kevin – even a nice gaming computer can cost quite a bit as I’m finding out from my son’s hopes and dreams. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. So true! It’s so easy to eat terribly that exercising isn’t the only way to fix your health. I’m currently struggling with this as we speak. I love the analogy – I don’t ever get tired of the analogies that connect fitness with finances.

    • Travis says:

      Keep on reading, Lisa, I think you’ll find more analogies in the future, Lisa – as I work to get back to the weight I desire I suspect there will be more posts along this same theme. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Debt Blag says:

    It’s so very true. You can’t out-earn the worst spending habit of all which is lifestyle inflation.

    • Travis says:

      Oh, AWESOME point, Debt Blag – as a person’s income increases they tend to feel entitled to spend more. I know this temptation first hand. Maybe there’s a happy medium…if your income goes up a little you give yourself a little bump in the budget, but also give your savings a little bump. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for your comment!

  8. This is a really good reminder to be conscious of your spending, even as a high earner. In the past year or so, I’ve made more money than ever, but I’ve also been spending more than usual, meaning I haven’t saved as much as I should have. I’ve never gone into debt because of my spending, but you are right – you can’t out earn terrible spending.

    • Travis says:

      There always seems to be something that a person can spend their money on, isn’t there, Tushar? When income increases, it just opens up a new tier of items in a new price range. I think it just comes down to being satisfied with what you have, and having the patience to save money and not just blow every cent you make as the paychecks roll in. Thanks for stopping by, Tushar!

  9. Kylie Ofiu says:

    Travis, I love this! I have been guilty of both and to be honest, sometimes slip back into those old habits still. It is so great you are aware and you guys have been doing brilliantly. Timely reminder for everyone though, that it is your habits that will make or break you moreso than how much you earn.

    • Travis says:

      “It is your habits that will make or break you, more so than how much you earn” <-- LOVE THIS, Kylie! People who make a ton of money can be in bad financial shape because they don't know how to manage it....but there can also be people who make a lot less that don't have any debt, and are saving for the future because they squeeze every drop of value out of their money. Great to hear from you, Kylie - I'm sad that Vonnie and I won't be seeing you in St. Louis in a few weeks. ๐Ÿ™

  10. dojo says:

    The analogy is perfect. Eating healthy can ‘take away’ MANY calories, so that you can exercise at a more relaxing pace and still look great. I have been watching my calories few weeks ago, since I tried to ‘force’ myself to go over the 1000 I’d usually get (which is very low anyway). I’m pregnant and the first months weren’t too ‘nice’, so I dropped my intake a lot because I couldn’t really eat well. I have noticed that some of the foods have a lot of calories and some less. Sure, the fast-food junk would solve my needed intake in a meal (1500 at least), but I didn’t want to feed my baby that crap.

    So yes, making some good moves in the eating department can really bring in some amazing results.

    Same with the money. We also spend sometimes too much and are shocked to see ‘where the money went’. By tracking our expenses it helps us understand no one actually stole our cash, we paid it for a ‘binge spending’ ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Travis says:

      Wow, Dojo, FORCE to go over 1000 calories in a day? If you need some extra I have some I could give to you. LOL. Great to hear from you!

      • dojo says:

        He he, I have quite a lot of people around me who’d offer me some calories, unfortunately it doesn’t work like this. I am eating way better now, so I’m clearly over my regular intake, but still have a healthy nutrition and not going overboard. Balance is not easy to reach ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Love this, Travis!!!! I’m dealing with this same thing as I try and drop the extra 20 that showed up last winter after a stressful move. I’ve been working since March, to little avail, by increasing exercise, but I’m back on the whole foods diet again and guess what – the weight’s dropping quite quickly. As far as spending is concerned, I’m reminded of our haydays in the mortgage industry boom. My mortgage buddies and I always chastise ourselves for piddling away our high incomes in those days.

    • Travis says:

      Hindsight is always 20/20, right Laurie? Once you taste that high income you think it will stay that way forever.

      I’d love to see someone do a study about people that only increase exercise levels to lose weight. I would bet that it also marks an increase in calorie intake. Good luck on your goals, my friend!

  12. Kathy says:

    Were you listening in on the conversation & was having with my 21-yr old? He is now finding out first-hand what I meant when I said to him “not spending is very different than managing your money”.

    For years he never spent anything, so he always had a nice healthy bank balance. Then he met “the one” at the same time experiencing all the expenses associated with college life, being young & having fun, etc. Poof has gone the bank account! Well, not all at once but he is stressing because it has gone below his $300 baseline that he set for himself. Yes, we created a budget. Yes, he pays his own bills. Yes, he is very proud and doesn’t want to ask mommy & daddy for help (like his older brother – that’s a different story!). Yes, the 1st words out of his mouth last night were “my expenses exceed my income” (he works 30 hours & goes to school full-time). Yes, he ended up bursting out crying & became the scared little boy once more. Yes, my heart broke for him and it was all I could do to not jump in & save the day.

    After a good cry, we discussed pros & cons of various options. And also how to look at his expenses and come up with a plan on cutting back a little while not completely depriving him of a life. I was so proud & thankful that he wants to get a handle on this NOW while the stakes are low. Though I do worry how it will be for him & his brothers when they start really bringing in the money. From personal experience, I have found it very easy to manage, budget, save, etc. when we don’t have the money or have very little of it. It’s an entirely different ball of wax when we do have the money & feel “we deserve it”.

    Your “you can’t out earn bad spending habits” might just replace my own motto of “we control the money; it doesn’t control us”. Thanks!

    • Travis says:

      Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this story, Kathy. It took a lot for your adult son to come to you with this. This sounds like the kind of experience that will stay with him forever – it’s great that he learned it now when the stakes aren’t quite as high as once he gets out of school and is 100% on his own. The thing for you as a parent to take out of this is that he seems to have a good foundation, started down the wrong path……but realized it and knew he had to take action.

      You’re NEVER too old to ask your parents for advice – I’m 39 and I know that all too well. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks for reading, Kathy – hope to continue to hear from you!

  13. I’m lucky in that I started reading financial blogs before my first job. I’ve been very grateful for that because I don’t overspend and save a lot for retirement. It will all pay off handsomely over time ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Travis says:

      I wish I had read personal finance blogs 20 years ago, Lance – although I’m not sure they even existed. LOL. For the longest time I thought budgeting and managing my money was just a necessary evil – emphasis on EVIL. I still think of it as a necessary evil – but now the emphasis is on NECESSARY.

  14. Good topic Travis! Even if how much you earn but you have a bad spending habits then all your income will just be useless. You need to keep on the right track always.

    • Travis says:

      True story, Clarisse – when we get to the end of a budgeting period, and all our money is gone but I can’t really think of what we got in return for the money spent….I feel like I wasted my time working so hard. Being able to articulate what I do with my money that adds value to my life helps me get out of bed in the morning and be the best dad, husband, writer, software engineer that I can. Thanks for your comment!

  15. Patty says:

    I’ve always found myself saying that when I have/earn more money, I will rely less on credit cards and be thrifty. Has not worked out. I found I had way more fun and way less CC debt when I was 24 and making almost no money compared to now.

    • Travis says:

      I look back at my college days, and how little I made, and how much fun I had……I’d love to be able to get back into that kind of perspective again – I’d be saving money hand over fist! Thanks for your thoughts, Patty!

  16. J. Money says:

    Haha.. Good one, my man ๐Ÿ™‚ And also very true when you get FAST money too! I once went through $1,000 of graduation money within a matter of weeks cuz I though it was enough to move out and get a place of my own in the “real” world. Oops!

    • Travis says:

      Oh, I’ve had that happen too….you get a chunk of coin, and you start using little bits of it for things thinking that it won’t make a dent. After awhile it adds up, and BOOM your chunk is gone with really nothing to show for it! Thanks for dropping by, J!

  17. Great points! Just like their are empty calories there is a lot of “empty spending” and it takes a lot more work to make that money than it does to “get rid” of it.

  18. Debt girl says:

    I agree with your dr! I am at (a little under) my goal weight and I did it by walking and eating right! Mostly eating well. Today is so windy in so cal I won’t be walking but I will be whipping up some low cal foods!

    • Travis says:

      Great job, debt girl….you’re doing both so you’re double kicking your weight goals! Hopefully you’re doing the same with your finances – thanks for dropping by!

  19. oh well, what can I say? I completely agree with you on this. And great analogy by the way.

  20. hannah says:

    I totally get this post right now. Isn’t there a saying something like ‘ penny wise and pound foolish’?
    I’ve been avoiding getting a PO Box due to the cost, but we need one due to witnessing people stealing mail from our mailbox!
    Tonight I realized that I have avoided getting that rather important box due to the $60/year fee – yet we’ve spent $25/meal out at least three times last month.
    That doesn’t make any logical sense at all, does it?
    So tonight I ordered the PO Box, and this month we’ll crack down on the unnecessary eating out.

    • Travis says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Hannah – we go through the same sort of thing all the time:

      Oh, we really need but there never seems to be enough money.

      But then we spend money on going out to eat, or some other totally unnecessary item.

      It all comes down to priorities, right?

  21. This is so true, but we also need to find a balance between spending and saving. I enjoy my money but I also know that I worked / saved enough to be able to enjoy it.

    • Travis says:

      We share the same philosophy, save.spend.splurge – even while paying off our debt I think it’s important to find ways to enjoy life. Part of finding that balance is to cut those things that just don’t bring any value to your life. Thanks for your comment!

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