Can you imagine skipping your baby’s first birthday? There’d be no heaps of brightly colored gifts with buttons and flashing lights and music. No smash cake. No pictures with his drooly grin showing just 4 tiny teeth sticking out. Family and friends would stay at home. This milestone birthday would pass like any other day. Forgotten.
It’s unthinkable, right?
And when you skip the celebration of financial achievements, it’s almost as wrong. The consequences can actually be detrimental for your future goals.
Today I’ll show you how to celebrate your financial milestones the right way to fuel your future progress. We’ll unpack the three elements of celebrating your financial milestones to reinforce good financial habits, including:
- The Experience of the Success Itself
- When You Should Celebrate
- How to Celebrate without Blowing Your Budget
1. How to Experience Success to Reinforce Good Financial Habits
The first, and most important, way to celebrate your success is to allow yourself to deeply experience your achievement. Enjoying your successes is crucial to establishing new habits (like budgeting and paying off debt) at the neurochemical level. The great thing about this technique is that it’s free.
The only problem is that for most of us women, we’re trained to be modest. If someone compliments your clothes, you might respond, “Oh, this old thing?”. And we most assuredly don’t jump to boast about our own accomplishments, even in our own minds.
For instance, one of my Budget Breakthrough members emailed me about three months after she started the program and wrote, “Overall progress is slow.” She went on to list all the ways she felt she was falling behind and doing a less than perfect job on her budget.
It wasn’t until the very end of her note that she allowed herself to share her successes, and they were amazing. She built her one-month emergency fund, paid off her first credit card, and was just one month away from paying off her second debt.
These are things that many families never even attempt to accomplish, let alone getting them done in a matter of months, but I could almost feel how painful it was for her to frame these as successes.
Here’s the thing, celebration is the reward that your brain is looking for when you’ve been striving toward a goal. Give it the reward it craves, and in return, it will cement the good feelings of accomplishment and help you seek more in the future.
Here’s one way to free yourself from the discomfort of celebrating your accomplishments.
One question I usually ask my new Budget Breakthrough members is, “What is an accomplishment in your life that you’re proud of?” While many people revert back to a socially acceptable answer of, “my kids,” the best answers are more detailed and help them connect back to feelings of accomplishment they’ve experienced in the past. Here are some examples:
- “I was able to coordinate our daughter’s adoption in 4 days and learned the best way to care for her special needs.”
- “I became a power-lifter, dropped 30 pounds, and learned to dead-lift twice my body weight.”
- “I completed a software implementation that required coordination with multiple departments and customer communication.”
So try it for a moment. Close your eyes and think about something you’ve accomplished that you’re proud of. What did that feel like in your body? Did you sit up a little taller? Did your breathing become light and easy? You probably had a smile on your face. Maybe you felt tingling through your scalp, neck, and even down your back. It’s a great feeling.
As moms, our to-do lists are a treadmill of tasks we can never hope to accomplish, so it’s natural for us to rush onto the next task as soon we finish the last one. But I urge you to stop and really feel what it’s like when you achieve even a small financial goal.
2. When Should You Celebrate?
It’s obvious to think about celebrating big financial successes like becoming debt free or completing your 6-month emergency fund. However, it’s just as important to acknowledge the small milestones along the way. As I mentioned above, it’s these celebrations that will keep you motivated when the going gets tough.
You need to teach yourself along the way that you can reach your goals one small step at a time, which is why you must celebrate small milestones along the way to the bigger ones.
What would this look like?
As with my student above, each one of her “small” accomplishments is a huge cause for celebration and should not be minimized. If you complete your one-month emergency fund, whoop with joy. Most Americans have less than $1,000 in their bank accounts.
Just finished paying off your first credit card? Do a little dance party with your family as you cut it up and throw it away for good.
Did you make it through a whole month without adding any new debt to your burden? Or did you stay dedicated to tracking your expenses all week? Pat yourself on your back.
Don’t be tempted to minimize these accomplishments in your own mind because it is the small achievements that build up over time to take you toward your big goals.
3. How to Celebrate Your Success without Blowing Your Budget
Even though simply allowing yourself to soak in the gravity of your accomplishments is enough to reinforce good habits, it can be fun to celebrate with a special treat as well. The trick is, of course, to pick something that fits within your budget. It might be a fancy coffee or a meal out as a family when you pay off a credit card.
Or it could be something more significant when you become completely debt free. Often the lack of fun family activities can put a strain on the family when in a season of strict budgeting, so something to enjoy together can be especially meaningful. One mom, Stephanie, shared that her family celebrated paying off over $144,000 in less than 3 years by getting the whole family bicycles. This way they would have a fun activity to do together long into the future that was already paid for.
Other rewards will come naturally like moving to a new house after saving up the down payment. Whatever you choose, include the whole family and plan for the expense in your budget so it will be a blessing and not something that holds you back from future goals.
Won’t all this waste money and take me further from my goals?
Here’s the thing, every one of us is biologically wired to crave achievable goals. If you skip celebrating your successes, you may actually slow yourself down on future accomplishments. That’s why this is so important. But that isn’t to say that you have to spend a lot of money to do it. Keep it simple and on budget. Find something free if need be, but do take time to celebrate. You’ll be able to look back on those special moments together as a family each time you need the motivation to keep you going in the future.
Don’t Make the Same Mistake I Made.
When my husband and I first paid off our debt, I was interviewed by quite a few different sites and podcasts, and one of the questions I got asked the most was “How did you celebrate?” Well, at the time, the unfortunate answer was that I didn’t. I didn’t take the time to allow myself to enjoy the fact that we had done something truly amazing, by the grace of God. Not many people in this country can say they are debt free, and we had worked hard to reach that goal.
However, I raced right onto the next checkpoint of building our emergency fund without thinking too much about it, and our finances suffered. I had a harder time forcing myself to make time for my budget every month, and I began to make more impulsive spending decisions. Luckily, I was eventually able to get back on track, and we finished our emergency fund goal within a year, but I am confident that it could have been even faster if I had allowed myself to celebrate.
Despite my lack of internal celebration, we did enjoy some satisfying outer celebration as a family. First, my husband and I created a “mad money” budget category that allowed us a small amount to use for whatever we wanted each month. Our family also began sponsoring a child through Compassion International.
Since then, I’ve learned that celebrating your financial victories along the way is an essential part of long term financial success.
Let’s quickly review these three steps.
- The first and most important way to celebrate financial milestones is to allow yourself to acknowledge and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.
- Second, pay attention to even small achievements. Don’t wait to celebrate until you have a major milestone like becoming completely debt free.
- Finally, look for ways to mark these special moments in a way that fits within your budget, and include the whole family if possible. Taken together, these steps will solidify your motivation for the life-long process that is stewarding your finances.
Just as skipping your little one’s birthday celebration would be unthinkable, so you should not skip over celebrating your financial milestones.
How can you take action right away?
The next time you accomplish something in your finances, no matter how small, take notice. And if you truly feel there’s nothing celebration-worthy going on in your budget, maybe its time to set some goals and get moving. The wait list for the Budget Breakthrough program is now open. Inside I’ll help you get on track with reaching your budget goals. Past members have a lot to celebrate. Take a look.