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Financial goals: Sticking to the plan when the funk comes to visit

I am halfway to paying off my mortgage and suddenly progress feels incredibly hard – as if I’m carrying a backpack filled with rocks. My motivation is sagging in the no-man’s land of neither here nor there, and I suspect I’m not alone in feeling this way.

Paying off the mortgage is the Number One Financial Goal on my ‘to do’ list – the other big task being to accumulate a retirement fund that will keep Ms Accumulator and I supplied with tea and cake in our dotage.

Currently 50% of our savings go into cash, 50% into index trackers [1], and a big, fat 0% goes to the mortgage company. This way, all mortgage allocated funds remain in our control. Who knows, I could be binned off at work tomorrow so I want the flexibility. Come the happy day, when we hit the magic number, we can pay off the debt in one fell swoop as our mortgage deal allows unlimited overpayments.

But that day is a long way off and, according to classic psychological theories of motivation [2], goal-orientated performance can vary depending on how you measure progress. If you’re staring at the finish line then motivation increases during the sprint towards the end.

For example, if your financial goal is to save £1,000, then things get very exciting as you hit the £900 mark.

The opposite is true if you judge progress from your start-point. When you begin, you get an early rocket boost as you go from zero to – well, anything’s better than that.

Performance can slump halfway towards a goal [3]

Without even realising it, I based the progress of our top financial goal around the start-point. Having anything in the mortgage pot at all felt like a small wonder of the world because we’d spent many years avoiding even thinking about it [4].

I drew more motivation juice by calculating the lifestyle changes we could make, drawing up savings targets [5], and spreadsheets to track ’em, and after that watching the monthly savings drip-drip into a creditable stumpy stalagmite of assets.

Endurance of the camel

But now… now the only thing to do is to keep going. It’s like plodding across the Sahara. I can see countless footsteps trailing behind me, and nothing but empty miles of sand ahead.

Everything that’s in my control feels like it has been done. There are few costs left to cut. Positive steps to up the ante would require drastic action like:

All are a sacrifice too far at this stage.

Fear is playing its part. There’s no doubt that hitting the halfway point has flicked a psychological switch in my head. Previously I felt we had little to lose. Now with so much achieved, but so much more to do, I fear that something will go wrong with the finishing line still far out of reach.

I hope to pick up a second wind as we start the downward slope of the journey – that the excitement will build as we claw our way towards the endpoint. Still, it feels like we need to be well over the halfway hump for that momentum to kick in.

In the meantime, I’m taking solace from the fact that goal-setting theory [6] is on our side because our top financial goal is:

Pull yourself together man [slap!]

Despite the slump, I don’t fear falling off the wagon. Our financial goal is too important and too well-aligned with what we want for that to happen.

Bouts of despondency are only to be expected. If you’re in a similar funk then I can tell you that reappraising your motivation for achieving your goal help refresh your spirit (writing this post has been part of that process for me).

I bet it would also have helped if my former self had written a note to the future me [8] about why we are doing it. I wouldn’t have wanted to let me down.

I’m going to try a couple of other things, too:

I wonder how Monevator readers have coped when they’ve hit the wall in pursuit of their financial goals? Let us know below!

Take it steady,

The Accumulator