I am sure you can relate to the term “daily grind”. You are constantly surrounded by demands on your time and attention. Many of them tend to particularly draining, especially a demanding job or excessive family responsibilities. All of us look for ways to help cope with the regular demands on our time and energy.
When I hear the term daily grind, I think back immediately to my corporate career. It was a struggle just to drag myself to work most days. I really did not enjoy my job, so I had to really focus on my reasons for going to work each day. Besides thinking of my basic survival, I had to keep in mind my wife and our long term goals. I really learned how gratitude and a positive attitude can be powerful allies. Focusing on the future and thinking about my long term goals also gave proper perspective.
Even with those coping skills, there were so many days that it was a struggle. One of the other ways I dealt with the daily grind was to reward myself. Besides regular exercise and going to the gym, there are other things I enjoy that give a mood boost. For example, I am a big fan of a nice Starbucks cappuccino. For the last couple years of my corporate career, there happened to be a Starbucks within a half mile of my office. One of my regular rewards for having to go to work was a stop at Starbucks on the way in to the office.
The Daily Grind and Your Power Latte
I bring this up for an important reason. Besides car leases, I do not think there is a more vilified item in the personal finance community than coffee. If you do a google search on coffee and personal finance, you will get all kinds of opinions. I see videos come through my social media feeds from media personality that discuss coffee. Many of them come with a message of how complete abstinence from expensive coffee can save you hundreds of dollars a year. Other articles talk about the myth of buying coffee every day and how it relates to debt.
There is a measure of truth in many of these statements. However, I caution you to have balance when discussing life and small pleasures. Certainly, if you have cash flow issues on a monthly basis, you need to make some adjustments. My issue with much of this advice is that it is easy to identify almost anything as a burden on your budget. Like anything else in personal finance, you have to decide what is important to you. You could make an argument that all the things you enjoy outside of basic staples to keep you alive are “excessive” expenses.
The Much Needed Escape
Another example from my corporate career is going out to lunch. I would do almost anything to get away from my cube on a regular basis throughout the day. After 4 or 5 hours of conference calls and aggravation, I desperately needed a mental break. Often times, I would leave the office to go out to lunch. Would it have been cheaper for me to bring my lunch every day? Yes, it certainly would have. On occasions where the budget was tight or I was saving for something, I would grin and bear it and bring my lunch. Other times, I made the choice to leave the office and get my much needed relaxation. Some of those breaks seemed priceless at the time!
Opportunity Cost and Your Life
I talk a great deal about opportunity cost when it comes to your money. Opportunity cost may seem like an abstract financial concept to some, but it is actually easy to understand. It simply refers to the choices we make and the loss of potential gain from other alternatives. In reality, opportunity cost impacts us every day in many different ways.
After a long day at work, you may feel tired and want to go home and crash. Netflix just released a new season of your favorite show. The couch is calling your name and you are ready to binge watch a few new episodes. However, you are also focused on your fitness and weight loss goals. You have been in a good routine of going to the gym and training for an hour after work. The results are showing and you are feeling better both mentally and physically. The gym has been a sanctuary for you. Which one do you choose?
It is Friday, and you are ready to celebrate the end of a long week. Your team just finished a successful project, and would like to go out after work. You decide to join them, but are insisting that you will have one glass of wine and a nice chicken salad for dinner. Since you have made adjustments to your regular eating habits, you notice a difference. The weight is coming off and you have a lot more energy.
The Daily Grind and Temptation
The rest of the team is not feeling so disciplined. They are going to order some pizza and a few pitchers of beer. Although you are not opposed to a cheat meal now and then, you were not planning on having one on this occasion. You have not had pizza in several weeks and it looks delicious. The beer is from your favorite brewery and also sounds amazing. However, you know if you have one pint of beer, you will probably want another one. Plus, if you have another beer, you will more than likely have two or three slices of pizza. You are wondering how long you will have to run on the treadmill to burn off those extra calories. What should you do?
Those are examples of opportunity cost. You choose one option and give up the alternative. All of us deal with choices like that every day. Too many small pleasures can end up to be a bad thing most of time. However, as a human being, you need to have rewards and find things that bring you pleasure. I think it is especially important to strike a balance when it comes to your money.
The Daily Grind and Your Personal Finances
If you can afford certain pleasures on a daily basis, it is up to you to decide how important they are to you personally. I have seen so many articles that talk about avoiding $5 coffees at all cost for financial reasons. As I mentioned, if you have budget problems, you need to make adjustments and watch your spending. You may have to give consideration to drinking the mud at the office until you get your money situation under control. Sure, you may be able to save $1000 a year by avoiding lattes and cappuccinos, but do they bring you enough enjoyment to justify the cost? This is where tracking your expenses and having a clear idea on where your money is going is crucial.
I will give you a personal example. I absolutely love the game of golf. It is my favorite hobby and playing it brings me a great deal of joy. However, golf is a very expensive hobby. I could find cheaper alternatives, invest the difference, and make more money over the next 30 years. However, golf is really important to me and brings benefits that go beyond dollars and cents. For a person that does not golf, it is easy for them to say it would be smart for me to quit playing and save money. They might think golf is a stupid game and is pointless. Do you think they are a good source of unbiased advice?
Common Sense and a Long Term Vision
I have spoken with people who think gym memberships are a waste of money. They are entitled to the their opinions, even if they could sorely use some physical exercise. Sure, if you are not using a gym membership, it probably is a waste of money. However, if you use it regularly and get benefits from it, it is not a waste for you personally. The many positive aspects far exceed the few dollars a month you spend to use the facility. Frugality can be a very positive quality, but it is easy to get out of balance. Some people get such an austere view that they take discipline and restraint to an unhealthy level.
What about some other big ticket items in life? You may be thinking about doing some landscaping around your house. The cost would be expensive, but you get very excited picturing how the finished project would look. You enjoy entertaining family and friends outside, and know that the yard would be fantastic. Your house is in a great neighborhood, and you have no intentions of moving anytime soon. The project fits into your budget, but that voice inside your head also says you should save the money. Let common sense and your long term intentions rule the decision. Not everything in life comes down to simple dollars and cents! We may dismiss small pleasures, but they can really help us cope with the daily grind.
Keeping Balance to Endure the Daily Grind
It is easy to get bogged down with endless financial advice. It is easy to vilify items like coffee, snacks and eating out when it comes to your budget. Certainly, if you are struggling with your finances, adjustments are needed. Remember to look for balance in your life. The daily grind can take its toll on all of us. Small pleasures can help bring us a little reward and keep us motivated during the day. If you take care of the big items in life, you can enjoy more of the small pleasures. I am always here to help you take your finances to the next level. Find the things that bring you joy and make them a part of your life on a regular basis.