(I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t one of those “I ate less so I saved money!!!” posts. Read on. ;))
I’m standing in the cafeteria, and my stomach is growling like a caged beast. I’m wishing that I could order a steaming bowl of tasty ban mian, but I can’t. Instead, I’m skipping the noodles and having the same thing that I had yesterday – a mountain of meat, vegetables and tofu, and no rice.
I glance wistfully at the noodles stall again, and then I stop myself and type “Noodles” on my phone’s notepad app. I’m building a list of all the food I’m going to gorge myself with this Saturday. Other items on this week’s list: Jack and Jill spring onion potato chips, a chocolate croissant, and Old Chang Kee chicken mushroom curry puffs. I look at my list and smile – It’s gonna be an awesome Saturday.
The Diet That Lets You Cheat
I’m experimenting with Tim Ferriss’ Slow-Carb Diet in an attempt to flatten the stomach. The diet is pretty straightforward: I can eat as much meat, eggs, and vegetables as I like, but I can’t consume any white carbs (rice, pasta, noodles, bread, cereal, potatoes, and fried food with breading). There are some other rules, but that’s the main gist of it.
But the genius of the Slow-Carb Diet lies in what Tim calls a “Cheat Day”. For one day a week (I chose Saturday), all bets are off. I can eat whatever the hell I want and not feel guilty about it. I take it as an opportunity to devour ramen, prata, ice cream, chips, soda, and a couple of pints of Erdinger.
The scientific reason for this is that dramatically spiking my caloric intake once a week prevents my body from lowering my basal metabolic rate. As Tim quips in his book The 4-Hour Body: “That’s right, eating pure crap can help you lose weight. Welcome to Utopia.”
A second, more subtle reason is that it makes the rest of the week more bearable. I can be really motivated to follow a diet, but I sometimes just want a plate of char kway diao. Instead of feeling depressed that I can’t have it for the rest of my life, I can now say to myself, “I’ll have it on Cheat Day”, which is at most 6 days away.
The Psychology of Dieting
The trick lies in the mindset. Most diets fail because they focus on cutting back. No, you can’t eat chocolate. No, you can’t have that can of Coke. No, do you know how many calories are in that burger?! No, no, no.
It’s depressing enough to cause people to eventually quit and go back to getting fat. How would you feel if you knew that you could never sink your teeth into a juicy McSpicy Double with Shaker Fries for the rest of your life?
In contrast, the Slow-Carb Diet focuses on abundance. Instead of lamenting “Damn, I can’t have that plate of fries today”, I can now look forward to Cheat Day, where I’m gonna demolish that plate of fries faster than a fat kid at McDonald’s. As Saturday approaches, I’ll think about all the great things I’m going to treat myself with, and that helps me to push through the week.
I get to live life with a mindset of abundance, not cutting back.
The Psychology of Saving
You know what else is really similar to dieting? Saving.
How many of us approach saving with a mindset of cutting back? No, you can’t buy that pair of shoes. No, you can’t upsize your meal. No, that vacation is too expensive. No, no, no.
Most people start saving like going on a diet. They’ll cut back on everything, live on $0.83 a day… and then they’ll crash. They throw up their hands and tell themselves, “This is impossible! I can’t live like this. Money is meant to be spent!!!” And then they’ll go reward themselves with a shopping spree.
Crash-saving, like crash-dieting, is completely unsustainable because it focuses on cutting back.
I prefer having a mindset of abundance. Instead of thinking about all the stuff you’re missing out on, replace ‘em with thoughts about all the wealth you’re accumulating. Or better still, look forward to a treat you’re going to give yourself this weekend or at the end of the year. It’s a much more realistic way to save, and a whole lot more sustainable. Here’s how:
Three ways to Rock That Abundance Mindset
1. Treat weekends as your “Cheat Days”.
Take advantage of the fact that you’re not going to spend the same amount of money on weekdays as you will on weekends. I recommend cutting back mercilessly on weekdays (no random shopping, eat only hawker food, no cabs, etc). When the weekend rolls around, you’re free to reward yourself with restaurants, movies, and all the good things in life, using some of the extra cash you’ve managed to save up during the week.
2. Track your savings every month.
Treat your savings like a game. For example, I record my savings balance into an Excel spreadsheet on the first of every month. It’s really nerdy, but you’d be surprised at how motivating it is to see how your savings have grown over the past couple of months. For example, this guy at $1Million Personal Finance Diary tracks his “investible net worth” every month on his blog in order to hit his goal of $1 million by age 38. You don’t need such a complicated spreadsheet though – I’ve found that the mere act of recording your balance once a month is motivating enough. After all, whatever gets measured gets managed.
Check back with this spreadsheet whenever you’re feeling demotivated. When you’re faced with the decision of whether or not to splurge on something, reframe it to whether you want to put the brakes on that growing savings figure in your spreadsheet.
3. Feed your Big Play account.
I’ve blogged about the awesomeness of having a Big Play account before. In short, it’s important to always have something to look forward to. For me, it’s my annual two-week long vacation, but you could also look forward to getting an iPad, a spa session, a staycation, etc. The important thing here is to set aside just a tiny amount of your salary – say 5-10% – for you to spend guilt-free at the end of the year. That makes it a whole lot easier to live a little more frugally during the rest of the year.
Saving effectively is 5% tactics and 95% psychology. Instead of worrying about which bank to use, you’d be far more effective if you focus on the psychology of saving.
Part of that psychology involves the use of systems (automatically saving a fixed amount every month) to help you to save without thinking. (My free ebook Small Tweaks will tell you a little bit more about this).
But the second key point is to adopt an abundance mindset, which will help you to stick with the plan and make saving sustainable for the long run. Try it out and let me know what you think.
Image credit: A m o r e Caterina