Some of the most common advice we’re given is just “do your best.” It might be in regards to an interview, athletics, job, or advice you get from your mom when you vent about a current struggle.
I used to think this was good advice, but recently, I’ve decided this is actually terrible advice. Why, do you ask? I’ll start with a little personal anecdote.
While I know there are lots of people out there who are doing much better than my wife and me, I still consider our financial progress well ahead of schedule.
I would have thought, that at my current financial stage I’d be living the high life. I never would have thought that I’d ever fight with my wife about money. Why would we? We both make well above average income, we can comfortably pay our bills, we have a great savings rate, we have a very comfortable cash cushion… to the tune of multiple years of expenses, and our retirement accounts are doing great.
Despite all of that, money has been the single largest cause for contention between my wife and me. Over the course of our 5-year marriage, we have made tweaks to improve, but there have always been those occasional fights, most of them caused by the idea of “always do your best.”
Because of this idea, way too many purchases became a topic of discussion, “is this the best way we could spend our hard-earned money?” “that money would be worth $X if we didn’t by X and we invested it instead, is buying that thing really worth all that money in 20 years?!?!?!?”
Saving and investing are great and all, but you don’t have to optimize everything! Better put, DON’T optimize everything, DON’T always do your best!
It’s ok to get the little Chobani Flips rather than the Yoplait yogurt your mom always got… you know the kind I’m talking about. Get a steak every once in a while, even though chicken is cheaper. You’re not going to miss retirement because you got some chocolate covered almonds from the bulk food aisle… even when they’re not on sale.
But I can tell you the effects of an almost over-compulsive desire to hit Financial Independence ASAP and to be as frugal as possible… it can start a fight in the middle of the grocery store. Not the ugly, “pull out your cell phone and record it” kind, but the kind that leaves you upset for the rest of the night.
This is no way to live.
Like magic, about 2-months ago I discovered a magical solution. We don’t really budget per se, because we have historically embraced the idea of “just do your best.” When I learned that advice is a load of crap, I made a swift and immediate change.
I had no idea what we were spending on food, come to find out, our food budget was $155 in Mint. Well, I jacked that puppy up $100, now our budget is $250 a month. And guess what, no fights about groceries anymore! It’s like magic.
Because I decided to not optimize everything, I am sooooooo much happier, and it’s also much healthier for my marriage because now we can go shopping without it turning into a battleground with someone getting hurt feelings. I also get to eat more of the food I like, guilt-free, because it’s in the budget!
The best (or maybe worst) part, we haven’t even gotten close to the new budget. Which in hindsight makes me feel incredibly stupid that I got in so many fights with my wife, over such small dollars.
Another reason why “do your best” is horrible advice
I just gave an example of how sometimes we try too hard, and it actually ends up making us miserable. But what if you’re not actually trying hard enough?
The best example I can think of here is going to the gym. I like going to the gym, but my level of fitness has fluctuated quite a bit over the past several years. Recently, I realized I was in a rut, I would go to the gym and do what I felt like doing that day.
“Today feels like a good chest day. Let’s start with bench. How many sets will I do? I don’t know, I’ll just feel things out.”
That was how things went for quite some time. I felt like I was “doing my best.” I mean I was going to the gym, but when I really sat down and thought through it, I realized my workouts sucked.
So I took action and found a workout plan online. It had set exercises with a set number of sets and reps. As you might expect, when I was able to compare week over week I actually started to get more motivated. “If I lifted X last week, I bet I can do more this week.”
Instead of just going and “doing my best,” I did a little work to find a workout program and now my workouts have improved so much. I actually enjoy doing my workout and going to the gym, and I’ve probably achieved more in a few weeks than I did in several months going in without a plan.
Where do you need to stop “doing your best?”
This is a hard question that only you can answer. Perhaps you just “do your best” with your budget as a whole, but you err more on the spendy side, and you could budget more diligently to reign in the spending. Decreasing your spending might not make you nearly as uncomfortable as you think, because you probably spend on things you don’t care that much about.
Perhaps it has to do with your diet? You’re “doing your best,” but when you really sit down and think about it, you eat a lot more pizza and a lot less salad than you would care to admit.
Pick out that problem area that is probably coming to mind right now and put a plan in place. Don’t just “do your best,” because that is horrible advice, and it’s not going to help you to be your best self, or live your best life.