Weeks shy of paying off $12,000 of debt in just six months, Kaila Pilecki — a personal finance pro and the founder of The Money Edit — remembers being far from happy. “I have a journal entry where I wrote, ‘I know I’m almost at the end but I feel so depressed, I can barely keep it together.’”

I can relate. At the beginning of the year, I set a big goal to buy a cottage in Ontario. I immediately Kill Bill’d my budget to save for a downpayment — slashing everything from takeout coffee to my gym membership to my car.

Within a few months, I was completely burnt out. But with Pilecki’s tips, a more sustainable approach to saving and a healthier mindset, I’ve gotten back on track. Here’s how

Photo: Johnson Wang on Unsplash

Why do we get burnt out?

Think about the amount of times you pull your wallet out in a day. At first, resisting almost every purchase takes enormous effort and discipline. Over time, it becomes more of a habit. For example, it’s been months since I’ve hopped in an Uber. At first, it felt like a punishment walking home after a night out, but now, I automatically bike, walk or take the bus instead.

“It takes so much energy to change,” says Pilecki. “Your whole mindset changes and it’s kind of like birthing a new person when you actually learn how to save money.” This can get exhausting.

When Pilecki was killing her debt, she took extreme measures to save — eating oatmeal for breakfast every day, making coffee at home, taking the bus, getting library books, not having any subscriptions and so on. “You can’t sustain that lifestyle forever. It does leave you burnt out. And there are also these intense moments of self-sabotage. I was like, ‘I just want to go to Artizia and buy whatever I want!’ And sometimes you have to buy things and return them.”

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Every day — no, every hour — we’re barraged with temptations that try to separate us from our hard earned dough. On Instagram, Glossier targets me daily with sponsored posts and every time, I resist (my eyebrows are fine without your boy brow grooming pomade, thank you). When we start saving, we actually need to rewire our brains and challenge some pretty deep-seated beliefs around consumption and self-worth. Maybe a productive Saturday used to be quantified by how many stores I went to or whether or not I got a new outfit to wear to work. You have to learn how to fill the void with enriching stuff that happens to be free. “There are so many things that don’t cost money — going outside for a walk, reading a book, visiting the library, hanging out with friends or making dinner at someone’s house,” says Pilecki.

The year after paying off her debt, Pilecki raised the bar — saving $40,000 with her now-husband in 14 months to buy a condo in Vancouver. Five year later, she still has big money goals, but her mindset is different. “I’m still frugal but I’m not laser-focused on anything at the moment. After five years, it’s become my lifestyle,” she says.

Photo: boho.berry/Instagram

Tailor your saving strategy to your personality type.

The same savings strategy will not work for everybody, and your personality type has a lot to do with it. Gretchen Rubin — a best-selling author who investigates habits, happiness, and human nature — has a theory that the world can be divided into two categories: abstainers and moderators. We live in a society that values “everything in moderation,” but abstainers can’t have just one of something. If they start, they won’t stop. Abstainers will have more success saving money if they declare things like credit card purchases, take-out lunches or retail therapy completely off-limits. “Naturally, I’m an abstainer. If I set my mind to something I can do it 100 percent, forever. But if, once in a while, I have a coffee out and there’s no plan around it — I won’t stop,” says Pilecki.

I’m a moderator. We get anxious when we can’t enjoy the occasional indulgence, and have the ability to limit it to every once in a while. This could explain why cutting everything out cold turkey sent me over the edge.

In her book The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better, Rubin further categorizes us into upholders, questioners, obligers and rebels — based on how you respond to inner and outer expectations.

I’m an obliger, meaning that I’m a people-pleaser who can easily meet outer expectations, but I struggle to stay accountable to myself. So if I know I have an appointment with a financial planner at the end of the month, I won’t stray from the plan. But without the external gold star, I might slip up. You can take the personality quiz to find out what makes you tick.

Photo: Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Be a sponge — but don’t subscribe to everything you read.

To avoid burnout, Pilecki recommends looking outside of yourself for inspiration.

She swears by the Mr. Money Mustache blog, anything Gretchen Rubin touches and listening to thought leaders who are challenging the way we consume. “I’m loving Oprah’s podcast episode with Eckhart Tolle right now,” she says. “With Gretchen’s podcast, most of her happiness hacks aren’t about buying things. She’s an underbuyer, so her tips rarely focus on spending money.”

On the flipside, Pilecki warns us to watch out for money blogs that put consumption at the forefront. “I avoid articles like, “Five shopping tips to take advantage of sales.” I don’t want to think about other things to subscribe to or other places to go and buy things, when I’m trying to think about not buying things,” she says.

The important thing is to find resources that inspire you to move closer to your goal. I know that every time I read an article about saving for retirement (even when it’s helpful) — I want to hide under a duvet. For now, I’m avoiding them, and that’s okay.

Photo: the money edit/Instagram

Talk to someone who can actually help.

When burnout rears its ugly head, talking to a highly recommended, fee-only financial planner or a friend who has managed to save money and enjoy life can help keep you going.

“When I work with clients, we get into every single bill, every single expense, and we break down how they’re going to live the life they want to live and what that looks like,” says Pilecki. “But in that, everyone’s growing. I’m learning, they’re learning. Sometimes, I have the actual facts: ‘This is how you find out what the interest rate on your credit card is, this is what compound interest is, this is why you need to move that credit card bill onto a lower interest rate line of credit’. But sometimes it’s all about interpreting different experiences.”

Track your spending — but don’t be mean to yourself.

Okay, I’ll admit it: I absolutely hate tracking my spending. It’s not the administrative side of it that bogs me down. The problem is that when I investigate my spending so closely, I see every expense as a failure.

“It’s important to keep in mind that you need to live. I’m not saying that to the people who tend to overspend, because they don’t need to keep that in mind. But for those of us who are hyper about making sure that we’re not spending too much money because we really want to get to our goal, remember: you do need money to live, so if your self talk is really negative, you need to address that. This is not the point.”

I recently started tracking my spending again but this time around, I’m focused rather than critical.

“Every transaction counts. I think minute transactions are important to focus on because that’s what builds it up into the big thing. Whether it’s a pair of pants for $140 or coffee out with a friend that’s $10.95 — it all adds up quickly. Tracking spending, looking at bills and looking at interest rates is not about being mean to yourself. So if you are being mean, you need to go for a walk or get help or something. Because that’s not helping anything.”

Packing for my move to a more affordable apartment. Photo: Jenny Morris

Get into a position where you can save without it being torturous.

At the end of the day, saving money is all about cash flow. I hit a wall when I realized that despite my best efforts (social life falling off a cliff, going vegetarian and buying nothing fun for months), I could still only sock away $400 at the end of each month.

So I made some drastic changes. I’m moving out of my solo apartment this weekend and into a cozy place with a roommate. I also picked up some unusual side hustles — teaching workshops on plant care, watering plants at a nearby restaurant and helping my mom’s friend organize and decorate her home. At the end of this month, I’ll have over $1,000 to put aside.

As Pilecki puts it, getting into a position to save is “half the battle.” “It’s much less tortuous to put money away when you actually have it,” she says.

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