Changing Habits is like Pulling Weeds

This is a guest post from Sheryl (a.k.a Cdn Gwen) in Ontario, who is 40 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

I have a week off work. I get paid for my vacation weeks, and it doesn’t benefit me financially to not take them. Not having money to go away for several years now, I have developed certain routines while I’m not at work. My main goal is to recharge my energy levels so I’m not walking around exhausted all the time.

That being said, I also feel some responsibility to my parents. They are always there for me (as I try to be there for them), and over the years, my “vacation” time has also become time that I take them to places they wouldn’t go without me. They are financially stable (and have bailed me out at times), but they are elderly. Driving anywhere over an hour away usually includes an overnight stay for them. They used to be snowbirds while they could still make the trip, but have not done so for a few years now. My mother especially misses grocery shopping in the U.S.. There are many products that we cannot get in Canada (both my parents are diabetic, and the selection of sugar free items is far greater south of the border).

Clothes are the thing I go for on these trips, I’m 5’10” (and live in a short demographic area) and finding pants long enough for me usually involves going to a tall boutique (big $$). From my experience, the stores in the U.S. carry more sizes, including tall, and I can usually find something that fits and is of decent quality for $20-$25. I know the cost of the gas to get there negates any savings, but seeing how happy it makes my mum to go out on such a day trip, (and we share the gas cost) I feel it is worth it.

That brings me to the habit part. I have felt that I have been doing so well controlling my expenses, tracking what I spend, changing my thought patterns so I don’t feel deprived.  Keeping my eye on the long term goal, I was quite surprised how as soon as I crossed the border, it was like the old me came back and with a license to spend. I didn’t go too overboard, I had planned on replacing a pair of shoes that had recently worn out, and my one pair of jeans that were so old (zipper broken, holes, etc) they were embarrassing to wear in public. I didn’t plan on the sweater that looked good with the jeans, or the stop smoking kit I purchased as a gift for the boyfriend.

I call this a habit, because I believe that sometimes when I am changing something in my life, and have been successful for at least a few months, and I find myself in a situation that I have not encountered since the change began, all the triggers are there for the old behaviour. I first found this when I quit smoking, it had been 4 years since I had quit, but then I went to a place I previously smoked at, and it suddenly hit me that I should be smoking. I had been told of this reaction when I’d quit, but had forgotten. I didn’t smoke, I distracted myself, reminded myself that it was just a Pavlovian reaction, and was mindful of it any time I went to an old haunt again. It never occurred to me that in changing my spending style, I would be faced with this reaction again.

I compare this to weed pulling because, if you want to rid an area of weeds, you have to make sure you get all the roots out as well, or the weed will grow back. I don’t want to go back to that old me that was just hoping for the best when it came time to retire, so I’m using this experience to be more mindful in the future. I won’t stop taking my mum places (who knows how many more years I’ll be able to do things to make her happy like that), but I will plan in advance more knowing I’m entering tempting territory.

2 thoughts on “Changing Habits is like Pulling Weeds”

  1. I go to cash when we travel because I still tend to loosen up a bit too much. I think that’s because there’s pretty major discounts down south on some things and a part of my brain just goes “Squee! Deal!” I have to watch myself around any environment where there’s significant sales prices.

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