When is Pain Worth it?

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When is pain worth it

I had this awesome title decided on for today’s post and thought, “Why on earth, I AM writing about pain after all” – point being we all have likely experienced pain, on some level over our lives. Unless you’re a masochist then you’re likely no fan of pain and have found some way to cope with it.

As I shared at the beginning of the year one of the goals in our home was to become healthier. A bit of a nebulous goal, I know, but it essentially comes down to losing weight and getting in better shape. While it can be debatable about whether or not losing weight and getting in shape is painful it no doubt is causing lifestyle changes that I never thought I’d see myself make (which turned out great in the end as I lost 100 pounds on Nutrisystem!)

Case in point…I’ve always HATED yogurt with a passion. I don’t know what it was about it, but I always threw up a little bit in my mouth at the mere thought of it. Well, after some serious changes to how we’re eating over the past two or so months I find that I actually WANT yogurt. You’d think it was a Snickers bar with how much I’ve been looking forward to it most days, lol. The point being, what I thought would be painful, in the long run hasn’t really been painful at all. What it has required though is a change in my long-term priorities and shift in thinking.  There are certainly other things in life that can be thought of in a similar way:

  • Childbirth…or so I’m told 😉
  • Job change – while it may be painful at first, it could set you up for a better financial future
  • Exercise – tying back to the beginning is painful at first, but it’s a “good” pain, right?! 🙂

How does pain relate to money? Quite a bit actually…

Pain is Good When it Comes to Money

We live in a society, which preaches to us that it’s only natural to give in to our desires and buy whatever the heck we want. Essentially, we’re told that we can keep up with the Joneses and to heck with the cost of doing so. As someone who works in marketing, my wife and I see this all. the. time.

One problem (amongst many) with this thinking is that it gives little thought to the future. It puts emphasis on the current (and the brief pleasure that comes from it) with no thought to what will be needed in the months and years down the road.

So, this creates a situation which forces you to choose between short term pain now that hopefully leads to a profitable and better future or living like Scrooge McDuck now only to be in debt up to your eyeballs and having to work until you drop dead. As there are fillers in food that while they taste good, provide no nutritional value and can be harmful in excess, there are financial “fillers” that may fill a certain desire, but in excess can become a drag on the budget.

This is not to mean that we should all become financial martyrs, denying ourselves any want that comes up. Rather, we should train ourselves to achieve balance. No one is perfect, so it does take training, but the payoff is well worth it as long as you keep that long term view in mind.

The moral of the story today…instead of reaching for that “filler” or quick fix of something like junk food to fill your stomach reach for that piece of fruit, veggie or gasp (in my case at least 😉 ) yogurt and think how you can do the same with your money so it can be around when you’re older…thanks to a healthier lifestyle. 🙂


What is your financial junk food? What tricks do you use to keep your eyes on the prize as opposed to going for the quick “fix”?


Photo courtesy of: Bridget Mahan

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.

Latest posts by John Schmoll (see all)


  • MMD says:

    Good analogies John (especially the part about yogurt – I can’t stand it either). Anything that is truly good for you in life never comes easy and always carries some sort of price.

  • Snarkfinance says:

    Such is life, right? I try to remember that there will be nothing more than my day job in my life unless I make it so, hence the early mornings and work in the evenings/weekends. Its a pain for sure, but hopefully it will pay off. If it doesn’t I will be super bumbed out, but at least I will have given it a shot. I will also have built the work habits required to try again…

    • John says:

      That’s a great point! Even if it doesn’t, whatever it is “you” may be working on, work out in the short term you’ve built the discipline to help in the long run.

  • kathryn says:

    I always liked yogurt, but rarely ate it. After watching a documentary about calorie restrictive optimum nutrition a few months ago, and then embracing the lifestyle, yogurt has become a daily part of my life now. I tried several kinds, and the one I like the best (so far) is apple cinnamon flavour. I add sliced strawberries and bananas to it. It has the flavour of cheesecake almost. I even have my husband eating it now, and he always said before how much he (thought) he hated yogurt.
    I keep my calories around 1200 per day, and try to make the healthiest choices I can. I have found when I do eat sweets now, I don’t enjoy them as much, and they make me hungry afterwards.
    Instead of sour cream, we eat plain greek yogurt.
    For lunch I generally have a fresh garden salad. I keep the ‘salad fixins’ (chopped tomatoes, onion, peppers, zucchini,mushrooms etc) in a container, to make it easier than chopping it up every day. Just need to add to lettuce, or sprinkle on baked potatoes.My cheese is grated in the fridge, an my other salad toppings are in separate containers.( baked beans, chick peas, beets) I figure if I can have everything ready, I’m more apt to eat right.

    • John says:

      That sounds a lot like what we’ve moved to and it does make it easier to eat when you have it there ready to go. I’m not a sour cream fan, so I let my wife use the plain greek yogurt as a replacement. πŸ™‚

  • Kay says:

    I never really liked yogurt either, but now I have it for breakfast every morning. It’s a good analogy that you make to how we are told to just do what feels good. We deserve it, don’t we? If we can train ourselves that saving money for a future goal or eating right for future health is what feels good, it will be easier to achieve our goals.

    • John says:

      I know, I’m the same way. If you would’ve told me I’d be eating it three months ago, I’d tell you that you were nuts.

  • Dee @ Color Me Frugal says:

    I hear you on this one. I refuse to watch commercials (seriously, I mute them all) because it really bugs me that the public is constantly bombarded with messages that you need all these products in order to live a happier, better, more fulfilled life. Well, and because I just hate commercials πŸ™‚

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I think for a lot of 20-somethings the idea of instant gratitude is what gets in the way of reaching long-term financial goals. We want everything now! Right now we love our house but it would be great if we could get a new deck…and rip out the old carpeting for hardwood flooring, and new windows….and…you see where this is going. We need to be diligent with our finances and practice patience.

    Best of luck on the health/fitness goals. I think making a habit of things is definitely the easiest way to work out more and eat healthier.

    • John says:

      Unfortunately it’s not just 20-somethings that struggle with it DC. πŸ™‚ We deal with it all the time and I think is something we see as pervasive in our culture.

      Thanks, things are going well so far which is encouraging to see.

  • travis @debtchronicles says:

    New BBQ related items can suck me in in a heartbeat. I have to make sure that I step back, and make sure that new BBQ tools or cuts of meat to throw on the smoker are budgeted and planned for. Especially with the weather getting nicer outside!

    • John says:

      Oh, I’m the same way Travis. It can be a challenge to step away and I think I won’t be grilling much this summer. πŸ™

  • Pauline says:

    I don’t sweat too much the little fillers, and don’t do the big ones like too much house or too shiny a car. I guess that makes me the financial version of the annoying model who says she eats whatever and never gets fat. Wish I had that on the dieting side…

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    Yogurt is gross!

    The things I splurge on are usually items for my house. I bought a new umbrella for my back yard this weekend =/

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    “I always threw up a little bit in my mouth at the mere thought of it. ” Hilarious, John!!!! Great post, and similar to something I published today. πŸ™‚ I thought for sure your post today would mimic Grayson’s. What’s up?

  • jane savers @ solving the money puzzle says:

    I love yogurt but I would not eat it if I didn’t like it. Life is too short.

    I do put up with a lot of financial pain so that I can see some serious financial gain.

  • Jon @ Money Smart Guides says:

    I keep visual reminders around to remind me of my long term financial goals. With advertisements everywhere, it’s easy to get pulled off track and just buy things because you think you want or need it. Another thing I don’t do any longer is go to the mall or a store when I am bored. Sure walking around is good exercise – as opposed to sitting watching TV – buy 9 times out of 10, I end up buying something.

  • Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter says:

    I actually really like yogurt, but I am trying to cut back on animal products so I have to cut back on it, too! Frustrating, haha.

    My financial junk food.. gosh, I don’t know. I am sure I have more than one. It used to be clothes. Now it’s probably travel. I think travel is good for the soul though and I wouldn’t ever give up my financial stability for travel!

    • John says:

      I can see how that would be frustrating.

      I think we have more than one as well. I think it would be very difficult for us to give up travel.

  • Andrew@LivingRIchCheaply says:

    Man I really hate Greek yogurt! My wife had a groupon for free greek yogurt and even though it’s free, we still don’t want it. Other types of yogurts are fine though. I guess my financial junk includes things that bring me convenience: eating out/take out instead of cooking. For the most part, I have surprisingly little wants when it comes to material things. I get a high from saving money and focus on my goal of financial freedom.

    • John says:

      Ha ha, I’ve come to love it for some odd reason.

      We struggle with the convenience ones as well when we’re busy, though it’s just not worth it in the long run.

  • Joe @ StackingBenjamins says:

    I run specifically so I can eat like crap!

    With my money I try to keep pictures of my long term goals in front of me. I’d love to be location independent, and we’re getting closer….so I try to remember that when I’m about to buy some shiny trinket…

    • John says:

      Lol, I HATE running, so you’ve got that one on me sir.

      I like the pictures as well, it’s a great reminder to avoid buying crap that’ll deter us from our goals.

  • Thomas @ I need money asap! says:

    My wife and I now enjoy budgeting. We didn’t used to budget and we were deep in debt. Now we enjoy budgeting and can really see the benefit. We find it to be one of those “good financial pains”. Is there such a thing as financial S&M? Budgeting would fall into that category, it hurts a bit but it also feels good. πŸ˜‰

  • Raquel@Practical Cents says:

    For the last couple of years it has been all about my house. We put a lot into it to make it what we wanted and enjoy it for years to come. So now we are doing just that, enjoying it, and taking a break from traveling. In the meantime, I’m planning some travel hacking for next year. πŸ™‚

    • John says:

      It can be easy to do that Raquel. We have family that has done that, but it’s something they enjoy. Glad you’re travel hacking, that allows you to have the best of both worlds. πŸ™‚

  • Brian @ Luke1428 says:

    Love the parallels you are drawing here! My kids love yogurt and I’ve come to enjoy it as well. Ate a lot of the Chobani for the protein during my marathon training. Cultivating a spirit of contentment is what keeps me grounded. That’s easier said than done as so much in our culture pushes us to buy the next biggest and brightest thing.

    • John says:

      Thanks Brian! I’ve come to enjoy it as well and the protein is an added benefit. I could not agree more on your point about contentment, it’s vital to have or you can easily be swayed to the next biggest thing.

  • anna says:

    Mmm, I love Chobani mango and cherry – they don’t have as much sour taste as yogurt, to I make myself think it’s like froyo (hey, whatever works, right? ;)). I think my financial junk food is for sure clothes – going on a shopping cleanse (of no shopping) made me realize that I can cut it off, and just purchase moderately or as needed. Great analogy, John!

    • John says:

      Lol, right. I’m a blueberry and strawberry fan myself. That’s a common one I think and reaching that level of moderation is huge.

  • Grayson Bell says:

    I love me some yogurt, especially greek yogurt! I can’t get enough of the stuff.

    Instant gratification used to be my issue, but I have since learned the error of my ways. I am now working hard to keep my eye on the prize of saving my money!

    • John says:

      I’ve come to be the same way Grayson.

      That was mine as well. It was never really anything “big”, but just equated to more and more crap.

  • Broke Millennial says:

    Yogurt is one of my favorite foods! Plain Greek yogurt (Fage) with some fresh fruit is what I eat for breakfast every morning. The only thing I hate about traveling is when I can’t get my yogurt. But to the point…I’ve realized recently that I need more financial balance in my life to the spending money end. I’ve watched my savings bulk up and it feels really great, but I’ve become a bit too Scrooge McDuck about it all. I deny myself a lot of pleasures of living in NYC by saying I can’t afford something when in actuality I can. I feel the need to loosen up the purse strings a little bit to I’m living less like a monk and more like a young 20-something in NYC (just minus any debt of course!).

    • John says:

      My wife eats the same exact thing most mornings. That’s a great point Erin! That balance can be hard to achieve, but life is meant to be lived, otherwise you can get awfully bored and quick.

  • Kim says:

    Greek yogurt is the bomb. I just discovered it a few months ago and it makes regular yogurt taste like cardboard.

    It’s really easy to eat crap or spend money, and everyone expects you too. People don’t go around talking about how good their bell pepper with a side of carrots was or how great it felt to max out an IRA (well unless you read blogs) but they will describe in great detail how amazing the 16oz sirloin with appetizer and dessert or the new clothes are. I think when you hit 40, you have to be thinking about doing welll with health and money or it’s going to be a world of hurt later on.

    • John says:

      I know, right?! I’ve come to really enjoy it.

      That’s a good point, you hear very little about how “good” something that is healthy on a physical or financial level from people outside the PF blogosphere. We used to be that way, but thankfully have changed.

  • Shannon @ Financially Blonde says:

    As someone who lost 50 pounds and made a lot of painful choices to get there, I definitely see the connection with money. For me, my financial junk food was shoes. I literally have spent $1,000s of dollars on shoes over the last 10+ years, and when I started becoming more mindful of my money, I realized the shoe habit (just like the pizza habit) had to get kicked. Whenever I feel the urge to indulge, I remember my long term goals and think about the fact that that purchase will put my goals even farther away, and I am able to walk away with ease.

    • John says:

      That’s a great comparison Shannon! It’s funny how those long term goals can snap you into action pretty quickly. πŸ™‚

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach says:

    Timely topic. I’ve been thinking of switching my phone plan FOREVER, but I have a hard time thinking of giving up my iPhone. For the love of all things holy, I have a mac laptop, a mac tower, and an iPad! Why am I so worried about a stupid phone! I think we have a hard time parting ways with what we’re used to. I thought it would be painful to give up cable, but after a few weeks, I loved it. And it’s not like the iPhone won’t be there if I change my mind. Geesh!

    • John says:

      This is the exact conversation I’ve been having with my wife. She is in the same situation and does not want to give up her iPhone. She says it adds convenience, but how many i-things do we need?! πŸ˜‰

  • Lauren says:

    Just like sticking to a health routine, it takes time to break the habit of “filler” spending. It’s been a few years now of focusing on the big picture when I’m shopping somewhere and avoiding those impulse purchases. You have to make it a habit, like anything else. I practice restraint when shopping- I put items in my cart, then reassess them before checking out. By that point, I realize how unnecessary they are and how they do nothing to help us further our goals. Great post here, John- I think you’ve inspired me to write one of my own!

    • John says:

      Glad to be of inspiration Lauren! It does take time to break that habit and it’s not always easy. I find that when it’s something I really want though, the challenge becomes much less attainable in my opinion. If everything were only that way though. πŸ™‚

  • Natalie says:

    This post really gets at one of the points I always try to make, which is that habits really do make all the difference. Now you’re in the habit of eating yogurt (and liking it for that matter) when you used to be in the habit of hating it. Establishing the same type of “healthy” money habits will ultimately provide for a healthy financial future. Thanks for sharing!

    • John says:

      I agree Natalie, habits are so vital to develop. It takes work and commitment, but it can be so worth it in the long run.

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    “there are financial β€œfillers” that may fill a certain desire, but in excess can become a drag on the budget.” Love that sentence, John. It feels good to instantly gratifying wants, but that “good” feeling doesn’t last very long, does it? I love nice things and am not ashamed to have nice things because I bought them guilt-free. I figured out how they fit into my priorities and saved for those that made the cut. I’ve see the cost of instant gratification and living beyond your means every day, which helps me from falling down that rabbit hole. As pain-free as it may feel in the moment, the pain does eventually catch up. And I love yogurt! Glad it no longer makes you throw-up in your mouth. LOL!

    • John says:

      No, it doesn’t last very long at all. I remember my spending days and it always felt like a high that was entirely too short and just spent more to keep it going. You bring up a good point though, having those nice things that you’ve worked and budgeted for is a great feeling to have.

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor says:

    Are you sure sugar’s not the #2 ingredient on that yogurt you’re liking so much now? πŸ™‚

    • John says:

      Lol, touche. My scope is a much bigger one though and I venture to guess the yogurt is just a bit better than a candy bar. πŸ˜‰

  • KK @ Student Debt Survivor says:

    Just like eating healthy and exercising, the more I’m “good” with my money the more I want to be good with my money. I think for me it was a matter of getting on the wagon, so to speak, and staying there. Once I got started with my debt pay down, I didn’t want to buy a bunch of “stuff” and waste my money. Basically, those financial carrots actually started to taste good πŸ˜‰ and I started to crave them.

    • John says:

      It’s funny how that happens KK, but so true. I found the same thing with money as well as healthy eating, you do it enough you begin to crave it.

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says:

    I try to focus more on “moderate” fixes for near term pleasure rather than quick fixes. Rather than a coffee or snack on the go, my splurge is the vacation or weekend away every few months.

  • Carlos @ TheFrugalWeds says:

    There is a quote I have stickied on my desk at work…”Habit is the either the best of servants or the worst of masters.” To me this encompasses the mindset needed to be healthy with food and finances. I created the habit of exercise to the point where I feel bad when I don’t exercise for a couple of days. I am still on my way to something similar with my long term savings goals, but I am getting closer each day.

    • John says:

      That’s an awesome quote Carlos! That is a great point to get to, assuming you’re not too hard on yourself about it. I think it shows that you have developed it into a new habit that’s helping you better your life.

  • Michael@Save-Invest-Grow says:

    Its really funny how our minds can work this way. I think at some point, the desire to achieve our goals trumps what we thought we may have disliked or avoided in the past. Positive momentum can be a powerful thing!

    • John says:

      That’s a great point Michael! I think it can be a powerful thing, especially once you get it started moving in the right direction at a good clip.

  • says:

    My “financial junk food” is trying to time the market with my investments. I get around the temptation by writing my blog and making monthly Money Reports. This forces me to invest every month instead of waiting for that big drop that never seems to happen!

    • John says:

      I can understand that temptation and have been caught by it myself in the past. I think the investing monthly can be a great way to mitigate it.

  • DEBt DEBs says:

    Pain brings healing in some form or another.

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance says:

    I could eat vanilla yogurt with granola and berries 8 days a week. I love it. As for financial junk food, it would probably be food. We have a budget, but could definitely trim it. My wife has some dietary restrictions, but as for us, the coupons in the mail don’t often help. We try to shop sales, but it doesn’t always work out like it used to. It’s a lot easier to eat cheap when you are oblivious to or don’t care what goes into your body.

    • John says:

      I’m quickly getting that way myself. That is a tough one, especially with the dietary restrictions. But, like you said, it is easier to eat for cheap when you don’t care what you’re putting into your body.

  • Jason Cabler (@DrCabler) says:

    If you know the benefit is going to change your life for the better in some way, the pain is usually worth it. But our brains have a tendency to convince us to not change because it knows pain and/or sacrifice is involved. We seem to be hard wired to avoid change until we have a large incentive to do so.

    I wrote an article about the subject a while back titled “Is Your Incentive Greater Than Your Pain?”. You can find it here:

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