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7 Things I’m Doing Right Now To Improve My Financial Situation

7 Things I’m Doing Right Now To Improve My Financial Situation

    Just like most folks, I don’t consider my financial situation perfect. I have some debt that I need to pay off and some goals I want to achieve. Moving forward on financial matters can seem so difficult. Saying that ‘I want to get out of debt’ is general — there’s no clear starting point. And that’s just the minor stuff: figuring out taxes can make you wish we all still relied on barter. But setting your financial house in order isn’t impossible. You just need a starting point.

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    These steps are my starting points. Not just any starting points, either: these are my ‘back to basics,’ ‘work on when I have no idea what else to do,’ ‘got to keep with it’ tasks.

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    1. I set goals. My financial goals are very set things, though. They have dollar amounts and due dates, no matter what. After all, my finances are all about numbers. It just makes sense that my financial goals are the same way. I consider something along the lines of ‘I will save $500 by the end of this month for my emergency fund.’ I also think it’s crucial to know from the start what your money is for. Saving for shoes or for getting laid off is easy, but just saving is hard.
    2. I read. I know I don’t know everything there is to know about personal finance. I’m working on correcting that, though. Right now, I’m reading up on stocks — a subject that was not even mentioned during the one semester of financial literacy education my high school provided. Because I’m well aware of the deficiencies of my official personal finance education, I read a lot. I want to know all about different ideas, even if I don’t agree with them.
    3. I take my time. When it comes to a financial decision, including spending relatively large sums of money, I wait. While I might have an instinctive reaction (often along the lines of ‘Buy it! Buy it!’), I’ve found that I save a lot of money by just deciding to come back later. The same holds true on other financial decisions. Before I chose a bank, I take some time and do some research.
    4. I put my money out of reach. I’m lucky — I don’t have a problem resisting the urge to use my credit card. But if I have cash in my pocket, I always have a burning desire to spread the wealth around. I try to head this urge off: I don’t carry much cash. I’ve gone a step beyond that, though. Most of my savings is in an account that, while I can get my money in an emergency, I do have to jump through some hoops to make a withdrawal. Having to go through a few extra steps when I want cash makes me reluctant to spend money when I don’t actually need to.
    5. I improve my income. Passive income is the best thing since sliced bread. Whenever I get the opportunity to set up a passive income stream — even if it’s just a static website with Google AdSense — I do what I can to take full advantage of it. I do what I can to improve my other sources of income, as well. I negotiate for higher pay, take on side projects and generally do whatever I can to increase the amount of money I have coming in.
    6. I run a business. It seems like having a business would be more effort and expense than it would be worth, financially speaking. But you can effectively run a business for free, and it offers several advantages. Consider your ‘business expenses.’ If you run a blog or other computer-based business, that computer you just bought could be tax deductible. You just lowered your tax bill by making a purchase that you probably would anyway.
    7. I do things myself. Some instances of frugality, like making your own soap, may not improve your financial situation. It may not be worth your time to do some things yourself. But I’ve found several things to do myself that have saved me money, liking baking my own bread. Even better, if I’m doing some task I’d normally pay someone else to do, in addition to saving that fee I’m not out spending money on entertainment. Sure, it may not be cheaper for me to grow my own tomatoes, but when I’m gardening, I’m spending only a fraction of what I would at the movie theater.

    There are lots of little things that we can do to tidy up our respective financial situations. It’s important to remember that it’s not an all or nothing proposition you can make progress on your financial goals without committing to complete frugality, massive saving and working every hour in the day. That sort of approach will probably only last you a few days before you break down. But if you work on just a small task or two at a time, you can make a lasting change in your approach to personal finance. Even doing something as simple as eating one extra meal at home each week can make a profound difference in your bank balance.

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    None of the steps I’ve listed before need to be hardcore processes. Even running a business can be something as simple as selling your old stuff on eBay. Each of these steps can be as small — or as big — of a commitment as you would like. Personally, though, I go for the light workload.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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