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Income & Thrift: The Two Strategies to Improving Your Finances

Income & Thrift: The Two Strategies to Improving Your Finances

    Every newspaper has ran a story about how to improve your finances in the past few weeks. The same goes for every news show — and most online media as well. No matter the source, though, every tip or trick falls into one of two categories: increasing your income or decreasing your spending. Basically everything you can do to improve your financial situation boils down to one of these two strategies: refinancing your mortgage is just a way to reduce the amount you’re paying on housing. Selling stuff on eBay that you don’t need is just a way to increase your income.

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    The Trouble With Time

    Most people have the same issue with these issues: time. It takes time to be thrifty and it takes time to have a second job. There are thousands of ways to cut costs — quite a few of them amount to doing something yourself rather than paying for, like cooking at home or mowing your own lawn. And while there are many ways to build up passive income, even those ‘passive’ streams require some effort on your part — advertising, maintenance and such. In general, you have to trade time for money. That means we have to manage our time as part of managing our money.

    On the surface, it seems like finding the time to cut expenses would be easier than finding the time to make more money. After all, if I was to cut out one hour in front of the computer a day, I would have all sorts of time to spend on projects that would save me money. I could make my own cleaning supplies or clip coupons or walk to the store instead of driving. But there is a limit to how much money a person can save. It is theoretically possible to get your expenses down to zero, although I don’t know anyone who has actually done it. But at that point, you would have to spend all of your time saving money — you wouldn’t have any time to earn money.

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    In contrast, it is possible to buy time if you have the money — if you’ve increased your income. You can outsource a significant chunk of your task list: hire a maid or an assistant or someone to handle whatever task you don’t have time to deal with. That approach can get expensive to the point of being painful, but it’s easier to increase your income than save money you don’t have. At least in theory, increasing your income can get you further financially than simple thrift.

    The Balanced Approach

    In practice, however, just chasing income isn’t enough to straighten out your finances. Instead, it’s a question of just how much you can earn and just how much you can save. Taking a look at those numbers can show that, at least in the short-term, it’s far more practical to take a combined approach. To decide just how to balance your own efforts, you’ll need to know how much you earn in an hour. Whether you’re thinking about taking on some overtime at your day job, picking up cash freelancing or even selling plasma, your hourly rate will help you decide just what thrifty tips actually make sense for you.

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    You can generally estimate how much a particular thrifty tip is likely to save you: going to the library to borrow books instead of buying them will save you the cost of a book, for instance. You can also estimate how long that task is likely to take you: going to the library might be a couple of minutes out of your way on the drive home and you’ll need a few minutes to browse, rather than the seconds required to purchase a book on Amazon. That means you can easily calculate what your hourly savings is. Those savings methods that save you more money than you can earn in an hour? Those are low-hanging fruit — actions that are valuable than working for the same amount of time. But those savings methods that don’t save you that much — less than what you can earn in an hour — well, they just aren’t worth it in most cases. If you can earn more money by working during the time you could have been making your own soap from scratch, it makes sense just to pick up the soap at the local Wal-Mart and move on.

    It’s possible to make the calculations far more complicated, of course: you can factor in the distance you might have to travel for certain savings, the costs of working and so on, but that sort of calculation takes time. Time, as we have established, is money.

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    Your Thoughts on the Matter

    There are a lot of bloggers who have made their support for either increasing income or decreasing spending quite clear (Get Rich Slowly, I Will Teach You To Be Rich and The Simple Dollar all come to mind as blogs that have discussed the matter). No matter whether people say that there should be a balance between the two strategies, most folks wind up prioritizing one over the other. I know I have — I generally find earning more money to be a better use of my time than extreme frugality — but I’m interested in which approach you feel more comfortable with and why. Please let us know which technique you favor in the comments!

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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