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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 January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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