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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 September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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