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Low-Hanging Financial Fruit And What Comes Next

Low-Hanging Financial Fruit And What Comes Next

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    When it comes to making major changes in your financial situation, you’ll probably get some pretty standard advice for saving money: stop buying coffee every day, brown bag your lunch and start clipping coupons. That’s because these sorts of changes are low-hanging fruit. For most people, making these sorts of changes in their spending is not too difficult — and because they’re everyday habits, it’s possible to save quite a bit of money over the course of a year.

    Finding Low-Hanging Fruit

    Most financial gurus have a few favorite recommendations when it comes to the low-hanging fruit of your finances. Coffee, in particular, gets singled out for attention, over and over again. The fairly common habit of picking up coffee each morning has even been vilified as the ‘Latte Factor.’

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    But what happens after you’ve cut out coffee — or if you don’t drink coffee in the first place? The standard suggestions may not be so useful for you. Instead, it’s worth taking a look around for some low-hanging fruit of your own. There’s no automatic identifier for such an expense, but a simple way to look for savings opportunities is to look at your daily habits. That’s because anything you do day after day can yield more savings because even a small expense can add up quickly over 365 days.

    That’s the real definition of low-hanging fruit: with relatively small amounts of effort, you can get big results. Of course, just how much effort is required for a particular project can differ with something as simple as whether or not you have a coffee pot at home. When you see a financial tip that seems like it would be fairly simple, it’s worthwhile to take a look at the effort and money involved. If the effort isn’t worth the money, it’s okay to keep walking — what is low-hanging fruit for one person is the hardest apple to reach in the tree for another.

    But not all simple changes are the same. Just as there are some relatively simple steps you can take to modify your spending, there are often a few basic options for bringing in more income — such as selling off a few collectibles on eBay. You may even find low-hanging fruit when it comes to saving and investing your money: any time you can automate your savings, you can generally see a better return than if you try to handle the process manually.

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    When You Run Out Of Low-Hanging Fruit

    It can take a little while to change even small habits and work your way through all the suggestions you find from various financial advisers — but sooner or later, you’ll run out of the low-hanging fruit available in your personal situation. That point can be an ideal opportunity to stop and reassess your finances.

    For some people, the easy fixes are enough to move them to where they want to be, financially speaking. Just by cutting down on habitual spending or automating savings, some people will be able to accomplish their financial goals. For other people, though, it can take a little more to move into a financial situation where they feel comfortable. If you find yourself in that second group, it may be time to start looking at some harder steps.

    A starting point is any financial tips you passed by when focusing on simple steps. If you initially considered something not worth the effort it would require — a programmable thermostat might have tripped up one person, while calling a service provider and negotiating a lower rate would be problematic for another one.

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    Another option is aiming for some more significant changes in your lifestyle. A raise would probably make a big difference in your finances, but it may take further education or extra hours at work — it’s the opposite of low-hanging fruit. But it is probably worth working towards if you need to make a bigger difference in your finances in order to meet your goals.

    Small Changes First, Then Big Changes

    Making the easy changes first may seem like a system that won’t pay off as well as chasing a few bigger changes — even if those bigger changes are harder to arrange. But the fact of the matter is that when you’re doing something like changing your morning coffee routine, you’re likely changing an ingrained habit. It’s not going to be the easiest thing to do, but after you’ve changed one or two habits, the rest get a little easier to handle.

    That practice at changing habits can pay off when you start focusing on bigger fish. Something like going back to school to improve your paycheck is going to require a whole new set of habits, in a stressful environment. Having a little practice with the process of changing habits can come in handy in such a situation. The process, as a whole, may take longer, but it will be more likely to pay off.

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    It doesn’t hurt, either that even a couple of the simpler changes you can make to your personal finance can translate into a good amount of cash. If you can stack several smaller steps with a couple of bigger changes, you can wind up with a significant difference in your financial situation. Do the numbers yourself: look at what you can save by changing one small thing in your daily routine and then build from there.

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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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