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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 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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