It’s New Year, and the internet is awash with ways to transform your life. The idea of transformation is certainly seductive, but unrealistic. By trying to change everything at once, we’re essentially committing an act of self-sabotage. After all, there’s no way we can lose weight, pay off our credit cards, and find a partner. When we try and fail, it merely confirms the negative voice that tells us we lack the necessary discipline. Listen to the rational voice, however, and you’ll discover that you’re absolutely capable of achieving your goal, you just need to make it easier for yourself. The answer is to think small.
In this post, I’ll offer some ideas on how you can apply this approach to saving money on regular expenses.
Find Your Small Thing
First, decide what you’re going to change. And remember to think small. It might be skipping a coffee on the way to work, switching to unbranded groceries, or swapping your monthly cinema trip for a Netflix subscription. This could represent a modest amount of money for some people, but once you can consistently save £50 each month, it’s much easier to stretch to £200. You’ll have evidence of your ability to achieve this goal.
Want vs Need
There’s lots of piffle in the press about how young people can buy a house or build a huge pension pot if they just stopped having fun. While it’s tempting to adopt a masochistic approach and drop the things we enjoy, do consider what role these activities play in your life.
In her book Loaded, Sarah Newcomb explains that if you cut something out, it’s important to devise a new strategy for meeting the underlying need. For example, that fancy coffee on your daily commute might be a way of taking a moment to relax with your thoughts. The fact that it keeps your hands occupied perhaps means you’re not tempted to fiddle with your phone.1 How can you achieve the same effect and save money? This could include buying an Americano instead of the one with squirty cream, experimenting with skipping coffee a couple of times a week, or taking your own in an insulated mug.
Ditching coffee won’t get you a house, but it will help you establish new habits.
One Day at a Time
Among the many reasons why it’s difficult to achieve lasting change is that it can feel relentless: “I can’t have a cup of coffee and a sticky bun ever again.” Our bunless future stretches into eternity and commitment quickly sags. Remember, though, all you need to focus on is today. You can’t control tomorrow or next week – who knows what’ll happen or how you’ll feel. Manage your actions now, that’s all you can do.
And you don’t have to do this forever. For daily habits, I recommend trying it for 5 days and then reviewing the situation. How do you feel? What progress have you made? Were there any situations that made it harder? If the experience was horrible, you don’t have to continue. There could be a different habit that’s easier to change.
What you change and how you do it is completely up to you. Ignore the ‘Six Easy Steps to Transform Your Life’ – your life isn’t like anyone else’s. Once you’ve addressed the small stuff, you’ll have the confidence to take on a bigger challenge.
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- Thameslink have thoughtfully removed all the tables on the Brighton-London line so it’s impossible to multitask. [↩]