To prosper, it's the tiny things that count(Read article summary)
Here are seven reasons you should care about the tiny things (and seven tiny things to care about).
Robert Harbison / The Christian Science Monitor / File
Quite often, you’ll see personal finance writers talk about the big things – the single moves that will save you quite a lot per month. Downgrade your living quarters! Sell that car! Buy a used car! Change your insurance!
Those things are flashy because they can save you a lot of money with one action. Yet, they have several serious limitations (that I’ll get into below). Simply using a short checklist of these big things and calling it good enough will certainly help, but they only take you halfway to your big goal.
It’s the small things, the mountain of pebbles, that can really carry things over the top. Here are seven reasons why – and seven small things you can easily do.
There are many more tiny things than big things
Our lives are filled to the brim with choices. We choose what we do with our time and money virtually every second of the day, whether we’re at work or doing chores or sleeping or watching television or anything else we do. Those choices, as a whole, are very simple and minute, but on the whole they add up to a lot: our day, our week, our month, our future.
Almost all of those little choices have a financial implication. Do I make something at home or do I go out to eat? Do I watch television or do I read this book from the library? Do I flip the light switch on my way out of the room? They pop up over and over and over again throughout our day – we have many more opportunities to do the little things than the big things.
Tiny thing #1: Train yourself to flip off the light switch every time you leave a room. Every hour a single 75 watt light bulb stays on costs you roughly a cent. If a single switch can turn off several lights, it quickly adds up.
The tiny things usually don’t alter your quality of life
Yes, some of those little choices can alter your quality of life. Do I go out to eat or not? Depending on your values, the answer to that can certainly alter your life quality.
Many choices, however, have virtually no impact on our quality of life. Choosing to flip off the light switch on the way out of the room has no impact. Choosing a bulk purchase of laundry detergent? Minimal impact. Choosing to pick up a penny off the ground? Virtually no impact. Reading a book instead of watching television? No impact except possibly a positive one. All of those choices have a small but positive influence on your money, though.
Tiny thing #2: Drive the speed limit instead of five or ten miles over. It will improve the fuel efficiency of your car (a small thing) but also reduce your chances of a traffic ticket.
The tiny things help you get into a “money saving” mindset
As you grow more conscious of all of these little choices and start actively choosing the ones that save you money, this begins to feel like it’s the “natural” mode. The choice to save money rather than “living large” begins to feel like the normal option.
The end result of that? You make lots of little choices that save you money and it begins to add up quick. Of course, to get started, you have to start actively making little choices…
Tiny thing #3: The next time you go to buy something nonperishable that you use regularly, buy the bulk version.
The tiny things don’t require a lot of active thought
Most of the little choices in our lives are considered and done so quickly that we don’t even really consider them. When we walk by the light switch, the decision to flip or not to flip the switch is made almost instantaneously. The decision on which version of a product to buy at the store is made extremely quickly.
Compare that to the “big” saves, like selling your house or buying a used car. Yes, they make a huge impact, but the time investment is substantially longer, too. When you calculate both to an hourly rate, they’re often surprisingly comparable.
Tiny thing #4: On your way to the grocery store, go over what you’re going to buy in your mind. If you have someone in the car with you, make a list together. Better yet, make a list before you go.
There are many more opportunities to use the tiny things
You can only save money on a car purchase once every few years. You can use an energy saving trick once every few hours.
That adds up. Yes, by all means, save $500 on your car purchase. But you’ll be doing that once every five years. Alternately, you can save eight cents on something three times a day. 365 days a year. Five years. $450.
Tiny thing #5: Eat the fresh food in the fridge when you’re thinking about a snack. If you choose the preserved food, the fresh food might get old and spoil.
The tiny things often improve your skill set and your social network
You can either drive to the oil change place – or you can learn how to change the oil yourself. Either way, you’re burning an hour. Yet, the “hard” option is not only cheaper, but it also teaches you a useful skill, one that you can use elsewhere.
This pops up time and time again: cooking, landscaping, minor home repairs, and so on. Choosing the slightly harder path almost always saves you money, but more importantly, you learn something new. That new thing might later on come in handy in helping out a friend or building a new relationship.
Tiny thing #6: Buy unshredded cheese, then shred it as you put food on the table. The cheese is less expensive, plus it tastes a lot better since the cheese surface is fresh.
The time investment in most tiny things is miniscule
Most of the “tiny things” take very little time to do. Flipping the light switch? Half a second. Using a generic product? No time at all. Doing a price comparison? A second or two. Driving the speed limit? A minute or so.
If you make the choice to do the tiny thing to save yourself money, you’re usually not investing much time in it at all. It doesn’t disrupt your schedule or eat up a bunch of your spare time. It usually just takes a few seconds or a moment or two – and given the amount of idling in our lives, it’s often easy to fit these things in.
Tiny thing #7: Turn your tap off when you brush your teeth. If you do this for two minutes per brush twice a day, you end up saving hundreds of gallons of water a year, trimming easily from your water bill.
The little things really add up. Given the little effort they require, there’s no reason not to add a lot of them to your life.
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