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Be lazy, save money: Put up some passive barriers to help you spend less, save more

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(Read caption) Want to spend less? Keep your credit cards an inconvenient distance away from you – like at home. It's so easy to buy things you don't need if the money is right in your pocket. If you have to go home, find the cards, and come back, you're much less likely to make an impulse purchase. This is just one of the 'passive barriers' that makes it a little harder to spend money, and a little easier to save.

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Put up some passive barriers.

About a year and a half ago, Ramit Sethi wrote a great guest post at Get Rich Slowly entitled The Psychology of Passive Barriers: Why Your Friends Don’t Save Money, Eat Healthier, or Clean Their Garages. It put a term – “passive barrier” – on something I’d been using in my life for quite a long time.

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A passive barrier is simply something in your life that makes the normal activity more difficult. I’ll give you a list of ten of them – and then we’ll look at each one in a bit of detail.

1. Not having the television remote on the table next to the television.
2. Not having internet access from your computer.
3. Not having alcohol in the cupboard.
4. Not having your credit cards in your wallet.
5. Not having your cell phone in your pocket.
6. Not having the temperature in your house as high as you might normally have it.
7. Not having your retirement plan automatically sign you up.
8. Not having your savings plans handled by automatic transfer.
9. Not having convenient meals ready to go in your freezer.
10. Not having a codependent friend on speed dial.

Let’s see how each of these can help your life.

1. Not having the television remote on the table next to the television.
If you find yourself constantly burning your evenings channel surfing, one great way to make that a little more difficult is to simply take the remote to bed with you and plop it on your bedside table. Then, the next evening, when you find yourself settling in for some television… no remote, and it’s on the other side of the house. When you compare the thought of going all the way over there to get your remote versus the option of doing something else that needs to be done, suddenly the non-television task seems more worthwhile.

2. Not having internet access from your computer.
If you find yourself burning too much time surfing the web, just pull the cable out of the back of your computer. Then, the next time you sit down to surf, you’ll have to ask yourself if it’s really worthwhile. Should you actually get down there and plug it in … or should you find something else to do that’s more productive?

3. Not having alcohol in the cupboard.
If you find yourself having a drink or four in the evenings (and the various bad things that happen as a consequence of that choice), simply get the alcohol out of the cupboard. Give it away or finish it off and don’t replace the bottle. The next time you go to take a drink, you’ve suddenly got a big passive barrier for yourself.

4. Not having your credit cards in your wallet.
If you often charge up your credit cards on impulse buys, just take those cards out of your pocket and leave them at home. Put them in your dresser. Then, when you find yourself at the store and tempted to spend money that you shouldn’t, you’ll find yourself without your credit cards, making it much easier to just walk away from the impulse. Similarly, consider deleting your credit cards from any online services you use.

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5. Not having your cell phone in your pocket.
Do you find yourself often getting distracted by your phone? Do you often turn away from people talking to you to talk on the phone or text someone (often annoying them, even if they’re too polite to say so)? The best panacea for this is to simply not carry your phone with you everywhere. Leave it in your vehicle or at home and focus instead on the people with you and the tasks at hand.

6. Not having the temperature in your house as high as you might normally have it.
During the winter, it’s often tempting to crank the heat. A better solution is to leave the temperature a bit lower than you normally would, particularly if you’re in another part of the house from the thermostat. Is it really worth it to walk all the way across the house to just adjust the temperature a few degrees? If it’s not, then this passive barrier is saving you money.

7. Not having your retirement plan automatically sign you up.
Many jobs have the ability to automatically sign up for retirement plans when you start, even if you aren’t directly making investment choices. Do it and worry about the investment choices later on. Get on the automatic investment train as early as possible so you don’t have to think about it or remind yourself to do it later. Once an automatic investment starts, it’s much easier to leave it going than to change it.

8. Not having your savings plans handled by automatic transfer.
This follows from the previous idea. If you’re wanting to save for a particular goal, you’ll find it much easier to do it if you automatically save for these goals by having automatic transfers in place that move small amounts each week from your checking account to your savings account. This way, you don’t have the passive barrier of actually having to initiate the transfer yourself.

9. Not having convenient meals ready to go in your freezer.
It’s easy to talk yourself into eating out (which is expensive) if you have nothing delicious and easy to prepare at home. You can overcome this by creating a new passive barrier: a freezer full of prepared meals. Spend a weekend banking several meals, then you’ll feel an obligation to eat them instead of going out, saving you a lot of money along the way.

10. Not having a codependent friend on speed dial.
It can be difficult to make changes to your social network. At times, it just seems easier to maintain a relationship that is dragging you down than to go through the pain of breaking it off. One easy way to move in a healthier direction for yourself is to just delete that person from your speed dial. This doesn’t make it impossible to contact them, it just raises the difficulty level.

Find some avenues in your life that could use some positive change and apply some passive barriers there. You might just find that your life is made easier by making some of the negative parts of your life more difficult.

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