Summary: Want to create a lasting change? Build habits by taking baby steps. (Tweet This!)
Baby steps:  Start small - keep improving

Baby steps: Start small... keep improving

For the last two and a half months, I've been trying to subtly nudge you in the direction of "being better." You may have noticed it in my monthly goal reports. If that was a little subtle, you might have also noticed it in such places as the website's name and logo.

If it wasn't completely obvious in either of those places, I'd like to formally write about it today. Many times people make grand, sweeping changes and expect them to stick. Yet, we know that most New Year's resolutions fail. We know that fad diets don't stick.

What does work? Baby steps

Here's a story from James Altucher's Newsletter about Tony Robbins training members of the military to shoot better:

"Specifically, for every student he had them bring the target only a few feet away. Everyone shot bullseyes. Then he moved the target back a foot. Bullseyes. Then another foot. And so on.

This is true for everything in life. I look at the example Mark Cuban told me. He didn't just start Broadcast.com and make a billion. First he started a bar. Then he started a computer business. Then a hedge fund."

For years, I would joke around that I'd simply just get rich picking up a baseball and throwing a knuckleball like Tim Wakefield. Throwing a knuckleball doesn't require one to be in the physical condition of a top athlete. Obviously, I couldn't just pick up a ball and throw a knuckleball like Tim Wakefield. It took him years of practice. It took him years of study from a previous generation of knuckleballers.

I should have started with baby steps. In reality, I had other priorities and didn't see devoting years of my life to throwing a knuckleball as a risk worth taking.

Baby steps often mean going back to making SMART Goals. You want to break them down and make them attainable. As you achieve success, make it a little more difficult, do something a little bigger. Suddenly you are buying up NBA teams and financing businesses on Shark Tank.

Stanford University research BJ Fogg is one of the world's leading experts on taking baby steps. He likes to call them "tiny habits." A few years back, he had a TED talk that covered how to make lasting change. The concept starts with... you guessed it... baby steps. However, he goes further than just baby steps:

As you can see he covers developing habits, the role of motivation, and triggering change in general. These are all things I'll cover in other articles.

This website itself is an experiment in baby steps. Each day, I'm trying to capture a little bit of knowledge and share it with people. The idea is that in just 5-10 minutes a day, you can learn something. Each day I get a little better at writing. Each day, I go back and rework some piece of writing that I've done in the past to try to make it better. Over time and many iterations, the quality of the website improves. This improvement means it can help more people.

Everything gets a little better... one small step at a time.

This post involves:

Mind, Motivation

... and focuses on:

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Summary: Automating your money is one tip that can make you hundreds of thousands in just a few minutes. (Tweet This)

When it comes to money, one of the best things I've ever done was to automate everything. It's great for me, but as personal finance expert Phil Taylor points out: automating finances isn't for everyone.

About a dozen years ago, I had an epiphany... if I have to keep shifting money here and there something is going to fall through the cracks. When that happens, I'm going to lose money or incur a fee. I hate fees.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then laziness is the father.

Here's a guide of the processes that I automate:

automate your money

Let a robot Automate your Money

Credit Card Payments

It has been years since I manually sent a payment to a credit card company. I let them claw into my bank account and take what they need so that I never miss a payment and never trigger fees. This way, I reap the sweet, sweet rewards of 1-5% cash back.

The downside with this is that many people don't like to give credit cards access to grab money out of their accounts. I totally understand that. I gave it a try to see how it goes and years later, it has been perfect in about a thousand transactions across many cards now. It certainly beats my error rate as a human.

An awesome side effect of this system is that I know I need to keep a good chunk of money in my bank account just to be safe. I'm going to err on the side of caution, so keeping my bank account "safe" reinforces my frugal behavior.

Automate Payments to Retirement Accounts

As we covered in The Guide to Financial Freedom, retirement accounts are one of the best tools available to you.

You may have heard the saying "Pay yourself first." That is exactly what this is. It's paying "future me." I've learned over the years that "future me" becomes "present me" quickly. Let me tell you that "present me" is enjoying the contributions from "past me."

Confused enough? Good let's move on.

Automate Payments to a Savings Account

Just like automating payments to a retirement account, you should automate some payments to a savings account. Some people use this as my emergency fund. When that's got a safe amount of money in it (generally 6 months of living expenses), it can be redirected towards and opportunity fund. It's great to have a good opportunity fund in place, use it well and it can grow your net worth quite a bit.

The important thing is to move this money out of sight and out of mind. I'm testing out a new service called Digit that I love. They automate this process of squirreling money away from your savings account. They do it in small chunks that you probably won't notice, but it adds up over time.

Consolidate Your Banking

When I was 20, I signed up with every bank that offered a free T-shirt and a single with a B-side song of Blink 182. All the banks were at College Fest. I must have picked up dozens of credit cards for free stuff.

What I didn't realize is that I'd now have all these zombie accounts out there... and they are all looking for delicious brains.

In chasing the best rate and the best perk, my financial information was everywhere. It took some time, but after seeing how my wife had consolidated most everything USAA, I saw the light. It is so much easier to have everything in one place.

Set Your Financial Calendar

I'm going to give you some work to do right now while you read this. Don't worry, it'll only take a couple of minutes. Open up your calendar software.

I'll wait.

Got it open? Good.

Now flip ahead one month from today and put an entry to check your credit report. Make it a recurring entry and set it to go every 4 months. You can get a free credit report from Annual Credit Report every year. So why every 4 months? There are three credit bureaus you can get them from. Get a different one every four months.

If one of the credit bureaus is off it may take you a little time to notice it this way. However, this way you get to view what is 99% likely to be an accurate report. It is better to catch identity theft after 3 months than it is after 9 months.

Next, flip it ahead another month and make another entry. This time we are making an appointment for checking our net worth. Depending on what stage in life you are, this one can recur 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6 months. I personally like to calculate it every 3 months.

It may seem very complicated and tedious, but it isn't. If you consolidate your banking and use a spreadsheet, it can be knocked out in under a half-hour. The first couple of times will take longer, but as you get in a flow it will be much, much easier.

There's one final calendar entry to make. This one is going to be every 6 months. Every 6 months, I want you to do an audit of necessary expenses and subscriptions in your life. Many of these things like your mortgage and car payments won't change. However, you may be able to get a discount on cable service or a cheaper cell phone plan. You may find that you don't use that Netflix very often. Maybe you subscribed to HBO to watch True Blood and now that the series is over are left paying for nothing?

Conclusion and Further Reading

I can't begin to estimate how much automating my money has done for me. When I look into my retirement and see 6 figures starting with a crooked number, I can't help but think, "Would I have really saved this otherwise?" I know the answer is no.

So I guess I can begin to estimate how important it was for me. It is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. With the power of compound interest, it could be millions down the line.

That thought brings us right into:

Further reading: This is an easy one... The Automatic Millionaire. Personal Finance guru David Bach has earned a 4.2 star rating with 460 reviews a great value for the current price of $8.12.

This post involves:

Money / Personal Finance

... and focuses on:

Summary: Here's what's going on at Be Better Now including the next charity update and Posts of the Month

Each month, I give readers a sneak peak at what goes on behind the scenes at Be Better Now. I've only done this once before, so your feedback in the comments below is always appreciated.

Overall February was a busy than expected month for me. We got about 17 feet of snow, which lead to our child care being canceled. When that happens, I suspend work to watch the kids and try to squeeze in time to shovel snow. February is a short month to begin with, so losing another 4 days really takes a toll.

What's New at Be Better Now

I've updated several articles that form a core foundation at Be Better Now. Many were small changes, but The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom got a solid makeover. I also made some changes to How To Save Money on Almost Anything!

The other big change is that after publishing more than 40 articles over almost every business day since launch, I'm taking one, sometimes two days off. With my current schedule, it is unreasonable for me to deliver the highest quality of writing five days a week, while updating older articles, and writing guest posts for other websites. It is biting off more than I can chew. For that reason, I'm looking at publishing three or four articles a week with the other days marked for other articles.

Traffic & Charity Update

Last month's charity was for the Washington Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association. You can read about: why I picked that here.

Last month, Be Better Now had 587 visitors, a growth of 128%. Our mail list grew to 10 people and there are 7 RSS readers. These numbers are small. The money I donate to charity is a percentage of these and it would add up to $0.86 cents. However, I give at least $25 and I put the charity back in queue for when the traffic is better.

This website is new and I've given almost no promotion. It is almost like a garage sale in the middle of a desert. Traffic is going to understandably be small.

However, I expect traffic to continue to grow for some time. I built another website where I have 100,000 monthly visitors, 500 people on the mailing list and nearly a thousand RSS readers. Using the same charity formula on that website, I'd have donated $118.

Personally, I think this website is a lot better than that one, so I have high hopes it can do even more traffic.

Next Month's Charity is...

APhA Foundation

This month is the annual American Pharmacists Association (APhA) meeting. In high school and college I was a pharmacy technician. My wife is a pharmacist. The APhA Foundation is a highly-rated charity according to Charity Navigator. Thus they are a very worthy recipient of our support.

This month they are hoping to make people aware that they can sync their medications. Some people have different doctors with different medications and their refills are due at different times. The program at Align My Refills is designed to help people sync them up. This way consumers don't have to make many trips to the pharmacy. It also makes the pharmacists lives easier too. Win-win. I'll let their video explain it:

They also have a very cool infographic here.

For the most part, the charitable cause is to just make people aware of the service. However, we'll support the APhA Foundation with the monetary donation just like we do with all the charities we support.

In Case You Missed It...

Of course all the articles on Be Better Now are awesome. Some are just a little more awesome than others. For that reason I thought I'd use this space to highlight a few of the articles that you might have missed last month:

I'll let those articles be the final word on February 2015. Let's make March 2015 awesome!

This post involves:

Be Better Now, Charity, Monthly Review

... and focuses on:

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Summary: Parkinson's Law prevents you from being productive. Here's how to fight back. (Tweet This!)

Parkinson's Law

In a couple of days, I'll be doing the math on this website's traffic to add up the money I'll be donating to Washington Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association. However, today, I'd like to bring up the topic of a Parkinson's that you probably never heard of... Parkinson's Law. Wikipedia's definition is very brief: Parkinson's Law is the adage that "work expands to fill the time available."

Three Ways I've Been Impacted by Parkinson's Law

If you read a little more into the Wikipedia definition, you'll see that a more general definition is "the demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource." I've found this to be true of nearly every project I've tried to accomplish in life. Specifically it applies to at least three areas, work, space, and money.

Parkinson's Law of Work/Time

This was the base case mentioned from the outset. Have you ever had that book report that you put off until the last minute? I always choked it up to procrastination, but maybe it was Parkinson's Law. In my years as a software engineer, I've rarely seen a project finish under the projected time allotted for the work. (This is theme that's prevalent in Frederick Brook's The Mythical Man-Month.) It almost always takes until the end.

Sadly, I find that this continues with my writing today. In fact, it's several times worse, because I have some long term projects that have no definitive due date on them. When there is no due date, the work expands indefinitely.

One idea I'm thinking of is enlisting my wife as a project manager. I'd explain to her each week what I'm looking to accomplish. At the end of the week, we'd go through and make sure that I have it - instant accountability! If she's not interested in such a thing, perhaps I could make commitment contracts to motivate me to get it done. I'm also setting monthly goals, which help me get things done.

Parkinson's Law of Space

Sometimes, I think if I only had more space, I'd be free of clutter forever. I've come to realize that Parkinson's Law applies here as well. My clutter expands to fill the space. When I lived in homes with small kitchens the counters were crowded. Now that I live in a kitchen with a big kitchen... guess what? The counters are crowded.

Parkinson's Law of Money

Have you ever gotten a tax refund or raise? Was your first thought to run out to buy a pair of Christian Louboutin? I hope not, because that's the perfect opportunity to save money for financial freedom.

Too many people don't think to save this money. Instead, they buy nice things and create what many call "lifestyle inflation." If you make more money, the demand for your money rises. Take this story on a banker not being able to live on a million dollars. Here is a juicy quote:

And I don’t mean to sound like a snob or anything but I do have a housekeeper, babysitters, gym memberships, therapists for me and my wife, plus our couples therapist.

How to Fight Parkinson's Law

Here are a few of the things that I've found help me kick Parkinson's Law to the curb:

Like many things, defeating Parkinson's Law is a work in progress. I find that as I get older and wiser, I have more knowledge.

This post involves:

Mind, Productivity

... and focuses on:


Summary: These simple tips on how to save money at restaurants can keep thousands of dollars a year in your wallet. (Tweet This!)

Today, I thought I'd write about some more ways to Save Money. In the past I've written about how it is important to spend less than you earn, which lead to me writing about these high level tips on how to save money on almost anything. One of the items that I mentioned were the cost of "outings..." and the obvious example is the cost of going out to restaurants.

Save Money at Restaurants

Save Money at Restaurants

The average American spends thousands of dollars a year at restaurants. I've got nothing against restaurants. I'll be the first to admit that the food is generally better than I can make at home. However, I don't think it is that much better. I will say that my taste buds and sense of smell (which factor into taste) are, well, defective compared to most people's.

That said, I think for many people, there are ways to save money at restaurants. Here are some basic tips:

Avoid Restaurants

It shouldn't come as a surprise, the best way to avoid spending money at restaurants is to avoid restaurants. It is easier said than done. There are restaurants everywhere - and people need to eat. The combination of the two has made going out to eat an important social aspect of our lives. A lot of people don't go to restaurants for social reasons - they just want the convenience of a quick meal.

It's reasonable to fall for the social value eating out - a lot of people do. That said, it's worth suggesting an alternative such as a pot luck dinner. If your difficulty is in finding time, the answer is easy. You can make a few minor changes to your daily schedule and enjoy great quality food at a great price. I suggest you follow some of the tips in Be Better Now's Productivity category.

You want another reason to avoiding restaurants? It's often difficult to find nutritional information of the food (unless it is a large chain). If you are fortunate enough to find nutrition information, you'll quickly realize that it's next to impossible to maintain a healthy diet or lose weight, if that's your goal.

If you can't avoid restaurants the next best thing is to limit the damage to your wallet. So let's look at:

Top Ways to Save Money at Restaurants

  • Do Lunch Instead of Dinner - Lunch prices are typically significantly cheaper. Not only do you save money, but the portions are usually smaller and you are less likely to knock down a days worth of calories.
  • Save Half Your Meal for Leftovers - I sometimes ask for a take-out dish right away, so that I'm not tempted to eat the whole thing. This is another tip that's about health as much as it is about money. If a restaurant is going to give me 2,000 calories of food or more, I might as well space them out over a couple of days.
  • Split a Meal - Similar to above, the idea here is to split something with your companion. My wife and I do this regularly for lunches. She loves the salad and half sandwich. A half sandwich and fries (or steamed vegetables if I feel like being better) is enough for me. She orders the salad. I order the sandwich. I give her half with her salad. Sometimes a restaurant will charge a "split-plate fee." Some call this tacky, but I think you could just claim it's for portion control.
  • Cash in on your Seniority - If you are a senior citizen, you can often get a discount. You've earned it.
  • Skip the Alcohol - The margins that restaurants make on wine and other alcoholic beverages are tremendous. If you can save the drinks for home, you'll not only save money, but also avoid any nasty DUI incidents.
  • Look for Restaurants with No Corkage Fee - Bringing your own bottle of wine can lead to savings. If you find a restaurant that can't get an alcohol license it can lead to big savings. My wife and I found a pasta restaurant in western Massachusetts that allowed this. Cheap pasta and your own wine is a big win.
  • Take Advantage of Happy Hour - If you can't skip the alcohol and the corkage feeds are high, maybe you can get a half-price or 2-for-1 special during happy hour. They work equally well if your companion wants a drink too.
  • Cash in on the Early Bird Specials - There's a lot of money to be saved by dining at off-peak hours. This can also be nicely combined with the above tip about happy hour. Have a drink at the bar and bring it to your table. While on the topic of early bird specials I'm reminded of this great moment in Seinfeld history from the episode The Cadallac:

    "MORTY: Alright, are you ready to eat?

    HELEN: (glancing at her watch) Oh, right, let's go. Jerry, let's go, it's time
    to eat. We're going to dinner.

    Jerry wanders into the room. He's in a t-shirt and sweatpants, and holding a
    comic book he's been reading.

    JERRY: (confused) Dinner? W..What time is it?

    HELEN: (pulling on a coat) It's four-thirty.

    JERRY: (bewildered) Four-thirty? Who eats dinner at four-thirty?

    MORTY: By the time we sit down, it'll be quarter to five.

    JERRY: I don't understand why we have to eat now.

    HELEN: We gotta catch the early-bird. It's only between four-thirty and six.

    MORTY: Yeah. They give you a tenderloin, a salad and a baked potato, for
    four-ninety-five. You know what that cost you after six?

    JERRY: Can't we eat at a decent hour? I'll treat, okay?

    HELEN: You're not buying us dinner.

    JERRY: (emphatic) I'm not force-feeding myself a steak at four-thirty to save a
    coupla bucks, I'll tell you that!

    HELEN: Alright, (sitting on the couch) we'll wait. (pointedly) But it's unheard
    of."

    I'm with Morty and Helen. Grab that tenderloin, salad, potato for $4.95 (or whatever the incredible special price is). I'd probably aim to eat closer to 5:30, but other than that it sounds fantastic.

  • Eat on nights with "specials" - Many chains and even local restaurants offer incentives (i.e. good deals) during their slower nights of the week. You won't many specials on Friday or Saturday, but it's fairly common to find a good deal on Tuesdays (as one example).
  • Drink Water - Not only is water healthier than soda it's cheaper. In this case cheaper equals "free."
  • Use Coupons - There are a lot of coupons out there. Many of them offer a buy one get one free meal. You can sign up for Groupon and get free daily deals. You could also buy an Entertainment book an Entertainment Book full of coupons. You might also consider Restaurant.com a website where you can by vouchers for very cheap dinners (though they often come with restrictions).
  • Buy a Gift Card at a Reduced Rate - On Ebay you can often find people looking to get cash for their gift cards. With a quick search, you can save 10% or more.
  • Use a rewards credit card geared towards restaurants - If you can't find a gift card or don't have the time to wait for delivery, this is a good back-up. Some credit cards offer 3-5% or more cash back at restaurants. Some credit cards give you cash back at grocery stores or drug stores. You can take advantage by buying a gift card and using that for your bill.

With any and all the above tips, use your common sense. Don't try to split a meal with your boss. Have an alcoholic drink (if that's your thing) with a colleague. Don't pull out the coupons on the first date. In short, be smart and pick your spots.

Bonus Tip: Though it won't save you money, we like to think about health here at Be Better Now. Americans underestimate the calories in restaurant food by 642 calories (Official study by American Journal of Public Health).

That's another reason to share or save half of your meal for leftovers the next day.

This post involves:

Money / Personal Finance, Save Money, Smart Spending

... and focuses on:


Summary: Summary: I set my goals for March 2015. Can I ramp up my exercise, learn the guitar, and double traffic to this website? We'll find out...

Time to Set Goals

Well look at that, it's March already. I'm looking forward to not losing whole days to shoveling. In related news, I am hoping to score a bargain on an end of season snow blower.

Let's waste no further time and get right to the goals:

Personal 1: Work out 7 Times

Over the last two years, working out has been one of my biggest failings. I simply don't get to the gym and do either the amount of running or the amount of weight training I should be.

What do I do for exercise? I walk my dog, Jake. We've gone on some epic walks. Walking is good exercise, but I need to step up the intensity.

Towards the end of February, I took a few minutes in one day to do sets of push-ups. I didn't get too far, before I realized what happens when you don't use muscles in awhile. This:

So the goal this month is to ramp up the physical activity. I'm going to take baby steps and aim for 7 workouts... less than once for every four days.

Personal 2: Re-"learn" the guitar

I broke out my guitar for the first time in more than 10 years. My wife didn't know what to make of it, because she'd never seen me play. I'm sure she never expected me to pick it up either.

So why did I pick it up? My oldest son is about as musically gifted as a 2-year old can be. If he's interested in the guitar, I want to be able to help him with it.

Yes, age 2 is far too young for any kind of meaningful teaching. However, my expertise in guitar comes solely from a 10-class introduction that I took place more a long, long time ago. I'm no Joe Perry.

In March, I'd like to be good with four basic cords. As a stretch goal, I'd like to be able to play the beginning of Weezer's Undone (Sweater Song)... which was the best I could do in my training class.

Be Better Now: Double traffic

March will be the third month of Be Better Now. In February, I was able to more than double the traffic of the first month. Next week, I'll go into the gory details with the monthly review.

Doubling traffic (growing 100%) is easy when you are just starting out. It becomes a lot more difficult once you get bigger.

It's far too early for me to run into the Wheat and the Chessboard Problem, so I'm optimistic that I can double traffic. That will be the benchmark for at least the next couple of months.

Please check back in the first week of April to see how I did. Better yet, why not join me and set some goals for yourself for the month?

This post involves:

Monthly Goals

... and focuses on:

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Summary: Sleep is one of the most important things in our lives. Here's how to be a little better at it. (Tweet This!)

If there's one topic of Be Better Now that I don't know how to categorize it is sleep. It naturally seems to fit in health. However, one could make a strong case it fits in the mind section. It has a large impact on productivity and hence money.

Most sleep experts seem to recommend that we get 8 hours of sleep each night. The simple math tells us that 1/3rd of our lives is spent sleeping. If you live to 75 years old, approximately 25 years could be spent sleeping.

Any way you slice it sleep is a Big Deal.

My dog sleeps like this.

With anything as big as that any kind of optimization multiplies itself substantially. If you be effective in 7 hours of sleep you'll get more than three years of your life back.

I shouldn't need to convince you any more, so here are a few ways to get better sleep:

  • Take a Nap - I am a huge fan of naps. I have them planned into my day. With the nap, I can get be productive until 11PM or later. Without the nap, I start to wind down right after dinner.

    My wife isn't a nap person. Sometimes she gives it a try and just wakes up more tired than she was before. Do what works for you.

  • Time Your Nap Right - Almost Bohemian tells of Salvador Dali sleeping with a key. You sit in a chair to fall asleep holding a key. When you fall asleep, the key falls and the sound of it on the floor wakes you up rested. It's timed so that you get to your most relaxed point. The best part is that you don't oversleep.
  • Fight Back - Try to stay awake. Your body wants to sleep and you may be anxiously trying to get to sleep. If you try to stay awake you won't be anxious and hence fall asleep. It even has a long name and scientific research: paradoxical intention. You can read more about it here
  • Enlist some Technology - There are apps for your smart phones and devices like the Fitbit Flex that will track your sleep. I'm most excited about the Luna Smartbed, which is just a cover over your mattress that delivers a lot of data without having to wear any uncomfortable gadgets.

Further Reading:

The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night's Sleep has only 18 reviews on Amazon with is typically too small for me to recommend. However, reviewers collective rate it at 4.3 stars... and there's the Harvard Medical School aspect going for it.

Looking for something with better (and more) reviews? Sleep Smarter: 21 Proven Tips to Sleep Your Way To a Better Body, Better Health and Bigger Success has 88 Amazon reviews and an incredible 4.7 stars. The Kindle price is currently a penny under a fiver which seems like a very good deal.

This post involves:

Health / Fitness

... and focuses on:


Summary: The most powerful weapon for beating the clutter monster is right between your ears: your mind - (Tweet This!)

This article would have been published hours ago if I only I acted on the title. My desk has so much clutter on it, that I can't effectively use it to write. Instead I sit on the couch, with poor posture and not in a good working environment.

It's not just my desk. It's my computer's desktop as well. Icons stretch far off the windows screen. I have folders, but they are so many that they stretch off the screen.

It's time to clean the clutter.

Why We Need to Declutter

Basketball in a suit of armor

Intimidating, but not effective.

Clutter saps my focus. Instead of doing what I need to do, I'm thinking about the mound of mess. I can forget about finding the business card from last year's conference... which means lost opportunities.

These things may not seem like much, but they add up and they have a "mental weight" for me. It's like trying to play basketball in a suit of armor. You can't play your best game.

Causes of Clutter

I can think of three main causes of clutter:

  1. Not enough time to put the clutter away
  2. Not enough space for one's physical "clutter" requirement
  3. A mental block with throwing stuff away

I find myself with dealing with #1 and #3 on a regular basis. The problem with time is that there's never enough of it. I'm getting there with all the productivity tips that I'm learning. Also, since clutter costs me time, it is a vicious circle. If I can clear off the time to clean it, it will save me even more time in the future.

The mental block is tougher to deal with. It sometimes hurts me to throw stuff away. These are thinks that I think:

What if I need that again? It cost me money to buy it, so I'm throwing away money. It must have value to someone, so I just need to find that person. If I find that person, I'll be helping save the environment by giving this thing another life.

It's not like I'm saving pizza boxes from 1987 like you might see in an episode of hoarders. However, you get the idea that I'm not much of a minimalist.

Mind Over Clutter

Finally, there's the idea that you might not have enough for your "clutter." In this scenario, I put "clutter" in quotes, because the items may not be clutter in the traditional sense. They could be very useful and even necessary items, but the lack of a designated space or "home" for the items could create the issue.

Get Your Mind into Declutter

So what do you do if it hurts to get rid of things? You do it slowly, taking a few baby steps each day. This way you build a resistance to those questions. You make throwing away a few things habit.

Alternatively, you could designate a few items to go to charity or a yard sale. Simply have a couple boxes appropriately marked in any storage space you do have. Then when you find yourself saying "This must gave value to someone", you have an answer. You don't have to feel bad about harming the environment as you might if you throw it away.

It gets even better. You might even get a tax deduction and save money by getting rid of the item.

Further Reading

If you are looking for more actionable tips, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars by nearly a thousand reviewers on Amazon. That's a lot of value for under $10.

This post involves:

Declutter, Mind

... and focuses on:

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Summary: Housing is American's biggest expense - 40% on average. Make smart choices and save hundreds of thousands of dollars! (Tweet This!)

Did you know that according to government data Americans spend 41% of their money on their home? Sure that’s data from December 2011, and furnishings and utilities, but still nearly a third of everyone’s money goes towards their rent or mortgage.

Saving money on housing

Plan well and you'll be tossing money around like this house.

Housing is the highest living expense for most people. It is one place where saving a little money can have a tremendous impact on your finances for years.

Buy Vs. Rent

There are epic debates on whether you should or buy or rent. The war has been waged for decades and will likely continue for many more decades. Those on the “buy” side say that renting is “throwing money away.” Those that rent say that they enjoy not having to fix everything themselves.

At some level, both situations can work. If someone were to rent you the perfect home for a single dollar a month, for life, you’d be a fool not to take it. If someone were charging you a thousand dollars a month for rent, but willing to sell it to you for ten thousand, you’d be a fool not to buy it.

The final answer is very complicated, but it comes down to:

  1. What is best for you
  2. The valuation of buying vs. renting

How do you calculate the valuation of buying vs. renting? Take the price to buy a property and divide it by the annual cost to rent a similar property. If that number is around 16, it doesn’t matter. If it is over 16 you want to rent and if it is under 16 you want to buy. If it is just 15 or 18, that’s only a small indication to buy or rent. However, if the number gets to be 12 and under or 20 and over, you’ve got yourself a fairly definitive valuation.

For example, let’s imagine I have a small starter home that costs $100,000 to buy. However, there’s one in the same development that’s for rent at $900/mo. The price-to-rent is 9.25 ($100,000 divided by an annual rent of $10,800). This number is far below 16 and a strong indication that you’d do much better to buy.

It isn’t likely that your perfect home is going to fit that ideal scenario, but you can do this calculation for similar properties to get an idea if your area is a buyer’s or a renter’s market. You may even find that there are helpful tables like this one from Bankrate that give you the price-to-rent ratios in many cities as well as the United States in general. As I write this, Honolulu is 34.63, which almost commands you to rent. Conversely Detroit’s 7.16 number couldn’t scream “Buy Me!” any louder.

Improve Your Credit

Whether you are buying or renting, you’ll want to have the best credit score possible. If you are renting a great credit score tells the landlord: “I’m a responsible person who pays my debts on time.” A poor one says, “You are taking a big risk if you rent to me.” Which renter do you think has more power when it comes to negotiating a rent?

When buying a home, your credit score is even more important. It is used by banks to determine how much interest you’ll pay on a mortgage. A small difference in an interest rate means quite a bit over the 30-year span of mortgages that most people get. It can easily lead to a difference of a hundred thousand dollars or more.

Learn to Negotiate

Whether you are buying or renting, you are going to end up at the negotiating table. The seller or the landlord wants to maximize their money too. If you can negotiate just $50 a month off rent, you’ll save your $600 a year.

If you are buying, you may be able to shave ten or twenty thousand dollars off of the price.

Don’t Buy Too Much House

You’ve probably heard the expression “House Poor.” This happens when people pay too much for their home. The monthly payments are so large, they don’t have enough money for other necessities. And that means no money for saving and investing. And that means delaying your journey to financial freedom.

Your goal should be to buy a home that fits your needs. Many people think they need a McMansion, but living in small home can lead to a big payoff. They are (typically) cheaper to buy, require less furniture, and are easier to heat and cool saving money on utilities.

Some people take the “smaller is better” saying to the extreme and choose to live in very tiny houses. This allows them to pay off their mortgage in just a few years. The tiny house lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but eliminating one of life’s biggest expenses in a couple of years is a huge step to financial freedom.

Putting it All Together

These tips can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime. They could jump-start you to financial freedom. When buying a home, the stakes are tremendous. Decisions that seem small make a huge difference.

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Money / Personal Finance, Save Money, Smart Spending

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Summary: Living chemical free is not a realistic goal, but some easy substitutions go a long way (Tweet This!)

Live Chemical Free

When my wife was pregnant with our two children she took health to a new level. She did everything possible to avoid chemicals. Artificial sweeteners were replaced with organic agave such as this. Full calorie soda was kicked to the curb due to high-fructose corn syrup. There was an occasional splurge on Mexican Coke, which is made with cane sugar.

Imagine making those changes with everything you eat. That's what she did for two, long 9-month stretches.

Finding something to drink at a restaurant turned into a very difficult process. Ever notice how alcohol and soda dominate a restaurant? Even if you find some kind of juice, it is mostly going to be high-fructose corn syrup and water... not particularly healthy.

All of this brings me to the question?

Can You Live Chemical Free?

Nope. No way, no how. You can't. It's like trying to pitch a perfect game and striking out all 27 batters on 3 pitches.

Chemicals are everywhere.

It's not just my opinion, but also the doctor's in this article.

There's a lot of talk about being "chemical-free" which is why I prominently put it in the title. I think it's a poor term that focuses on extremism rather than useful. As the saying goes, perfect is the enemy of good.

Don't go in with a goal of pitching that extreme perfect game, just do you best with what's in-front at the time and you'll be fine.

Chemicals Aren't Necessarily Bad...

Before we go too far, I want to make the point that chemicals aren't necessarily bad. Science has done a lot of tremendous stuff for us, including creating the technology to allow you to read this. It doesn't feel right to say, "Hey this branch of science is really good and useful and this other branch is always harmful."

Even in the most controversial cases, it seems like it is the public that is confused about the science. For example, this from Pew Research:

"A majority of the general public (57%) says that genetically modified (GM) foods are generally unsafe to eat, while 37% says such foods are safe; by contrast, 88% of AAAS scientists say GM foods are generally safe. The gap between citizens and scientists in seeing GM foods as safe is 51 percentage points. This is the largest opinion difference between the public and scientists."

It looks like it's a case where the public doesn't understand health studies, is caught up in misinformation from a few bad eggs trying to get in the spotlight, or simply is fearful of something they don't understand.

I feel like chemicals are often painted with the same broad brush.

Final Thoughts...

My philosophy on this is that it's good to eliminate most chemicals when we can, but don't go overboard. Many people are living healthy long lives and most all of them are not checking their food for chemicals.

I suggest you look to make changes when you can. For example, I don't buy tomato sauce in a jar any more. I make it with diced tomatoes, tomato sauce (in a can), and tomato paste. I buy them all organic as it is only a few cents more. I've eliminated high-fructose corn syrup from my diet.

Another thing to look out for is BBQ sauce. Most brands have high-fructose corn syrup, but a few don't. For example, Bulls-eye BBQ uses real sugar.

Finally, my friends at DIY Natural have more advice than I can ever give you. Not only do they cover food, but they cover toiletries and other items. Their DIY Natural Household Cleaners book is highly recommended with an average of 4.3 stars over 125 reviews.

This post involves:

Diet, Health / Fitness, Weight Loss

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