Updated on 07.26.07

Applying Jerry Seinfeld’s “Chain” Concept To Personal Finance

Trent Hamm

SeinfeldI bet Jerry Seinfeld is not a person you’d ever expect me to discuss on The Simple Dollar. I didn’t expect to talk about him either, but then I read an article at LifeHacker outlining Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret. Here’s an excerpt:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain.” He said again for emphasis.

Basically, once you start accomplishing a task every day, if you create an obvious visual reminder of that continued success, you’re going to want to keep going. Seinfeld applied this philosophy to writing comedic pieces, but you can directly apply it to anything in your life, from weight loss to reading to, well, personal finance!

Here are six ways you can use this chaining technique to improve your personal finance state:

Devote fifteen minutes a day to investigating money saving techniques Each day you manage to do this, put an X on the wall calendar. Soon, you’ll find that that fifteen minutes a day is actually shaving a lot of money from your budget. Here are forty ways to get started.

Research in detail one stock Let’s say you’re an individual stock investor and you have a hard time staying motivated with the necessary research. Start a chain for this – go through your research routine for one stock a day, then mark a big X over that day. As the chain grows, you’ll want to keep up your streak of success – and hopefully, you’ll find a sweet stock pick or two.

Eat at home Many people get started eating at home, but then get burnt out on the effort. Each day you manage not to eat out, put a big red X on the box. Soon, you’ll find yourself trying to keep the streak alive – and discovering a lot of extra money in your budget.

Check your online account balances I do this every day, methodically, to make sure there aren’t any errors (and because I enjoy watching my investments and my interest go up). For some people, though, they need reminders to do this, so this “chain” technique can work really well.

Don’t watch television Television is expensive in a lot of ways. Many people want to give it up, find the initiative for a few days, then slack off. Use this technique to psychologically push yourself to keep that television turned off.

This is a very clever psychological technique for providing extra motivation for yourself. Don’t break the chain.

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  1. nice idea to make things work along with real feedback and push.

  2. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this. Thanks for sharing!

  4. If you’re going to not watch TV… I’d suggest getting rid of it. There are plenty of things that I enjoy on television but by having a DVR I watch much less television in hours, and I can condense the amount of time that I actually watch television to a tiny percentage of my week. The chain method is what I’m trying to apply to my own life in blog writing, keeping up with finances, and losing weight. The good thing is that it works!

  5. Agreed!

    I gave up TV completely (I get it free in hotel rooms anyway when I travel), gave up my apartment (as I travel so much), and now that I have more ‘free time’, I work more (I also enjoy it.. don’t worry), and get recognized/noticed more, feel better that I’m doing good career-wise, and that snowballed into my starting to eat healthier and work out (2 apples a day instead of cookies and chocolate!). I also use my free time to read all the great blogs I miss out at work.

  6. sir jorge says:

    this was a superb post, and an excellent tie in

  7. Brip Blap says:

    Yeah, great post. Don’t drink soda? Work on the Penske file?

  8. Tim says:

    this chain thing is nothing more than a credit report. take a look at your credit report and see the chain.

  9. Sarah says:

    I do this for the gym. For me, though, because I don’t work out every single day (usually, it’s five or six days a week), it’s not really “don’t break the chain” as much as it is “look at all the pink highlighter!” I color in the boxes on my calendar. It doesn’t have to be the chain, but it’s nice to see all that pink for all the days I’ve worked out.

  10. paidtwice says:

    I love this.

    Now which of the 15 things I would like to keep up with to start a chain with….

  11. PF says:

    I did this with flossing my teeth. At the end of 28 days I got to use a spa gift card that I had been saving. Well, it’s been over 2 years and the only day I’ve missed was the day I was in the hospital due to a cat scratch on my hand. I would have flossed, but my hand was so swollen, I couldn’t….yes, I tried!

    My dentist tells me that studies have shown that good dental care young can save tens of thousands of dollars later. I see this with my inlaws. They spend thousands every year fixing their teeth. They grew up in the depression….so dental car wasn’t exactly a high priority. So, seem flossing is financially relevant!

  12. PF says:

    Oh, regarding my flossing challenge (that is what I called it), I printed out a free year at a glance calendar and taped it to the inside of my medicine cabinet with a pen. I marked off each day I flossed. Much cheaper than a huge wall calendar

  13. Kathleen says:

    I did this a few years ago – decided which of my numerous hobbies I wanted to do, could do and would do every day, drew up a chart and checked them off each day. That was three years ago and I don’t need the chart anymore, but I still write and draw every day, and have sold a few stories and recently did a book cover and some illustrations for an anthology. It’s a very powerful tool!

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