To me, personal finance is about far more than just dollars and cents. Not only does the money you earn open a lot of doors and give you a lot of opportunities, those things are connected to almost every element of your life.
It’s not surprising, then, that making a change in one little part of your life can have a much bigger impact than you originally thought.
A Change Is Like a Stone Tossed Into a Still Pond
I like to think of my life as being like a pond.
The realities of my life are the bottom of the pond. My children, my wife, my personality, my career, my internal challenges – things like that make up the rules and boundaries of how I live.
The pond is filled with the time and energy and skills and resources that I bring to the table. There’s only so much area that I can cover with what I have, and some areas have to be covered more deeply than others – those are the deeper parts of the pond, like family.
The surface is my day-to-day life. I try to cover all of the areas in my life at least a little.
When I choose to make a change, it’s as if a rock has dropped from the sky into my pond. Usually, it only makes a little difference as to the shape of the bottom of the pond – it doesn’t really change my life responsibilities too much at all.
The surface, though – it changes a lot. When that rock hits, it sends out ripples throughout the pond. The effect of that rock drop is felt everywhere and it takes a while to find a new balance.
These kinds of changes take all forms. Maybe it’s a job loss or a leap to a new career. Maybe it’s a choice to exercise more or a decision to finally get your financial situation in order. That change might seem to be limited to just one part of your life, but they spread out.
The Ripples of My Change
About two months ago, I was really struggling to keep up with the many things going on in my life. This is a pretty traditional response to the start of the school year, as Sarah returns to full time teaching and our children dive back into a litany of activities after a summer of relative peace. The household tasks mount up, the evening activities swell and seem to fill every night, and to make things worse, the days gradually get shorter, too, which seems to sap away just a bit of energy.
I felt just overwhelmed with stuff.
About two months ago, as things seemed to reach a crescendo, I set an alarm for the first time in a long time. I woke up at five in the morning, which gave me about fifteen minutes to wake up, drink some water, and stretch and then about an hour of time to get some writing done. I made up for that extra early hour by simply going to sleep earlier each night, usually crashing at ten instead of at eleven or so.
A simple change, right? Well, the change actually wound up having strange impacts – most of them positive – throughout my life.
Ripple #1: My Writing Became Far More Productive
It turns out that the first hour or so that I’m fully awake is perhaps my most efficient hour of writing of the day. I can get into a “zone” of writing very quickly during that timeframe and the words just flow onto the page extremely quickly. After the first few days, I was blown away by how much writing I was able to get done during that first hour and fifteen minutes (or so) each day.
Compared to how I typically write in the afternoons, I could get more writing done in that single hour and fifteen minutes than I could usually get done in the period after lunch and before my children arrive home.
Ripple #2: I Really Only Lost an Hour of “Tired” Activities
Before this change, I would spend that last hour of wakefulness – between ten and eleven – doing things that weren’t particularly useful. I’d watch a television show with Sarah perhaps one or two nights a week. I’d flip through a magazine. I’d play a computer game. I’d read a book (but usually forget most of what I read and be forced to re-read it later).
I basically ditched all of that. Now, after the children are fully in bed (by about 8:30), I do a few household tasks or other things that I can easily do when I’m feeling tired, I chat with Sarah about the day for a while, and then I just go to bed.
Basically I turned an hour of pretty mindless things done when I’m really tired into an hour of highly productive writing.
Ripple #3: I Found Time for Exercise, Leading Me to Feel and Think Better
This shift in writing has left me with some additional “open” time in the afternoon and I’ve chosen to use a healthy portion of it for exercise. I’ve been dabbling in a number of things – walking/jogging, dynamic resistance yoga, and my old standby of the Lifetime Fitness Ladder – but the goal is mostly to get my heart racing for a while each day and try to lose myself in the moment.
Having that period of time to exercise has had some nice additional benefits. It’s left me feeling better, with a higher overall level of energy to approach my day. Better than that, exercise time has actually become wonderful brainstorming time, whether I am actively brainstorming or not. After exercise, I pull out a pad of paper and jot down thoughts of all kinds – and they seem to come like a flood after an exercise session.
Ripple #4: I Strongly Established a Reading Pattern with My Children
One thing I’ve always wanted to do is instill a love of reading in my children, both for learning and for personal pleasure. At various points, we’ve established a “family reading time” where everyone sits down together and reads, but it’s been hard to continue it with the multitude of things going on in our lives.
Thanks to this free time, I’ve been able to completely block off half an hour after school each day for us to sit down and just read. I go in the living room with the children, we all pull out books, and we set a thirty minute timer. All of us read until the timer goes off, at which point we finish up our chapter or section and talk for a couple of minutes about what we’ve each been reading.
It’s been wonderful for me and the children are really taking to it as well. They often read far past the sounding of the timer and sometimes don’t even seem to hear it at all because they’re so engrossed in their books.
Ripple #5: I Managed to Find a Little Space for Other “Side Gigs”
This shift has also enabled me to designate Friday afternoons as “special project” time, where I try to work on special things that might someday grow up into a healthy income-earning side gig. This time, much like the exercise time and the family reading time, came into existence because of that writing switch.
I haven’t produced anything incredible yet, but the time has given me more than enough freedom to give a chance to some ideas I’ve had walking around in my head. That alone has been wonderful, even if the ideas never grow up into anything big.
What’s Your Simple Change?
That one simple change in my life – getting up an hour early to write – has had an impact in almost every aspect of my life. It’s helped my family relationships. It’s helped my physical fitness. It’s helped both the creative and productive aspects of my work. It’s helped my energy levels, too.
What’s your simple change? Is there one thing you can shift in your life?
Perhaps you can commit to not taking on any more debt and putting $100 extra per month toward your credit card beyond the minimum payment. Maybe you can commit to cooking all meals at home for a while unless you’re going out for true social reasons. Maybe you’ll just commit to spending half an hour a day reading a personal finance book (or a book on some other topic that’s important to you that you want to know more about).
Whatever that one change is, if you watch, you’ll see ripples throughout your life. Maybe paying off debt will see your stress level drop and help you build better relationships with the people in your life. Maybe the meals you cook at home will cause you to have more energy and drop a few pounds along with saving money. Perhaps the personal finance books will convince you to try out some frugal strategies or cause you to start investing your money for the future, putting you on track for financial independence and putting your mind at ease.
No matter the change you choose for your life, there will be ripples. If the change is positive, it’s very likely that the impact on other areas of your life will be positive, too. Better yet, you probably can’t even see most of the positive ripples – they’ll become apparent the longer the change stays in your life.
Change doesn’t just fix one thing. It helps a lot of things.