One of my mentors once told me, quite insightfully, that most people make almost all of their decisions based on whatever is easiest in their life. At the time, he was referring to college life – he argued that people who filled their dorm room with distractions and entertainment were more likely to do poorly in classes than people who had a dorm room filled with books and other learning materials. Why? Because when a person is sitting around in their dorm room on a given evening, a bit on the tired side from a long day, they’re going to grab whatever’s easiest. What’s easier? Picking up the remote to watch a television show or picking up a textbook? What if the television isn’t in the room?
His argument wasn’t that television and other entertainment should be banned in the dorms. His argument was that we have a lot of control over what is in our environment and our environment shapes what we wind up doing.
This carries through to personal finance. If the path of least resistance is to just go buy stuff, swipe the plastic, and walk out, it’s a lot easier to buy without thinking. If the path of least resistance is to maintain your bank account that’s loaded with fees, money is going to seep out of your account.
In other words, an awful lot of personal finance success (and success in other areas) revolve around making the good choice as easy as possible. Here are some examples of how to do this.
Remove your credit card numbers from online sites. Turn off that “one click ordering” at Amazon. Delete your web browser cookies. Doing this will make it harder to order online, convincing you to not buy or find alternate (and often less expensive) means.
Cut up your credit cards (and your debit cards, too). Make it difficult for yourself to acquire the cash with which to make purchases. If you literally don’t have the cash, you’re not going to go on a shopping spree, are you?
Install a programmable thermostat. You can save a lot of money by keeping your thermostat properly adjusted, but that requires remembering to do it multiple times a day. If you forget, you waste energy – and that’s a cost. The path of least resistance is to set the cycle of temperature adjustment once and then forget about it, which is exactly what a programmable thermostat allows.
Make meals in advance. It’s easy to talk ourselves into eating out because that has less “resistance” than going to the effort of preparing food. Eliminate that resistance by making meals in advance, or at least portions of meals. Prepare casseroles and freeze them. Make a batch of breakfast burritos and freeze them, too. There are countless things you can do to make it very easy to prepare an inexpensive and healthy meal very quickly.
Cancel your premium cable channels. If you mostly just turn on the television and surf to see what’s on, why are you paying for premium channels? Whether you have them or not, you’ll find something to watch among the eighty other channels you have.
Leave books out and available. Choose some books you really want to read, then check them out from the library. Leave these books in the places where you sit most frequently and you’ll find that you’re much more likely to pick them up and read a few pages. It’s incredibly cheap entertainment and it’s often a great way to get exposed to new ideas and help you grow personally and professionally.
The same thing applies to diet (get rid of unhealthy foods in your home and stock up on healthy stuff) or exercise (leave your exercise gear out front and center) or quitting a bad habit (dump out all the alcohol or drugs or cigarettes) or anything else you want to change in your life. The more resistance you eliminate to the things you want, the easier it becomes to reach them.
What resistance to your big goals can you eliminate today?