Updated on 10.30.14

Life and Discipline

Trent Hamm

Using the Five Personal Finance Business Cards for Other Aspects of Life

A while back, I wrote a post outlining everything you needed to know about personal finance on the back of five business cards. In a succinct way, that post laid out the most important pieces of personal finance: spend less than you earn, and do that by living frugally and focusing on increasing your earnings – from there, you’ll achieve financial independence.

The truth is that most of that philosophy applies to any self-motivated goal, from teaching yourself something new to losing weight. To show how useful that general philosophy is, I decided to apply the “five business card” philosophy to two goals I have for myself in the coming year: learning how to play the piano and losing weight.

1. The Most Important Thing

business card 1

Losing weight

The transition of that principle to weight loss is pretty straightforward: consume less than you burn. In other words, the caloric intake in a given day should be less than the calories spent when you’re in weight loss mode.

Learning the piano

But how does that rule apply to learning a new skill? Basically, it’s a motivator to practice – each day you practice, you get better, while each day you don’t bother, you get worse. It’s also a cry to work on the fundamentals, which is also true for any kind of training. Practice more, put it off less is a good way to describe it.

2. Earn More!

business card 2

Losing weight

This basically means burn more – in other words, exercise. My plan is to start walking/jogging each morning as a tool to wake myself up, and I received a pedometer for Christmas to help me set specific numeric goals for this part of the plan.

Learning the piano

For learning the piano, this basically means stop avoiding practice. If I want to actually learn an instrument, I should practice on a consistent schedule instead of every once in a while on a whim. Setting up a clear practice schedule with clear goals (a certain number of sessions a week, for instance) enables me to consistently practice over time.

3. Live Frugal!

business card 3

Losing weight

Here, the idea is to do what you already do in a more efficient fashion. In other words, I should cut some unhealthy elements out of my diet. Part of my plan for the new year is to try a part-time vegetarian diet, mostly in an effort to discover truly appealing healthy dishes – this should help quite a bit with cutting down on the unhealthy food intake.

Learning the piano

This means that when I do practice, the practice should be worthwhile, including working on fundamentals and chords and scales and simple songs that really reinforce these things. Sure, I can try to stretch what I know as well, but completely mastering the fundamentals is what will make me a solid pianist.

4. Manage money!

business card 4

Losing weight

This basically refers to defining larger goals for what I’m doing, because if I both exercise and eat better, I will have the fuel I need to meet my goals. I plan on lowering my BMI by 5 by the end of 2008, and I’ll track that data in Excel throughout the year. Mostly, I want to feel more in shape.

Learning the piano

I want to be able to functionally play a number of Christmas carols by the end of 2008, and be able to piece through many more from the sheet music. In other words, I want to build the consistent practicing and the quality practice into the functionality of being able to play God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

5. Control your own destiny!

business card 5

Losing weight

The larger goal for losing weight is to get myself into a healthy shape so I can participate in every imaginable activity with my children as they grow up and keep up with them as well (at least until they’re in high school). I want to be able to teach my son how to play basketball in the driveway and play one-on-one with him regularly without worrying about passing out.

Learning the piano

I’d like to be able to tackle most songs of reasonable complexity on the piano without much hesitation. I can piece things out in a very rough fashion now, but I know my skills are not strong and I badly want to change that.

Restating the Five Cards: What They Really Mean

The truth of the matter is that the five business cards apply to any goal you might want to set in life. It really boils down to these five pieces:

1. Make a personal commitment

This means sitting down, defining exactly what you want to do, and figuring out what needs to be done to get there, both in terms of your life right now and any new things you might need to add.

2. Add something you aren’t currently doing

Things like exercising, starting a side business, practicing regularly, reading regularly, and so on.

3. Improve the quality of something you are currently doing

This could anything from spending less money to working on fundamentals, reading more challenging books, spending your evening free time in a more useful fashion, and so on.

4. Set short term goals

These are the smaller things you can directly work towards and constantly see progress towards, like like reaching a small savings goal or reading a handful of books on a challenging topic or even watching your BMI go down by one. They should be very simple and quite reachable – you don’t want to burn out before you reach your first milestone.
5. Set long term goals. Usually, the short term goals are just a piece of what you really want. Spend some time specifying exactly where you want to be in the long run, and each time you meet a short term goal, set a new short term goal with your long term goal always in mind.

Any time you want to accomplish a personal goal, spend some time defining it in this context. You’ll find that once you’ve done it, the goal suddenly seems a lot more tangible and reachable.

Good luck on achieving your dreams.

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  1. Good luck with the piano! Maybe this will help: http://www.wisebread.com/how-to-become-an-expert
    My learning guitar experience ended in a whimper.

    As for the exercise, I’ve found the mornings to be THE time to get it done. After work I just don’t have the energy.

    I really like the business card idea, it reminds me of the elevator-pitch concept.

    One question, where are you going to find the time for this along with everything you’re doing now?

  2. H-Bomb says:

    I feel like I should hang this on my fridge or something for a constant reminder of all of my goals. :)

  3. Chris Conley says:

    What a perfectly timed post.

    We were at my uncle’s for Christmas, and I had a chance to peck away on their 1920’s Steinway; it was beautiful. I love the piano, but have never been able to fit it in to play it well.

    I’ve since then been looking into finding a free/very cheap piano to build up my humble skills and double as a fun restoration project!

  4. Matt Carter says:

    Great goals Trent. I really love your sight. It’s been helping me understand and stay with my money goals. Weight control has also always been a problem for me. Things that have helped me: Start a food journal (I just use a 1.00 memo notepad), limit time in front of the computer, take a 20-30 minute walk on your lunch break, eat less (also helps on the frugal department!), and I joined a gym so I can keep the intensity of my workouts up during the winter months. Hope that helps!

  5. Michael says:

    Hanon’s book of exercises may help you learn quickly.

  6. Jason says:

    Wonderful advice, as usual! And so very timely, as we all ponder goals for the new year. My wife and I plan to sit down one night this weekend and lay out two or three specific goals for our “health and wealth” next year.

  7. Ron says:

    Great post Trent.
    Principles remain the same for many things, regardless of the individual situation. Principles of selling remain the same whether you’re selling cars or software. Principles of personal finance are the same whether you make $20,000 or $200,000.

    You hit the nail on the head by showing how goal setting works the same in personal finance, losing weight, or playing the piano.

  8. Jen says:

    Your determination is impressive. Just remember that playing the piano is an art. Build in some leeway to plink around and play whatever you darn well please. Technique and theory are crucial, but free play is valuable too.

  9. Michael says:

    This is a critique partially on rhetoric as well as substance. I noticed you used the phrase “this is basically,” or a similar phrase, several (four) times in this post. This is a habit many people have when speaking, and is less frequent in written communication. Many people say, “this is basically,” in order to stall for time to think, rather than saying, “uh,” or, “hmmm…” This gets aggravating if overused in speech, and doubly so if overused in writing.

    While the generalized form of your 5 principles are applicable to most self-improvement tasks, your frequent use of the word basically shows the difficulty in applying the original form of the 5 principles to some other tasks.

    1. Spend less than you earn / learning the piano. If you’d led off with practice more, put it off less, the comparison would have been much better. The principle of spend less than you earn is a command to maintain an inequality (A make a personal commitment, keeping one thing less than another doesn’t translate well into learning piano. In fact, the comparison you make is not basic at all. To start with the maxim, “Spend less than you earn,” and arrive at “a motivator to practice,” requires a rather complex metaphor. The “make a personal commitment” generalization, while revealing a clear similarity between “keep A lower than B” and “increase C”, does not take explain the logical jump, basically, from spending less to a motivator to practice.

    If you’d like my analysis of the three other uses of the word “basically”, please email me. I don’t want to make too long a comment, and I’m afraid I’ve done so already. I realize that I’m nitpicking, and I’m sorry for bothering you with this drivel if you don’t care about this kind of thing. I wrote this because I’ve been increasingly annoyed at hearing people lead off with, “basically,” when the description to follow is anything but basic.

    Minor note: for Learning the piano, saying practice more would be more similar to burn more and earn more than stop avoiding practice.

  10. Chris says:

    BMI isn’t a great indicator of health. It’s just a ratio of your height to your weight. For example, I have a low BMI simply because I’m thin. I’d say I’m in less than “good” shape though.

    I would say set more athletic type goals if you’re looking for good health. For example, if you’re walking, walk two miles without stopping. Add distance or decrease time taken for future short term goals. Once you’re a really good walker, start jogging. You can jog for one minute, walk for two. Decrease the walking time and increase the jogging time incremently until you jog the whole time. And then, you can add distance or decrease time taken for future short term goals.

    Weight loss is a decent goal, but it will come with you being more healthy. A lower BMI will not ensure being able to make it through a game of tag with your kids without a call to EMS. You’ll know when you’re in shape or not. Plus, it’s more fun to beat a competitive type athletic goal than punching your weight into a BMI calculator.

    By the way, thanks for the blog. You’re very inspiring. I will definitely be setting some work out goals for myself. The “I’m going to work out more” New Year’s resolution never seems to “work out.” I think having actual goals will get me going.

    Thanks :-)

  11. guinness416 says:

    “Couch to 5K” is a great program for getting fit, if you want a goal/checklist, but if you enjoy the weight loss you’ll probably want to add free weight work in eventually. I agree with Chris above that BMI/weight are numbers, but functional fitness is what counts. And taking front/side photos in your undies, johnstonefitness style, is an enormous motivator when you start dropping pounds. Good luck!

  12. Nathan says:

    I could argue (but won’t write that long of a comment) that neither running nor a vegetarian diet are proper measures of health. Moreover, weight and BMI are poor standards as well.

    If your goal is to get in better physical condition and to read from better qualified commentators here are some suggestions:

    The Zone Diet by Barry Sears (several related books)
    Core Performance by Mark Verstegen (if you haven’t exercised in a long time his book Core Essentials might be a better place to start)

    http://coreperformance.com/ (Verstegen’s website)

    CrossFit.com (There is plenty of information to read on the website and discussion groups. Don’t let the intensity scare you away. If you have any questions e-mail me if you don’t want to e-mail them directly.)

    Thanks for the great blog. I’ve been reading for a while, but this is my first comment.

  13. bargainbtch says:

    H-bomb…I did just that…sort of. The first time these cards where talked about I printed them out and posted them on my closet bulletin board. Trent’s drawings are cute yet constant reminders.

  14. There’s no doubt that you have your priorities straight. The drawings would work well on a fridge door. Imagine waking up and getting a quick reminder before breakfast as to what’s important in life. Thanks for the post.

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