Updated on 08.10.11

Routine Mistakes

Trent Hamm

Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
He who would search for pearls must dive below.

– John Dryden

Humans are creatures of habit. We fill our days with lots of little routines that we often go through with scarcely a thought.

I can still describe my typical daily routine from the days when I worked outside my home. I’d wake up, brush my teeth and hair, get dressed, wake up the children, get them dressed, take them to daycare, pick up some breakfast, and go to work. I’d do my required daily tasks first thing in the morning, then fill the rest of the day with incidental stuff. I’d go home – usually stopping at a bookstore or an electronics store along the way and usually pick up a coffee. I’d relax for an hour until everyone else came home, then prepare supper, have some family time, put the kids to bed or do housework if it was Sarah’s night, do something with Sarah for an hour or two, then go to bed.

Day in and day out, my days would follow this routine. Once the pattern became established, I stopped thinking about the pattern too much. I just did it – and I didn’t take too well to disruptions in that pattern.

We also fill our lives with broader routines, too. I would eat out with my wife four times a week, like clockwork. It wasn’t devastating if I missed one of these, but it did feel a bit out of my routine. I had a “boy’s night out” once a week as well.

The things I bought at the store were (and still are) routine, since I can recite most of my usual grocery list and my plans for filling in the rest of the blanks by heart. My reading habits were (and are still) something of a routine.

Over and over again, routines pop up in my life – and in your life, too.

Most of the time, routines are good. We establish them so that we’re sure we’re meeting all of the things we need to do in a given day: practicing hygiene, getting enough food and water, and earning enough money so that we ensure our basic ability to continue doing these things.

Sometimes, they’re not. Usually, that’s because our basic needs are so well covered that we lose sight of them and we begin to focus our energy, time, and money elsewhere. Do these things frequently enough and they become part of our routine, as normal as brushing our teeth.

My old routine included things like going out for drinks with friends (costing money and time), going out to dinner with my wife (costing a lot of money), stopping at bookstores and electronics stores (a money and time waster), stopping for coffee (money), and idly watching television (time).

If you waste enough time, you begin to feel as though you don’t have enough time for the things that are truly important to you (at the expense of your routine). If you waste enough money, you begin to feel as though you’ll never get financially ahead.

It’s important to note that wasted time and wasted money is not the same thing as leisure time and leisure money. Doing something you enjoy that you’re actively engaged in is a valuable part of life. Doing something because it’s part of your routine and is the path of least resistance is what I’m talking about here.

What I eventually had to do is to start critically evaluating all of my routines. Why did I do these things on a typical day? Why did I stop at the bookstore? Why did I stop for coffee almost every day? Why did I eat out so often? Most importantly, were my answers to these questions compelling – or were they merely excuses for my own wasteful behavior?

My routines on any given day are far from perfect. I tend to still waste time reading messageboards that I don’t need to be reading, and I’ll sometimes purchase things that I don’t really need.

The key is that I’m not afraid to evaluate my own routines, admit that I’ve messed up, and seek a better path. I look for the places where my money and my time tend to leak and I make a conscious effort to remedy that problem.

Facing my routines head on eliminated most of the meals I eat out and virtually every bookstore and coffee and electronic store stop. Those changes alone saved me countless dollars and countless hours, both of which I now spend on more fulfilling things.

What are your routines? Which of those really matter to you? Which ones gobble up your time and energy and money?

Which ones can you let go of to put yourself in a better place?

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  1. Andrew says:

    I think it’s somewhat of a shame that you view your restaurant meals with friends and your wife strictly in terms of time wasted and money spent.

    Sharing meals with other people is one of the hallmarks of a balanced life.

  2. Tracy says:

    Ditto what Andew said

  3. Lindsay says:

    Now I’m going to get on the bandwagon of stopping the negativity, he said it was routine to go out to eat (and he did consider it wasteful when they weren’t meeting their other life goals at the same time) and that it’s not wasteful it is truly a part of your leisure time (and one might add, a part of your budget).

    My husband and I ate out a lot together before we both went back to grad school (at the same time). After getting to a point where frugality wasn’t a choice because of our menial incomes, I’ve realized how much eating out means to me now and it’s something I truly value more than ever before. So…my $.02.

  4. krantcents says:

    Routines can be good and bad. Reflecting on the bad ones and making changes is the smart thing to do. I like my routines and habits. As an old(er) person, I developed great routines of bicycling,weight lifting, reading, conversations with my (adult) children every night, blogging, conversations with my wife, friends and a little TV. Not all routines are bad! You will notice there was no money involved in these routines. That would be another conversation.

  5. Pat S says:

    I’m in the middle of establishing a new routine after divorce. One part of that routine has been a much more structured approach to blogging and interacting with others online. It has helped create a sense of community despite the upheaval of my wife leaving.

  6. Kate says:

    I recently ran across a checkbook register from several years into my marriage. I was amazed at how much we ate out! The spending time with my husband wasn’t time wasted, but the excessive amounts of money spent on restaurant food sure was.

  7. Brian Carr says:

    My biggest routine mistake is wasting time. Every morning I intend on getting on the computer and knocking out a post or two for Saving Without A Budget, but invariably I end up reading emails, checking Facebook, etc. 45 unproductive minutes later, I start writing…

  8. Cassie says:

    Eating out and book or electronic toy buying are certainly not a waste of time or money when they are done with intention.
    We’ve found that when we considered our dining out experiences we often spent a lot more money to consume food that was neither as good or as healthy as what we could prepare at home and we did it in an environment that was not as comfortable.
    Now eating out is a treat, we do it much less frequently and choose a place where the whole experience is extraordinary.
    Our social life hasn’t suffered, friends love to come to our home for dinner.

  9. Maggie says:

    To address your thoughts about the debt-ceiling and congress, let me say that I think term limits on these offices would curb some of the “running for office” that these office-holders start doing as soon as they are in office. When you know you only have a certain amount of time to get your constituents agenda in front of your peers, you might work harder to do that and spend less time collecting money for your next campaign. Also, if these people had to pay for health care and insurance, there might be more interest in getting a good bill passed. Just saying!

  10. kristine says:

    Maggie- and yes, if their children were required to attend public school- that would improve in no time as well. Not requiring Congress to use the very services they regulate and fund gives them no true vested interest.

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