Time and Money Goals, Aligned

There are productive things I could be doing instead of _____.  Many things fit in that blank: watching sports, Facebook, sleeping.  But there are also things that might not be a productive use of my time, and they cost money, too.  I’m talking about going out to bars or restaurants, taking trips on the weekends, or other things of similar nature.  I definitely wouldn’t characterize these as time wasters – I like doing all of these things and spending time socializing.  But they can also get expensive and detract not only from my bank account but also from my future goals.

I enjoyed my trip to the Berkshires last weekend, and I’m sure I’ll have fun in NYC this weekend.  But I’m still longing for more time to develop my personal skills and projects that align with my long-term goals.  There needs to be balance.

Strategy: Minimize social activity during the most productive times, but maximize fun when least productive.

Lately, I’ve really buckled down with my time management and started saying “no” to activities that suck up otherwise-productive time. I could easily be talked into going out for drinks on a Wednesday night if I have nothing important to do.  But the fact is, I have things I want to do.  My goals and ambitions to launch an empire based on this blog and freelancing is going to take a lot of time.  In Karol Gajda‘s How to Live Anywhere, he says to get rid of all distractions during periods of intense work.  I’m not talking about skipping my mom’s birthday here.  But partying it up on a Wednesday is a small sacrifice, especially considering I do fun things almost every Friday and Saturday night. The weekend nights are when I know I have the smallest chance of getting work done.  Unless I have something super-important to do, I’ll happily concede Friday and Saturday nights to fun.

I’ve realized that my time goals also keep my financial goals in balance.  By passing on Wednesday night beers, I’ve not only banked the time, but I’ve also saved $20.  Even more importantly, I can even add a third degree of greatness to the equation: with the saved time, I’ve advanced towards a better financial future, even if it’s only in the slightest degree.

I don’t think anyone should give up their entire social life for any kind of financial gain (that’s miserable).  But I think just about everyone could use a little more balance.

What could you do if you converted 10 hours a week from areas that don’t really improve your life and instead focused on making money or other financial goals?  Could you start a side business like freelance writing or web design? Could you improve your personal budget and spending habits by reading Dave Ramsey or Get Rich Slowly? I know we’re all “busy” but 10 hours is nothing – it’s one hour each weekday and then five hours over the whole weekend.  I’m convinced it’s going to take at least this much time to get out of the rat-race world and live a life that I find fulfilling.

Next time you’re invited out for a midweek adventure, think about how much it’s really worth to you.  Success in your long-term goals might just be dependent on these choices.

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photo by: gogoloopie

Simple Tricks to Defeat Your Money Worries

money-worriesSince I force myself to think about money all the time (I write thousands of words on money topics every week), I do worry about money sometimes.  Some of my money worries are legitimate: how will I earn money when my current position ends in August? Am I spending too much and not saving enough? Is a bird in hand really worth two in the bush? (sorry, just popped into my head)

But have no fear! There is hope to decreasing your worries, and some of the best tactics actually aren’t just “earn more money” or “become a millionaire.” Here’s what I do:

Decrease risk.  Being properly insured is a great way to bring peace of mind.  I have a $10,000 renters’ insurance policy with an annual premium of only $80.  This is a great deal to me since I can have all of the things in my apartment replaced if there’s a fire or break-in. This is a bargain not only in terms of if my apartment burned down, but it’s a relief knowing I have backup in the case of a catastrophe. After racking up $3,500 for an ambulance ride and hospital visit last month, it felt great to have health insurance, too.

Tackle small problems before they get big.  I know this is old news by now, but financial planning is the best way to make sure you’re making sound decisions.  An easy way to start planning right now is to track spending and at least have a basic budget. If you stay on track, there will be fewer surprises and less to worry about.

Be realistic.  You simply can’t change your financial fortunes overnight, but you can start right now.  Set financial goals right away and you’ll be on the right path.  If you’re trying to cut down on spending, move down gradually instead of trying to slash 80% at one time.

Start a “worry fund.” Call it what you will (there are plenty different fund names/types of funds out there) but having this safeguard here should ease your worries about unexpected expenses.  Save up enough to survive for several months without income, and that should provide some assurance that you won’t be screwed if your life changes suddenly.

Automate finances so you don’t have to deal with the annoying bills as often. Obviously automating finances won’t solve your problems when you spend money that you don’t have, but it will at least prevent the thought of money coming into your mind a few less times.  If you’ve set up all your account correctly, you won’t have to worry about missing payment due dates and other deadlines, either.

Create multiple streams of income. This isn’t the easiest advice, but it might be the most important.  A lot of our worries center on having a job and getting a regular paycheck from that job.  For most Americans, if they lose their job, 100% of the income disappears. The best way to counter this is to diversify your income streams (just like you might diversify you investment portfolio).  For most, your full-time job will still provide the majority of income.  But earning money on the side can help, even if it’s only an extra $200 a month.  Here’s a great list of ideas to get started (that happen to be location independent, too).

Consider the worst.  Here’s a little exercise: think about your biggest money worries and then imagine the worst that can happen if you don’t solve them.  What did you come up with? You’re broke? Bankrupt? Evicted? It’s going to take a financial meltdown for these things to happen, and that’s probably not going to happen overnight.  Even if you do find yourself in one of these positions, all these problems can be fixed. I know this sucks, but your life isn’t over.

Live in the present.  As inspired by Eckhart Tolle, I’ve attempted to master this in the past. The idea is that when you can’t or won’t do something in that very moment to solve a problem, the problem doesn’t exist right then and shouldn’t occupy your mind. While I’ll admit that it’s challenging, it has helped me relax when there’s literally nothing I can do about my money worries. If I start thinking about how I’m going to pay my bills while I’m off hiking in the woods, I’ll move my mind back to the present and stop thinking about it.  Can I possibly be doing anything about earning money while I’m walking through the forest? No, and I’m not about to run out of the woods and go figure it out, either.

No matter what you do, it’ll be hard to totally defeat your money worries, even if you have millions of dollars.  But my general advice for any worry (not just money): do something about it right now. It’s unproductive to worry, especially when you could be taking action to defeat your problems.

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photo by: [ Roberto Bouza ]

Top Five Wasters of Time AND Money

time-money-wastersAs I typed away on my first blog posts in January, my (now-former) roommates sat out in the living room playing hours of video games. They had three game systems and about 40 games in our apartment, so they never seemed to get bored of their options. As I watched them sit and play night after night, I couldn’t help but think of the amount of money and time that is wasted by stuff like video games. These types of things not only suck up time, but you have to spend money to do them at the same time.

Video games are expensive, with systems costing up to $400,  single games up to $60, and other add-ons that can take costs into the thousands. Video games can also be incredibly addictive, with some World of Warcraft players ending up in rehab for gamers (yes, that exists now).  It’s very easy to lose track on time while playing, too.  I bought a Playstation 3 a few years ago.  While I enjoyed it, I soon realized how much time I spent playing it. I ended up selling it after owning it for less than a year.

While this isn’t meant to be an all-out assault on video games or other things we do for pleasure, I think most would agree that video games are money and time wasters. Here are some other things we buy (and do) that cost a lot of  money and time.

Online shopping

Online shopping is often easier and cheaper than going to the store, but there are still downsides.  In my experience, online shopping leads to more impulse buying.  On a whim, I can simply jump on to Amazon.com and make a purchase any time of day.

From the time side of online shopping, I’ll get caught up in trying to find the best deals. I could browse shoes at Zappos for hours.  Once I find a shoe I like, I check other online shoe websites to compare prices and see if I can get a better deal.  I then search Google for coupon codes to use on the websites.  A lot of times I won’t even end up buying anything after getting frustrated because it’s taking so long to find the perfect purchasing opportunity.

Going out to bars

Don’t get me wrong: I love going out for a drink with friends as much as anyone.  But I have an issue when it becomes too frequent.  I don’t think anyone will argue that drinks are 2-5 times more expensive at a bar than when enjoyed at home.  Cover charges and tipping add on to the cost, too. Besides the money, going out for drinks always takes more time than I originally plan for.  I get talked into staying longer.  I drink more than I originally wanted to. I stay up later at night. I don’t feel like working after having a few drinks. Yes, it’s fun, but ultimately it costs me time towards working on other things that I want to do.


Commuting isn’t the same as purchasing an item, but it can still be really expensive.  Driving to and from work has always been my least favorite part of the work day, and I’ve decided that I never want to spend two hours of my day in a car.  Driving 25 miles each way to a job can cost $150 a month on fuel alone. Besides the gas, there’s really no safe way to be productive while driving a car.  It’s basically a time sink and an easy way to lose 7-10 hours of free time a week.


Closely related to video games, television attracts even more people.  Cable is ridiculously expensive.  The average customer pays $75 a month, with some people paying over $100.  If you invested instead of paying for cable, you’d have a huge pot of money (and probably a much smaller gut) at age 65.  Combine the price with the average American who watches almost 3 hours of television per day, and television takes the prize as the most damaging double-waster of all.

I understand that no one is productive 100% of the time, and we all need downtime for rest.  I think all of these activities are perfectly fine in moderation.  It’s when they’re taken to an extreme that they really get expensive and stand in the way of goals, too.

Do you have any time and money wasters to add to this list?

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photo by: Rebecca Pollard

9 Money Making Myths To Forget

Money mythsIt’s great to be back after a fantastic trip to Spain! (more on that later this week) I’ve had a lot on my mind the past couple of weeks, but I’d like to start today with myths that I’d like to forget.

I’ve posted a bit already about entrepreneurship mindset and ambitions.  While I’ll be the first to tell you that my aspirations are much larger than my accomplishments to this point, I think I’ve come a long way in overcoming some of the mental hurdles and myths standing in the way of earning more money.  Still, I’m not perfect by any means, and I let some common misconceptions (that are really myths) about making money get me down from time to time.  Here are several myths of that I’ve thought deeply about:

Money Myth 1: The money will roll in quickly. I had to go with the low-hanging fruit first.  I never actually thought that I would earn money on day 1, week 1, or even month 1 of whatever venture I undertook.  Blogging is certainly no exception to this rule.  It takes time to build an audience and simultaneously create a way to earn money from it, too.  While I enjoy writing this blog and am not worried about a lack of income from it in the interim, I don’t think it’s sustainable for me to write here forever without at least some financial motivation to do so.

Money Myth 2: If you build it, they will come. Again: false and applicable for blogs and other businesses, too.  I didn’t have the expectation of having 1,000 readers two months in to this endeavor, and I can certainly do more to promote Money Spruce, too.  Guest posting, search engine optimization, and contacting other bloggers are all tasks that I need to to improve on.  Spreading the word through one means or another is a must to get the ball rolling with your business (and, no, creating a Facebook page and Twitter account is not an adequate strategy on its own).

Money Myth 3:  All competition is bad. This was a common perception that I had before I began to read the advice of other bloggers and entrepreneurs.  In a lot of cases, if there is no competition that’s at least somewhat related to your field or business, there may not be a market for what you’re trying to create.  If I wrote a blog only about Surly Steamroller bikes, there would be a tiny audience. There are plenty of other reasons when competition is good, too.

On the flip side, it’s not great to be an exact copy of competition, either. The real key is to find a niche, which most likely falls under a larger category.  For example, Money Spruce is a personal finance blog, of which there are many, many others.  However, I mostly cater to a younger audience and deal with simple tips related to time, saving money, and cutting down on stuff.  I don’t talk much about stocks and bonds, retirement, or choosing the right credit card.

Money Myth 4: It’s too late to start/all the good ideas are taken. I think this is, by far, the most damning perception to anyone’s business idea.  Sadly, a lot of people think this way, especially with blogging.  Yet there are a lot of great blogs that just started in 2010, like Think Traffic.  I think there’s a lot of lost opportunity believing that something like blogging has already run its course, and instead think waiting around for the next big thing is a better idea.  As one of my favorite quotes from Seth Godin goes: “The best time to start was last year. The second best time to start is right now.”

Money Myth 5: Having a real job is easier and safer.  In this economy, I think it’s easy to see there is no guarantee of job security after witnessing thousands of lay-offs.  While being self-employed is no sure bet either, I think it’s worth something when you’re in control of your business rather than corporate executives that don’t even know your name.

Money Myth 6: It’s expensive and risky to start a business.  Simply not true in the age of the computer.  Basically any website, like this one, can be launched for less than $200.  While investing more money certainly helps, it’s not a requirement to get started.  This is really great for innovation and testing the waters before investing a lot of time and money.  One no longer has to put their life savings on the line to give entrepreneurship a go.

Money Myth 7: It’s always good to have lots of ideas.  I’ve learned the having lots of ideas isn’t always helpful, and can actually be detrimental.  I’ve already gone through several ideas in the past 6 months, and I’ve moved on from some of them.  Undertaking too many projects at once will undoubtedly dilute your efforts.  Instead, having one or possibly two ideas of great quality is much more valuable.

Money Myth 8: You can get by without selling.  Nope, it just isn’t possible.  Virtually every business requires selling to some degree.  Now I’m not selling you some crappy life insurance policy on here, but I at least have to convince you to keep coming back to read more.  Even if you aren’t selling a physical product, there’s still selling involved whenever money changes hands.  It’s important to be aware of that and will make your life much easier than simply denying that you’re not a salesperson.

Money Myth 9: Hard work guarantees success.  This myth is the hardest for me to get over.  I get really caught up in the fact that I could just be wasting my time with nothing to show for after months (or years) of effort.  While hard work is definitely essential to success, there are no guarantees that your work will be profitable.

I feel good about having moved past some of these myths, but I know there are many more that can bring me down, too.  To me, the main motivator is moving past all the negativity and simply moving forward with maximum force.

Do you have any mental roadblocks and myths you’ve struggled to overcome?