When I put together a list of books that have meant a lot to me, Small Change* by Susan & Larry Terkel will be on my list of money-saving, life-altering books. The Small Change formula is really excellent and the minor changes suggested --personal, financial, health, professional--are meaningful and practical.
For instance, the authors suggest substituting one glass of water for a soft drink at each meal. Projected savings: 50,000 calories and $500 annually. Another easy change: walk to a further bus stop rather than the stop closest to my home. Projected benefit: I could walk an additional 150 miles in one year with a small adjusment in my route.
Here's the formula recommended in Small Change*
1. Study your daily habits: "Change something in your daily life and you will see the benefits steadily accumulate."--(p. 9) Face it: Our little bad habits cause more grief than the occasional huge error. Here's a menu of petty little things that cost us time and money every day: misplaced keys, the extra serving of junk food, the forgotten lunch, etc.
Consider my kitchen counter tops. When I cook, the kitchen looks like the aftermath of a tropical storm through Miami. My kitchen surfaces become overdone with spices, oils and garnishes. As such, clean-up takes longer, which cuts into my income and I'm less likely to cook the next meal because a) I have to find the kitchen counter tops before I can use the kitchen again and b) cleaning up from the previous meal was such a nightmare, why would I want to cook again? Let's order pizza instead!
This bad habit makes it more likely for me to order an expensive take-out meal or to just zap up an easy-to-fix microwave meal, which is usually more expensive and less healthy.
The small-step solution: I'll put away each ingredient and utensil as I use it. The proposed change is based on my review of a poor daily habit.
2. "Make only one change at a time:" (p. 12) This is such a great piece of advice. I learned the value of focus while deep cleaning my bedroom. When I tackle the entire room, I just waltz around in clutter. I call it the Clutter Shuffle in which I move piles from one location to the next. But when I target one section of the room at a time, that level of focus and attention delivers real results. I deeply clean and put things where they really belong. It's a mindful process, with a big payback. "Self improvement is easiest when taken one step at a time."--(p.14)
By the way, once the change becomes a permanent part of my routine, then it's safe to move on to the next target. The Terkels recommend making a minor change every few weeks. I've tried a one-change-a-month schedule and that seems to work for me.
3. Constantly make small change: It's important to keep moving. Professional athletes, for example, practice and run drills. The same process applies for other professions and crafts. "Instruments tuned on a regular basis are easier to tune," the Terkels state on page 17.
4. Keep the faith and recognize the power in small accumulations. This step requires discipline, delayed-gratification and confidence. When I was in my 20s, I sat down to write a novel and not just any novel: I wanted to write the Great American Novel, an epic piece. I wanted immediate blockbuster success. Years later, one draft of that great effort is in a box and other drafts have been fed to the dust bunnies under my bed.
This past summer, however, I completed writing a small book, which will be published this spring. I wrote it chapter by chapter, with small goals. That step-by-step process worked for me. Likewise, I have started writing a short-story collection. Maybe it could be a novel, but each little story has its own destination. And that small target is enough for me.
"Trust the power of small change, and remember it will add up."--p. 22
5. Have fun: If I enjoy the process, I'll be more likely to stick with the program. Consider my penny hunt. As I purge through the assorted piles in my home, I've made it a point to look for pennies and loose change. A bit of spare change is not going to make me richer, but the Treasure Hunt mentality brings a little joy to my clean-up efforts. It's fun to look under a couch pillow if I think I'm going to find a few silver or copper coins.
Additionally, if I can laugh about myself: the messy piles, the comic cooking or the crazy shopping trips, it becomes easier to let go of bad habits and memories of poor choices. It's just another adventure.
Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach:How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in the Spring of 2008 by DPL Press.
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