12 Steps to Financial Freedom, Part 3

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Step #9: Automate your finances

Over the past few years, I’ve been moving toward a system of paperless personal finance. Along the way, I’m learning the value of automating routine transactions. When you make things automatic, you remove the human element, making it more difficult for you to mess things up.

The classic example is overdraft protection. By tying your checking account to your savings account, you have a safety net if you bounce a check. But there are other ways this can work for you. For example, I’ve set up automatic payments with the gas company, the cable company, and my auto insurance company. I also make automatic deposits to my online savings account.

One terrific advantage to automation: when you pay your bills and do your saving and investing automatically, it’s easy to tell how much you have left over to spend at the end of each month!


Tip! Do what works for you. There are few hard-and-fast rules in the world of personal finance. I can suggest methods that have worked for me (and for others), but only you can determine if these methods are appropriate for your own circumstances.

Step #10: Earn extra money

You can meet a lot of your financial goals by reducing your spending and using the right tools. But nothing supercharges your progress like a boost in income. How can you earn extra money?

  • Ask for a raise. Several readers have written to tell me how they’ve given themselves a raise through ambition and ingenuity. How to negotiate your salary, either before or after you’re hired.
  • Switch employers. Not every employer is able or willing to offer raises, even when they’re merited. If you’re in a position where a raise isn’t possible, consider finding a new employer.
  • Take a second job. Many people find that the best way to get out of a financial hole is to temporarily take a second job. Nobody wants to work more than 40 hours per week, but sometimes that’s what’s needed to get out of debt or to save for a house. Just remind yourself that you’re doing this for a short time.
  • Use your hobbies. Yes, it’s possible to have money-making hobbies. You’re not going to get rich playing World of Warcraft, but many people use productive hobbies to earn a little extra income.
  • Sell things. When I decided to get out of debt, one of my first steps was to sell a bunch of the stuff I’d bought with that $35,000. I used eBay, Craigslist, garage sales, and the Amazon Marketplace to sell the things I no longer needed or wanted. The money I earned jump-started my debt reduction.

Another effective way to increase your income is to pursue entrepreneurship. While working to defeat my debt, I started a small computer consulting business. It didn’t generate a lot of income, but it did provide $2,000 a year that I wouldn’t have had otherwise!

Step #11: Learn the Art of Conscious Spending

Being frugal doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself. You’re not giving up the good stuff for the rest of your life. Instead, frugality is about choosing to spend it on the things that are important to you while cutting back ruthlessly on the things that aren’t. Ramit Sethi calls this conscious spending, which is a fantastic way to describe it. Conscious spending implies that you’re actively choosing to spend on some things and not on others.

Contrast this with how most people spend. We tend to spend on reflex. We buy things because we’re expected to, because everyone else does. We spend to have what other people have. We sign up for gym memberships that we never use, subscribe to magazines we never read, and pay for golf clubs that get buried in the garage. We make impulse purchases at the grocery store — or even on large items, like computers and cars. Most of the time, people spend without thinking.

But with conscious spending, you evaluate every purchase. You ask yourself: “Will buying this help me meet my goals? Will it make me happier? Is it congruent with who I am and what I want to do?” I know this sounds like New Age mumbo-jumbo, but it’s not. These questions can have a powerful positive effect on how you spend and save.

Conscious spending isn’t restrictive; it’s liberating. It lets you cut back on the things that aren’t important to you so that you can spend on the things that do matter. Learning to practice conscious spending is a sure way to improve your quality of life.

Related >> Conscious spending in action.

Step #12: Educate yourself

Knowledge is power. Personal finance doesn’t have to be a mystery. Subscribe to this site. Read other personal finance sites. Visit your public library. Borrow money books and self-development manuals. Here are four of my favorites:

You don’t have to agree with everything in a book to get something out of it. I read a lot of personal finance books — some are good, but many are not. Even the worst books usually have one or two things I can pull from them. Learn how to read a personal finance book so that you can pick and choose those pieces appropriate for your life.

Blatant self-promotion! I wrote my own book precisely to help people who are struggling with money. Your Money: The Missing Manual contains all of the advice I wish I’d had when I was digging out of debt and learning to boost my income. If you like what you read here at Get Rich Slowly, you should like this book. It has tons of new stuff (as well as a few favorite nuggets from the past).

Final thoughts
Taking control of your finances can be intimidating — there’s so much to do! — but it doesn’t have to be that way. One effective solution is to take a vacation day from work: designate one specific date as your personal “Money Day”. Use this day to finally set up Quicken on your computer, to open a retirement account, and to call around for a better deal on your insurance.

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