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Magazines and websites just love to click-bait us into thinking big changes are possible with little to no effort. Thin Thighs In 30 Days! 3 Simple Tricks Guaranteed To Beat The Stock Market! The Secret Key to Successful Parenting!
This time, it’s different.
No, really. The following tactics are simple, yet can yield life-transforming results. Try one or more of these tips to improve your health, home, finances and relationships.
Some of the results are amazing right off the bat, while others have a more cumulative effect. They may not all apply to every situation, but some of these tactics will work for just about everybody.
1. Observe the two-minute rule
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If a chore or the response to a problem takes two minutes or less, do it immediately. Some examples:
- Put dishes into the dishwasher, not the sink.
- Sort the mail immediately and throw the junk into the recycle bin or trash.
- If you spill something, wipe or sweep it up immediately.
- Toss clothes in the hamper rather than leaving them on the floor.
Note: This is an excellent rule to share with children.
2. Fold laundry as it comes out of the dryer
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This takes only a few extra minutes and has two advantages:
- The clothes/towels can be put away immediately and will be ready when you need them.
- You won’t come home exhausted and be taunted by a full basket of clean laundry. (“Put down that smartphone and deal with us, loser! We don’t care how hard your day has been! Speaking of which: We’ve had all day to get wrinkled and creased, so you’ll have to iron later — ha ha!”)
3. Switch to a shared calendar
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Heather Schisler created a Google calendar so that she and her husband can keep track of their busy household (three kids). The calendar reminds them by text of events and obligations.
School programs, appointments, work-related travel, homework assignments — it’s all there, and then some. “Without (the calendar) I would really be lost,” she says in a post called “12 Hacks for Using Google Calendars.”
Put it all on the app, and you’ll never again pay for a missed dental appointment.
4. Get a dedicated email address for your finances
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In the past, Steven Hughes was “so trash with money,” because too often his bills wound up buried in the inbox.
He created an email account just for monthly bills, bank accounts and subscriptions. “Everything that has to do with money goes there. (It) helped me get really organized,” says Hughes, creator of the millennial-focused website Know Money Inc.
You won’t miss that credit card bill or automatic subscription renewal notice if you always know where to look.
5. Make your bed
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Your bedroom looks neater that way. And before you even have breakfast, you will have already accomplished something useful that, yes, takes less than two minutes. Go you!
“It seriously sets up your day for success,” says Kate Horrell, aka The Military Finance Coach.
Bonus: Getting into a neatly made bed at the end of the day feels great.
6. Stop thinking you always have to be right
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You don’t have to win every argument (some of which are bound to be unwinnable anyway), or be the one to determine where the group goes after work, or be the Ultimate and Unquestioned Authority as to why Marvel comics are superior to DC comics.
For really important ones discussions -– religion, politics, the correct way to put the toilet paper on the roll -– learn to listen to the other person’s point of view and ultimately say, “We’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.”
Let go of the feeling that you always have to be the victor. In some cases you have to make this choice: to be right, or to be happy.
7. Use “wasted” time to learn
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Got a long commute? Plug in a podcast or an audiobook that will help you move toward a personal goal — debt reduction, entrepreneurship, early retirement, whatever.
This works for those who exercise, too, or those who spend a lot of time waiting for kids to be finished with sports practice, music lessons or medical appointments. Instead of streaming pug videos on your smartphone, use the time to teach yourself something.
8. Drink more water
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You may not actually need eight glasses a day, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, “for your body to function properly you must replenish its water supply by consuming beverages and foods that contain water.”
Thus the eight-glasses rule is “a reasonable goal,” and easy to remember. Since it’s also easy to get so caught up in work or other responsibilities, keep a bottle of water at hand and sip regularly. You’ll be surprised by how much better you feel.
9. Leave for work a little early, and drive the speed limit
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Does that sound counterintuitive, when you already feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day? But leaving just a little bit early means you won’t be fretting over the slowpokiness of other drivers and grinding your teeth in traffic slowdowns.
“You have the power to make this part of your day relaxing and reflective,” David Auten wrote in this post on the Debt Free Guys blog.
Sing along with the radio, he says, or even dance in your seat. You’re on time, so relax.
10. Replace “I have to” with “I get to”
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As a broke midlife university student with several part-time jobs, I was often tired. One day, exhausted and hungry and facing a lot of homework, I started to say “I’m so tired, and I still have to fix dinner and do my classwork.”
For some reason I changed it to, “I’m tired, but I get to heat up some leftovers and take a short break before I get going on school stuff.”
And you know what? It did make a difference. No longer was I a worn-down workhorse. Instead, I was someone making decisions: to heat up leftovers or cook a brand-new meal, to take a little rest and to face my responsibilities.
Ever since then I’ve tried hard to use “I get to,” because it implies choice and agency. Even if it’s something I don’t want to do, I try to phrase the thought in a positive way and/or offer myself some incentive: “I get to mop the house and then, while the floor is drying, I’ll have a snack and call my dad to say hello before I get back to meeting deadlines.”
Your “get to” will sound different from mine, of course. But as I note in “Your Playbook for Tough Times, Vol. 2: Needs and Wants Edition,” this Jedi mind trick can work even when things get really rough:
You could think, “It’s been such a tough week and now I have to spend a big chunk of the weekend delivering pizzas/catching up with orders on my Etsy store/being an algebra tutor.”
Or you could try it this way: “Thanks to my side hustle, I get to save for a home/pay off my car two years early/help my kid finish college.”
Yes, it can be tough to work all the time and ultimately it will take a toll. But if you have a clearly defined goal, you get to work to meet it and then you get to drop back to 40 hours a week. (You also get to own a home or a car, or to attend your kid’s graduation.)
11. Don’t check email first thing in the morning
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This may feel productive, but it can actually be a time suck.
“It really distracts you from what needs to be done first and allows other people’s agendas to control your morning,” says business coach Jeff Poulette.
His suggestion: Don’t look at email until you’ve finished more important tasks.
12. Get a library card
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It’s no longer a building with dusty old classics and a shushing staff, according to certified financial planner Sherrill St. Germain. In this amusing blog post she talks about all the goodies you might find in your local library, including but not limited to physical and e-books, DVDs, audiobooks, internet access, tons of info on community activities and copious magazines.
St. Germain was particularly giddy about the magazines: 167 titles on a wide variety of topics. “All of the perks of going to the dentist,” she notes, “with none of the downsides.”
13. Give yourself 10 minutes
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Take one-sixth of an hour out of every day, no matter how busy that day is, and use it on yourself.
“Listen to your favorite songs, watch snippets of your favorite comedian on YouTube, or start researching a new hobby, like how to salsa dance or make risotto,” suggests Karen Cordaway, who writes about money at her blog.
In fact, the busier/crazier the day, the more essential it is to carve out a little bit of it for yourself. Do whatever works for you, from laughter to exercise to a restorative yoga pose. But do it.
14. Notice the natural world (even if you live in the city)
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Linsey Knerl, who blogs at 1099 Mom, says that it’s far too easy to take your surroundings for granted. That’s why every day she takes a couple of minutes to stop and notice things: a bird, a leaf, even just a rock.
The habit helps her become more observant — always a plus for writers! — and also lets her refocus when things get overwhelming.
Try it. Stop staring at a screen, or a pile of work that remains unfinished, or the cars surrounding you in that horrible traffic jam. Instead, take a couple of minutes to pay attention to clouds, the newly emerging forsythia in the city park, the way the sun glints off a bird’s feathers.
All the junk you have to do will be waiting when you come back to it, and your mind will be a little refreshed after focusing elsewhere.
15. Play a game with your kids
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Not a video game! Instead, propose a round of tag, catch, foursquare, hide and seek, hopscotch or anything that gets blood pumping and people giggling. This is as good for grownups as it is for children.
If the weather is lousy, make it a board game.
16. Make some friends
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You’ve moved away from Hometown for a new career in Strange City. How does an adult find new besties?
Here’s one way: Go to MeetUp.com and look for groups in your area that enjoy the same things you do. Dog groups, trivia groups, singles groups, couples groups, movie groups, comedy groups, gaming groups …
And if you don’t see what you want? Start a group of your own.
Some other tried-and-true methods: Volunteer. Look for “First Friday” or other monthly art events in the area. Start attending church, temple or mosque.
Take a class. Join a gym. Search for events in your area that interest you: wine tastings, say, or cooking demonstrations. Go to talks or lectures, where you’ll find people as erudite (or just plain geeky) as you are.
Your friends are out there. They might even be hiding in plain sight.
17. Spend 15 minutes doing something useful
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You get to define “useful” any way you like. It can be useful today or essential tomorrow.
Do one small chore: Load or unload the dishwasher, start the Roomba, throw in a load of laundry, scoop the litter box. That’s one less thing to do later.
Go for a short walk.
Check your bank and credit accounts for errors.
Keep a journal.
Take an ergonomic break from your work.
At least once a year, look for better deals on stuff like car insurance, phone and Internet (one 15-minute block at a time, obviously).
Three times a year, order a free credit report.
And so on. Instead of trying to do too many things during nights and weekends, spread tasks out through the week. Rather than wait for a physical or financial crisis, stay on top of things like stretching and monitoring your money.
Another thing that makes a huge difference and shouldn’t take anywhere close to 15 minutes is to …
18. Make your own coffee/tea
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Yeah, we’re all sick of hearing about the latte factor. However, bringing a thermos of coffee or tea to work really will save you quite a bit of dough over time.
Start the coffee or tea and then get dressed, make some breakfast, get your kids out the door or whatever. By the time that’s done, the beverage will be, too.
Along those lines: At least two or three times a week you should …
19. Pack your lunch
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Maybe you’ve got a really good reason for not brown-bagging it at least some of the time. Chances are the “reason” is just an excuse.
Consider the opportunity cost of those trips to the deli or fast-food joints. Think that the Value Menu doesn’t add up over time? See “The $200,000 Lunch” for some eye-opening numbers and also a handful of tips on reducing the noon-meal portion of your budget.
Speaking of tips, here’s an easy one from Australian motivational speaker and marketing consultant Kylie Travers: If you keep forgetting to bring the lunch you packed the night before, put your car keys on top of it in the fridge. (Or your transit pass, your wallet or anything else you can’t leave home without taking.)
20. Create a “Freedom Account”
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Tired of being blindsided by expenses like Christmas shopping, new tires, auto insurance, holiday tipping and property taxes? Here’s the thing: Those expenses are not surprises. They are to be anticipated and included in your budget.
Longtime personal finance writer Mary Hunt suggests creating a Freedom Account. Modeled on the old idea of the office “Christmas Club,” it’s pretty simple:
- Add up how much you need for irregular expenses.
- Divide that number by 52.
- Set up an automatic transfer of that amount into a separate, untouchable checking account (or a sub-account, if your bank or credit union lets you do that).
Important: You must leave this account alone, until you need to withdraw money for the allotted expenses. No borrowing from it for other stuff.
Bonus frugal points if you find ways to reduce the amounts you spend on insurance (shop around, keep your car longer), the holidays and other annual expenses. If you do, put that “extra” money into your retirement or emergency fund.
21. Cut back on (or cut out) the booze
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You’ll feel better. Your liver will thank you. You might even lose weight.
And, oh, the potential impact on your budget: For a post called “The Financial Case for Sobriety,” Adrienne Fuller did the math and found she and her husband had spent $11,568 on alcohol in two years — and that didn’t include cash for beers or drinks at shows and sporting events.
Your mileage may vary, of course. But if you cut back/cut out the drinks, imagine what the freed-up cash could do for the bottom line.
“You could … put it toward old debt, your car loan or savings,” Fuller notes. “But remember to spend a portion on yourself as a reward for the improvement you’ve made to your health and your wallet. A standing massage appointment, new appliances or a wardrobe upgrade could do a lot for your overall happiness.”
(The happiness of your liver, too.)
22. Leave your cellphone at the door
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Although she misses her son while at work, Chelsea Brennan initially had a hard time letting go of her job responsibilities while home.
“I was checking my email right through to his bedtime,” she says now. The easiest solution was to leave her phone at the door for half an hour after getting home.
“Allowing myself a short window to focus on him and help my husband get dinner on the table made me feel more connected with my family,” says Brennan, who blogs at Mama Fish Saves.
Consider shutting off notification sounds for the evening. Is it essential that you get every new meme as soon as your BFF sends it?
Unless you’re a physician on call, or working for a boss who demands you be reachable, or you’re waiting for a kidney, you might be able to get by with checking your phone once per hour until bedtime.
Or go for a truly tough-love approach and …
23. Turn off the tech
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Jackie Lambert, outreach manager for Student Loan Hero, deleted email and Slack apps from her phone. She also declared — and has enforced — a strict no-computer policy after she finishes work for the day.
The results are wonderful: a better frame of mind, excellent sleep habits and “a fresh mind for a more productive time at work the next day.”
Some people (especially entrepreneurs) really do have to be available 24/7. But some of our addiction to connection is fear of missing out. So don’t let FOMO steamroller your off-hours.
24. Shop for groceries online
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Grocery delivery orders are expected to quintuple in the coming years, with projected sales of $100 billion per year by 2025.
This won’t work for everyone — those who live in remote areas, say, or those who like to pick out their own lettuce. Overall, though, it’s efficient and convenient — and it might just boost the bottom line. For more information, see “How Grocery Delivery Can Save You Money.”
25. Change holiday gift-giving rules
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Does gift-buying stress both you and your budget? It might be time to make some changes, such as:
Not giving to your spouse/significant other. If you’ve already got everything you need, why look for more stuff? Cut way back or do without gifts altogether. (Pro tip: Put the money you might have spent into your retirement or emergency fund.)
Giving less to your kids. Does your house look like a shopping mall on Christmas morning? Throttle back, already. Or try the four-gift rule: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.
Propose giving more to others than yourselves. Suggest donating a percentage of the previous year’s holiday budget to good causes, and let the kids (if you have them) choose the recipients. A really fun option is to let them pick an animal through Heifer International, which lets you pay for goats, rabbits, cows and other critters for people in impoverished areas.
Deflect a gift. When my nephews asked what I wanted for Christmas, I requested that they spend the money on protein-rich items for the food bank. Sure, that $20 would have done more good given directly, since the food bank gets a better deal on staples. But I wanted them to experience the direct tie of beef stew + food bank = some people who won’t go to bed hungry.
Draw names for extended family gatherings. Or suggest donations to charity.
Give experiences, such as buying theater tickets or family membership to a zoo, aquarium or museum.
The holiday should be about togetherness and love, not about excess and competition. (“I bought my kid a bike – and my brother bought his kid a pony!”) Make a vow to buy out (as it were) of conspicuous consumption and focus instead on a few carefully chosen gifts. Or, as noted above, no gifts at all.
26. Have dinner with your family
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In an article for The Washington Post, Harvard Medical School professor and family therapist Anne Fishel says the most important thing you can do for your kids is to have dinner with them regularly. Two decades’ worth of research on three continents back up her assertion that “sitting down for a nightly meal is great for the brain, the body and the spirit.”
Both younger and older children reap intellectual benefits from dinner-table conversation and togetherness. The meals are more likely to be healthy overall (even though Fishel says that every dinner doesn’t have to be a gourmet feast). Sharing meals regularly reduces stress, improves health and lowers the incidence of high-risk teen behaviors.
So be a tyrant: Insist that at least three nights a week everybody sits down to eat together. No TV in the background, no phones on the table. It may feel weird at first (which is just sad), but you’ll all get used to the new normal.
If you’re married without kids, have dinner with your partner. And if you’re single, be sure to …
27. Fix yourself real food, and eat at a table
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It should be a properly set table, too, with a plate and silverware; flowers, even, if you can swing it financially.
Standing over the sink scooping mac ‘n’ cheese out of the Stouffer’s dish while you watch cat videos on your iPad — this scene is not conducive to good digestion. (Ideally, at least some of your meals will be made by you instead of a takeout joint. But one thing at a time.)
Some nights are going to be made for a bowl of Cheerios, or peanut butter on a spoon in front of the TV. Most of the time, however, you should treat yourself the way you’d treat a loved one: making mealtime an occasion that nourishes your soul as well as your body.
28. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude
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Do you tend to grouse about all the things you haven’t got? Flip that mentality on its head and make a list of everything you do have.
Even if you’re in an utterly grim situation right now, take paper and pencil (or tablet, or laptop, or smartphone) and do a full Pollyanna on your life.
You can write. You can read. You can turn on the faucet and get water that almost certainly won’t give you cholera.
If you’re reading this article, you have access to the internet at least some of the time. Do you not see what a blessing that can be?
Hate your job? At least you have one — a lot of people would love the chance to work and can’t.
Live near a public library? Free use of books, media, periodicals and more. Free.
Wish you could have more variety in your diet? Be glad that you have food at all. You have to work really hard to starve to death in this country; food banks, soup kitchens and other programs exist to put meals into people who are temporarily or permanently in need.
Understand: If you feel stuck, we’re not suggesting you stay stuck. Money Talks News exists to help people live the best lives they can, even if they’re not rich and/or have debt. So here’s what you should do next: Set some goals, then search this site for articles that can help you succeed.
Be grateful you have the chance to change your life. Then set about the hard, necessary work of doing it.
29. Determine how much sleep you need — and then make sure you get it
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Optimal sleep habits vary from adult to adult. Freelance writer Lindsay VanSomeren started going to bed at the same time every night and getting up a half-hour later every day; when she didn’t feel that her head “was going to hit the keyboard midday anymore,” VanSomeren decided that 8½ hours was the perfect fit.
“You could easily do this in reverse: Wake up at the same time each day and go to bed a half-hour earlier until you find your number,” she says.
Your mileage may vary, of course. But try figuring out what you need for optimal performance and then adjusting certain habits to fit it. For example, you could …
30. Declare your bedroom a no-tech zone
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No television, smartphone or laptops should be used in your sleeping quarters. That’s because there’s always just one more email, status update or cat video to keep you from shutting your eyes.
Another reason: All that “cognitive stimulation” plus the extra light from the screen can delay the release of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep.
Jillian Johnsrud, a Montana writer and mother of five, suggests that “the only bed-approved activities are sleep, reading and romance.
“Gotta create space for the important things in life,” she says.
Have you made any small transformations that reaped big rewards? Share them in the comments section or on our Facebook page.