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March 2018

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The Force of Habit

Last week, I ordered a chick pea and kale wrap for dinner. I know, I know. A bit rabbit-ish. Then came the option of fries or salad. Isn’t that one a bit obvious? Who would order the healthiest thing on the menu and then pair it with a basket of fries? But man, the fries looked good. Oh well. Salad it was. And just a glass of ice water to drink.

To the outsider, the dinner looks a bit Spartan — pretty bland fare to say the least. Who would pass up the bacon poutine for a dinner like that? Did I lose a bet? Was I being punished for something?

No. It’s a habit.

How to build a healthy food habit

If I can shift my mind from what looks tasty to what my body needs, some surprising things happen. My cravings want more kale, more chick peas and more Brussels Sprouts. OK, kidding on that last one. But you get the idea. It’s all about forcing a new habit until that new habit forces you into good. It’s just 30 days of adjustment and the new stuff actually becomes tasty! Why a glass of water? Because after a few weeks of just water, anything else is too sweet. And after all, something like 60% of our body is water. So, we need more of it! If 60% of our body were Diet Coke, then we would need to replace the Diet Coke that we lose with sweat. See my point? The exception, I’d say, is a good glass of Malbec. But I was headed to the gym that night and needed the water, so the wine would have to wait.

My habit keeps me fit

Working out is similar. A few days without running, and the first km is painful. Not painful like a session with an amateur acupuncturist — more like the “why am I here?”, and “I wonder if my bed is still as cozy as it was when I left it?” kinds of pain. But many of my rough-starting runs turn out to be my favourite ones. If I can push past that first kilometer, my stride smooths out, thoughts wander, and the kilometers glide by. If I log a few weeks of 3 runs a week, I can’t do without them. Take a couple of weeks off and the open road just does not call me. Even if it did, I wouldn’t pick up. My energy levels drop, and sleep becomes evasive. It’s just as tough to get the running habit restarted.

Personal finance is driven by habits too, and they work the same way as the eating and running ones. Take a trip to a mall and try to return empty handed. That’s what I thought. Get into the pattern of spending within a budget and we tend to spend right up to that budget. With Canadian consumer debt at 170% of incomes, it looks like we have even gone a wee bit past our budgets. Once you’re seduced by the smell and gloss of a new car it’s hard to consider a pre-owned one. If you get used to heading out for lunch each day, the bother of a little Sunday night prep will seem too onerous.

Use the force of habit to build wealth

But start to develop your positive financial habits and they will create a powerful addiction. Forget budgeting. Build a simple net worth sheet and track your progress monthly until you get the hang of it, then switch to quarterly. (You can download a free net worth sheet to start from the Utensils Page.) Use it to Log what you own and what you owe and focus on the difference between the two. Is your financial value rising or falling? Are you making progress toward financial independence, or just gathering more things that depreciate?

With a focus on building net worth vs tracking to a budget, your decision-making process will change. Bringing a lunch could save $8 a day. That isn’t a lot on its own, but it adds up fast! That little daily savings tallies to $168 a month. Sounds pretty good right? Invest that in your TFSA for 10 years at 7% and you would have nearly $30,000. Peel out another $8 a day on the coffee and a saturated fat-laden, cholesterol-boosting muffin and you free up another $168 a month for a total of $60,000 extra in your TFSA. It’ll be some of the easiest money you ever make, and it’ll be healthier for you too. Such a fantastic start. Once you’ve got that down, you can find a few more do-betters and your wealth will accelerate!

Focus on net worth

Once you focus on net worth and get the ball rolling, more good financial habits will follow. There are dozens of them that are easy to implement with low sacrifice. Over time your wealth will accumulate, and you’ll free yourself up for some new options. Maybe you’ll travel the world while your money grows! Or perhaps start that small business you’ve been dreaming of since your 20’s. Or if you’re the giving type, you could make a big, lasting gift to your favourite charity.

There’s no time like the present! Let me know how you’re doing with applying the force of habits in your diet, fitness, and financial worlds in the comments section below. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Cashflow Cookbook is all about increasing financial literacy and building financial independence with minimal sacrifice. Share if you enjoyed this.

Slash Your Clothing Costs with Junk Mail

Spring is here!

That means it’s time for the annual clothing pilgrimage. The winter gear moves down into the giant Tupperware containers in the basement crawlspace, and the spring and summer collection is liberated upstairs to the bedroom dresser. There’s probably a better way to set up the dusty crawlspace to reduce the head bonking and sneezing, but let’s save that for next year. Actually, that was the plan last year as well.

Everything gets laid out on the bed for inspection. But something happened to your spring togs over the winter. A small moth hole here, a few pieces starting to push fashion boundaries there. Oh, and those pants are looking a bit frayed along the bottom. And it seems they, ahem, shrunk some over the winter. Somehow.

Time to refresh the wardrobe.

Where better to find some new gear than the mall? The trip offers an invigorating traffic jam or two, a rousing parking space hunt, and then the blanching effect of 3 hours of fluorescent lights and some denatured music. Browsing the clothing racks, it looks like the good stuff is all at full price and the sale rack holds only the most garish patterns and XS sizing. Out comes the credit card to load up on the good stuff anyway, because, well, it’s the good stuff! Never mind the clothing costs. It’s worth it. But once the bills are all tallied, let’s just say you won’t be adding much to your TFSA for a while.

When did cashiers start taking email addresses?

Because I don’t want to give it to them. After all the scanning, beeping, and swiping was done, the clerk asks for your email address. Seriously? Who would fall for that one? The last thing any of us need is more junk email. By refusing, you dodged an additional daily onslaught. Nice work.

But what if those emails include something of value? Like real discounts of 30, 40, or 50%? And since they come from the store you just bought from, they are likely to be of interest to you. Maybe it’s worth giving the cashier your email address after all…

The problem, of course, is that clearing out email isn’t a fun task, and adding dozens more from retailers only adds to the misery. Many of the retailers will send out these offers daily, too. For those of us who don’t make daily clothing purchases, this is an issue.

Email rules to the rescue!

By setting up rules you can automatically divert these offer emails to dedicated mailbox folders. You can set up mailboxes for a specific retailer like Banana Republic, or for a category like clothing. And it works for more than just clothes! You can stash away bargain codes for travel, home repair bits, or whatever it is that you buy. The rules scan your inbox for relevant emails and then quietly whisk them away to their new home, ready for you on purchase day. Your inbox stays clear, and your discount codes are ready when you need them.

Here are the steps:

For Mac Apple Mail

  1. To set up mailboxes, go to mailbox/new mailbox, then pick its location and give it a name.
  2. For the rules, got to Mail/Preferences/Add Rule and unleash your inner programmer. It’s not so hard — just pick “From”, copy the email address from one of your offer emails, and tell it what folder to send it to.
  3. Repeat for all the different offers you’re getting, and you’re done! Your offers will be ready and waiting in their new homes.

For Microsoft Outlook

  1. To set up folders, go to New Items/Folder and give it a name.
  2. For the rules, go to Tools/Rules then click the “+” to add a rule that moves emails from specific senders. Pick “From”, copy the email address from one of your offer emails, and point it to the right folder.
  3. Repeat for all your different offers, and you’re done! Your offers will be ready and waiting in their new homes.

Not working right?

Recruit a tech-savvy friend or family member for some help or check your basement for a teenager. They know how to do these kinds of things.

Once the rules are in place, your inbox stays clear and the latest offers are at the ready to help you cut down on clothing costs. Of course, let’s not squander the savings on extra gear! Get them working for you by paying down some debt or increasing your savings.

For some great tips on how to do that, check out my book, Cashflow Cookbook. It’s jam-packed with recipes for savings that can save you millions.

Let me know how it goes!

Why Are You Paying Double For Everything?

What if you could have 50% off everything you ever wanted?

Oh, and what if there was also no sales tax? Of course, this sale has existed forever with people selling things that they hardly used. How different is a well-maintained, year-old tennis racket from a new one? What’s likely to go wrong with a 3-year-old coffee table? Fender Guitars claims that 41% of the people buying new guitars are beginners and that 90% give up playing within a year. That’s a lot of beautiful guitars on sale at about 50% off. And with no tax. There’s just one issue: how do you find this stuff?

Yard Sales are Hit or Miss.

One approach is to hunt yard sales in the spring. The bargains are all there, often at more than 50% off. But the logistics are bad. Driving around, sifting through lots of salt and pepper shakers and ashtrays (remember those?) to find that vintage turntable you’re after. Then there’s the issue of buying extra junk that seemed like a good idea at the time. You know, the type of junk that makes it to the curb of your own yard sale a year later. Yes, the pricing is often 50% off, but good luck finding exactly what you want. And if you want something in the fall, you need to wait for the spring. Painful.

Craigslist and Kijiji Have the Goods. Somewhere.

As yard sales moved online, the driving went away and the selection blossomed. Maybe too much though. Searching for, say, exercise gear means reading dozens of online pages, combing through each one for exactly the right equipment. Getting the full picture involves clicking into each ad to get the details, the location and the item condition. Not so fun.

And then you need to actually contact the seller, hope they respond, and set up a time to actually see and test out the stuff. How is this better than a yard sale again?

Then, when you inevitably fail at finding what you’re looking for the first few times you check, you’re stuck continuously checking back for new listings. And what about trying to keep track of the listings you found earlier. Is the stuff still available? Oh, and did you already respond to that one out in the West end?

Put Your Online Shopping on Autopilot

Buried somewhere in most of these online classifieds is an Alert function. Beautiful. Do some digging. It is in there on most of the online classified tools. Once you find it, you can start a search for exactly what you need (or want). Maybe it’s a pre-1969 Dylan vinyl, or a KitchenAid blender, or a log splitter for the cottage, or a set of 205/55/17 Michelin X-Ice snow tires on VW factory rims. Or maybe you’re hunting some vintage gold jewelry for your anniversary. Whatever it is, you can set up the Alert just how you like it. It only takes about a minute. Then you can go about your business, whatever it is that you do do.

Call Me When It’s Ready

A week or a month later, up it will pop in your inbox. A little alert that someone has the thing you crave. Have a peek! Delete it if something isn’t quite right, and maybe refine the alert. But sooner or later it will arrive. Exactly what you wanted. Just like my Fender Stratocaster with the maple neck and the Sienna finish. It took about a minute to set up the alert, and just a couple of weeks for the good news to arrive. After an hour of driving and $1,000 cash, voila! I saved $1,400 on my new guitar. An amount that continues to grow in my TFSA.

Buying high quality pre-owned items is a great way to free up cash to invest and build a path to financial independence.

If you really need a new one or can’t find a used one, maybe think about shopping off-season. Learn more about that here.