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17 Jun 2008

How You Never Get Anything Done (But Do it Perfectly!)

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by Jesse Mecham

Jonathan over at MyMoneyBlog had a great article about how the concept of Kaizen ties in to personal finance. According to Wikipedia:

a Japanese philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement throughout all aspects of life.

I couldn’t help but notice something Jonathan mentioned regarding spending habits:

If you want to start a budget, why not track your spending in just one category, like dining out?

Brilliant.

The idea of small, easily-surmountable (perhaps so small they’re barely noticeable) tasks is a recipe for long-term success.

Normally, when someone is truly struggling with the budgeting process (the struggle always happens at the start. I never have people come to me and say, “Hey, I’ve been doing this for a year now and now, all of a sudden, it’s just getting really hard to stick to.”) I recommend that they don’t worry about budgeting but simply .

Jonathan’s suggestion to start with maybe just writing down your ‘dining out’ spending is phenomenal because it breaks that task down even further.

And honestly, I see a lot of wisdom there. With some expenses, such as the mortgage, property taxes, insurance premiums, they’re not variable and their timing is known. The value of writing down those expenses is, incrementally, so much smaller than recording expenses for discretionary, variable expenses such as entertainment, dining out, hobbies, etc.

So why is this post’s title talking about never getting anything done?

It goes back to the principle of Kaizen, where you work with small tasks, small improvements (continuously) instead of trying to develop a new habit, skill, or process all at once. Each of us has a drive to be better, do better, in some areas of our lives. What keeps us from taking the first steps? The huge task we see looming in front of us. We want to do things right even perfectly and we have a difficult task ahead. This desire for perfection from the start keeps us from taking any action at all.

The result? We don’t get anything done.

When starting your quest to manage your money at a higher level, recognize that you may need to start smaller and make small, continuous improvements to ensure your long-term success. Anything can be done for a few weeks, even a few months. But we’re after the long-term here! We’re undoing years and years of possibly bad money management habits, and that’s no small task.

In this regard, in order to achieve something big, you really need to start thinking small.

Your Next Step

Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)

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