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I’ve been doing a number of interviews lately, and when I talk about my path to early retirement, I almost always get some sort of comment about my “unparalleled focus and discipline.” Focus I’ll take. But disciplined?
A lemming with Alzheimer’s probably has more discipline than I do.
I hate the idea that financial independence requires some sort of iron will to achieve, that through dogged devotion and endurance you somehow get to the finish line. Yuck. No.
Earning your freedom does take some amount of discipline, sure. But if you’re counting on the patience and consistency of a robot to get you to your goal, you’re sure to fail. What you need to do is use those tiny windows of inspiration and discipline you do feel to design systems that will guide you for the majority of the time that you don’t.
Here are a few examples of how that works.
Guaranteed Savings Rate Through Automatic Transfers
If you haven’t already, set up your paychecks to directly deposit into a checking account. Then use your bank’s online tools to set up an automatic transfer of $X each month out of that checking account and into the account where your savings are kept. Set this transfer for a day or two after payroll so you do not have a chance to touch it.
It’s hard to spend money that’s not there. You will have forced future You to find a way to keep all the expenses under the amount that’s left.
One suggestion: You will want to start with an amount that is only moderately above what you already save and build up from there. You need to give yourself time to figure out how to build skills and behavior to adjust for the lower dollars available for use. Don’t go from saving nothing to an automatic 40% savings rate. Start with 5%, then bump it to 10% in a month or two when you’ve found sustainable ways to keep the costs down below that level, then raise it again.
Cutting Restaurant Expenses With Pre-Bought Groceries
If you find yourself sneaking off to a restaurant in your moments of weakness, you can set yourself up for a nobler path by taking your window of energy and buying several weeks’ or a month’s worth of groceries at the start of the month. Having options already in the house, particularly fast microwave-ready emergency options, will go along way towards keeping you on the path of virtue.
I’m so lazy I can barely make it to the store once a month. I have a lot of luck freezing just about everything. Google freezer meals. It will open you up to a whole new world.
If summoning the initiative to do a monthly grocery run is still too much, consider curbside pick-ups or online grocery services. I have a standing shopping list with FreshDirect in case I somehow don’t make it to the store for my monthly run. The online shopping options are more expensive than TJ’s, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than eating out. I like to have a back-up for myself.
Errand Time With Productivity Apps
I hate housekeeping tasks. Making appointments, paying bills, looking over my credit card to check for unrecognized charges, all the things that are important to ongoing financial health. So I have a recurring 45 minute slot blocked off on my calendar once a week to deal with all this. I have a google doc with all the tasks that pile up that week. I also have a plugin installed on my browser called StayFocusd (not a typo) which allows me to restrict my browser during certain times and certain days. Conveniently, I have created a restriction during this weekly 45-minute window. There’s even a Go Nuclear option that cannot be reversed once set (I only needed to use that once on myself to get the message and stop trying to cheat the program).
Bottom line, my stuff gets done and I move on with my life.
We humans tend to prefer the path of least resistance. Use this to your advantage by designing a system that makes your desired route the path of least resistance for Future You. The hard part of achieving your goals is becoming a good architect of new systems, not slogging through as a workhorse.
Readers, have you created any systems to help you automate or encourage the right stuff? What were your problem behaviors? Share what has worked for you.