Painless Micro-Changes

A good number of my recent posts have involved making small changes to improve your overall quality of life. We might call these "painless micro-changes."

This morning, I read an article about the fact that the flagship cell models released by the likes of Samsung and Apple are indeed the best phones on the market, but that they are likely not worth the marginal cost for anyone other than cell phone enthusiasts and tech geeks. He made the point that one can get an admirably equipped cell phone for $400 or less, which is more than half the cost of the latest flagship model. The real question is how much a slightly better screen is worth to you? $100, maybe, but $400 for a better screen? The author wasn't putting this out there as a universal truism, he was just pointing out that, for a lot of people, "pretty good" is often "good enough."

That nice. Suppose you're someone who has decided that your next phone need not be the latest flagship model. When the time comes to buy a new phone, you could take that writer's advice, and buy a less expensive model, and you'd be slightly better off. You'd be slightly more better off, however, if you implemented a simple micro-change: If you were paying $40/month for your old phone, and your new one costs $25/month, you can now take the difference ($40 - $25 = $15/month) and set up a monthly deposit into your savings or investment account. You're not going to retire early on a $15/month savings plan, but it's better than the $0/month plan. What's more, you won't even feel the difference because you're already paying $40 per month. This way, your lifestyle stays exactly the same, but you end up with money in the bank. Now that's a micro-change.

The real power of micro-changes, though, is that they stack. Saving $15 per month on your cell phone bill won't make you a millionaire, but if you manage to combine that with the savings you get from shopping around on your insurance bill, your utility bills, down-sizing to a more affordable car, and so on, before you know it you'll be saving hundreds of dollars per month and investing in financial security with virtually no cost to your overall lifestyle.

For this to work, however, it's important that you choose line items that reflect your values. If you're not the kind of person who can get away with an inferior cell phone, then you're better off spending the extra $15 per month and being happy! The cell phone isn't the point. The point is that there is something in your life much like a cell phone, something that you won't mind buying the cheap version of. Buy that cheaper version of whatever it is and invest the difference.

Micro-changes can be applied to so much more than personal finance. Consider the office. You're stuck in one place for hours at a time; you may as well get a standing work station or an under-the-desk exercise bike, if you can tolerate either. You'll never get a real workout that way, but it's a low-cost way to make your health just slightly better than it might be otherwise. Or take a break every hour and do a set of push-ups. You get two legally mandated 15-minute coffee breaks per eight hours of work; maybe you smoke or like to drink coffee, but you might consider spending that time going for a brisk walk. That's two miles of walking per day, for some people, and the only lifestyle change you'll have to make is bringing a pair of sensible shoes with you to work.

Modern technology facilitates micro-changes like these so well that there's almost no excuse. A bread machine can make you a fresh loaf of bread that's warm and ready-to-eat when you wake up; it makes it while you're sleeping! Coffee machines can be run on a timer, too. Suddenly, you don't have to waste time making breakfast in the morning; there's a micro-change for you. (If you like, you can even program this into your "smart home" machinery.) Crock pots can make your dinner for your while you're at work. Life is so easy!

But in order to capitalize on it, you have to identify your life's potential margins. Where are you willing to give up a little? Where are your pain points? Where do you lose the most time? What gets in the way of your savings or your health the most? Find these things, and make micro-changes on the margin. Before you know it, your life will get much better!

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