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The Simple Dollar

To prosper, it's the tiny things that count

Here are seven reasons you should care about the tiny things (and seven tiny things to care about).

By Guest blogger / April 4, 2010

Big financial decisions can be flashy, but it's the tiny things (like these alpine flowers in a man-made garden) that can really help us prosper.

Robert Harbison / The Christian Science Monitor / File

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Quite often, you’ll see personal finance writers talk about the big things – the single moves that will save you quite a lot per month. Downgrade your living quarters! Sell that car! Buy a used car! Change your insurance!

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Those things are flashy because they can save you a lot of money with one action. Yet, they have several serious limitations (that I’ll get into below). Simply using a short checklist of these big things and calling it good enough will certainly help, but they only take you halfway to your big goal.

It’s the small things, the mountain of pebbles, that can really carry things over the top. Here are seven reasons why – and seven small things you can easily do.

There are many more tiny things than big things
Our lives are filled to the brim with choices. We choose what we do with our time and money virtually every second of the day, whether we’re at work or doing chores or sleeping or watching television or anything else we do. Those choices, as a whole, are very simple and minute, but on the whole they add up to a lot: our day, our week, our month, our future.

Almost all of those little choices have a financial implication. Do I make something at home or do I go out to eat? Do I watch television or do I read this book from the library? Do I flip the light switch on my way out of the room? They pop up over and over and over again throughout our day – we have many more opportunities to do the little things than the big things.

Tiny thing #1: Train yourself to flip off the light switch every time you leave a room. Every hour a single 75 watt light bulb stays on costs you roughly a cent. If a single switch can turn off several lights, it quickly adds up.

The tiny things usually don’t alter your quality of life
Yes, some of those little choices can alter your quality of life. Do I go out to eat or not? Depending on your values, the answer to that can certainly alter your life quality.

Many choices, however, have virtually no impact on our quality of life. Choosing to flip off the light switch on the way out of the room has no impact. Choosing a bulk purchase of laundry detergent? Minimal impact. Choosing to pick up a penny off the ground? Virtually no impact. Reading a book instead of watching television? No impact except possibly a positive one. All of those choices have a small but positive influence on your money, though.

Tiny thing #2: Drive the speed limit instead of five or ten miles over. It will improve the fuel efficiency of your car (a small thing) but also reduce your chances of a traffic ticket.

The tiny things help you get into a “money saving” mindset
As you grow more conscious of all of these little choices and start actively choosing the ones that save you money, this begins to feel like it’s the “natural” mode. The choice to save money rather than “living large” begins to feel like the normal option.

The end result of that? You make lots of little choices that save you money and it begins to add up quick. Of course, to get started, you have to start actively making little choices…

Tiny thing #3: The next time you go to buy something nonperishable that you use regularly, buy the bulk version.

The tiny things don’t require a lot of active thought
Most of the little choices in our lives are considered and done so quickly that we don’t even really consider them. When we walk by the light switch, the decision to flip or not to flip the switch is made almost instantaneously. The decision on which version of a product to buy at the store is made extremely quickly.