(an article which has useful tips, me waxing (and waning) philosophically, and a question to remember)
Here’s what I know for sure: when I idle, I tend to be more impulsive with my spending, as opposed to when I’m busy, than discipline is easier. The easiest way to explain this is that when I’m doing something I don’t have time to spend money; my mind is focused on something greater than my wallet. Certainly it can be argued that one can be busy doing very expensive things. Absolutely. That’s why I’m here; I have experience being busy; I’m great at it. Here are ways to stay busy that will save you, and sometimes even make you money:
Hobbies : There are expensive hobbies, this I readily acknowledge; boating or flying small planes is not something everyone can have a hand in on the cheap. At the same time there are tons of hobbies out there that take a minimal cost to maintain: scrapbooking, photography(if you don’t require professional grade equipment, but why would you?), running or hiking, chess, Naked Eye Astronomy, website design, drawing, writing poetry, and the list goes on. I do several of these things myself, so I know that they’re either cheap or have a minimal start-up cost and can lead to hours of enjoyment. I would harp on about the benefits of hobbies, but the Silicon Valley Blogger got there ahead of me in this post: The Perfect Hobby…. His article has a good explanation of how to pick a hobby that’s cheap and fun…Or you can just take up one of the ones outlined above. They’re great because they’ll make you a better person and keep you busy, so you won’t be out leaving your money all over the place.
Be Social : Making a connection with another person is completely free. Not only that, but it’s totally awesome! Developing a lasting friendship is like – in money terms – an account with compounding interests; the more you put into a friendship, the more you’ll get out of it. When I was finishing up high school a group of us used to meet in my best friend Karl’s back room (a small room behind his house…). There we would spend our evenings carrying on about whatever struck our fancy, sometimes having amazing philosophical conversations. We would have the best times when friends of friends showed up so we’d have new people to meet and enjoy. At some point, the backroom became a staple of the neighborhood, everyone who was anyone had been there. Point is, that the backroom had no TV, just a few lawn chairs (eventually some donated love seats) and the old stereo. It was completely free, but in it, we enjoyed hours upon hours of entertainment. Carrying on, after all, requires nothing but us. What we did may seem like idleness, but the fact is that we were cementing relationships; spending quality time with each other, don’t we need that in our adult years as well?
I would also like to put in a good word for going on walks. Learning about times of old, I found that people walked a lot more; sure, not everyone could afford a horse-drawn carriage, but the idea remains. Take a long walk with a friend sometimes soon (you don’t have to be going anywhere). It’s one of the simple pleasures of life. Conversation and exercise abound! An additional benefit is the opportunity to connect better with your environment, whether that’s natural or urban (explore a neighborhood you’ve never really trudged before).
Having close friends online is something I have very little experience with, but I know people who have developed some very intimate relationships with people around the world. I suppose if you already pay for an internet connection, meeting new people online is another nice way to be social. Plus, you’ll have a place to stay in random cities around the globe! Always useful for frugal travelers.
Basically, building and maintaining a social network is cheap to free as long as you and your friends realize just how deep and interesting everyone can be. Sure it requires a time commitment, but the benefits to your emotional well-being and wallet far outstrip any negatives. And if you must spend some money, buy a six dollar bottle of Spanish wine from Trader Joe’s, and take it to a friends flat, sit outside, down the whole bottle and pretend you’re in a Paris cafe.
Volunteer! : Serving others, especially those less fortunate is one of my favorite ways to stay busy. In personal development we talk a lot about personal growth and and individual benefits, but there’s usually little space given to how personal development can relate to others. Most don’t, but I feel strongly that every self-help book should have a section on volunteering, or giving your time to something outside of yourself. In that vain, I think our society would be much healthier and as a result happier if everyone had the desire to volunteer at an organization of their choice for a few hours a week. If we’re talking about personal finance here, it’s clearly a better financial move to help feed the homeless for three hours than simply donating $25 dollars to charity (though donations are tax-deductible, so they’re better than not doing anything). During the time you volunteer, I guarantee you will generally be spending zero dollars. Anywhere you live, especially big cities, I’m sure there are countless organizations that could us an extra pair of hands. Choose an organization that is promoting your ideal world, whatever your pet issues are, and get involved. Two further ways of staying busy, shaping the world and and saving money in the process are:
1) Get involved in your community. Trent, who writes The Simple Dollar blog is always mentioning this and it makes sense! In my view, an important facet of happiness is being connected to where you reside, getting involved in the community is an excellent way to do that. Not only is it beneficial for you, but you’re also helping shape your area for future generations. Here is a link to Trent’s Nine Financial Reasons For Getting Involved In Your Local Community.
2) Gain some knowledge and contribute to political discussion on a larger scale: There are huge amount of information available about laws that are currently being passed at all levels of government. Laws that most of us don’t know about, but that will at some point have an effect on our financial lives. It’s free to find out who your legislators are on the different levels, and there is only a minimal cost associated with writing and sending a letter (I still think a physical letter packs more punch than an e-mail) outlining your stance on legislation that affects you. Many politicians don’t personally read the letters of their constituents, but they are usually tallied by their staff to determine public opinion. Being a conscious political observer and participant in the process is mostly free, and it definitely has the potential to significantly improve your life. We don’t put much emphasis on good citizenship in our society these days, maybe we should give it more thought, after all, it helps our financial positions!
Get Smart! : So you’ve always wanted to learn about nuclear physics, maybe computer programming, maybe crocheting, maybe music theory? Generally, my stance as a future information professional (and as a guy in-tune with my resources), is that information regarding nearly any field of study is available to you free of charge, you just have to know where to find it. One of my values is that learning is one of life’s most enjoyable pursuits, and one that never ends at that. So you want to learn something new? Pick a field of study and go to http://www.free-ed.net, go to the library (public or university), search Google, request information from a professional organization (find it on Google, or in a reference book. Most will send you tons of information for free), audit a class at the local community college. All free ways to learn anything you want. Okay, so maybe your not the intellectual-type, so what? Get really smart about something you’re interested in; watch a lot of movies? Become an expert in cinema. Very religious? Take up serious study about the intricacies of religious text. Study something, anything! I’m sure there are random questions that pop up in your mind about a variety of subjects. Answer those questions, save money while you’re at it!
Go to Work : Maybe you just read this and your like “Wha!?” this fool is telling me to go to work? What gives? Simple: The best way to save money is to make money. Maybe this is too obvious, but I feel like work has such a bad reputation, and really, it shouldn’t. So you have a day job, okay, that’s great. But how about taking your cheap hobby and making some dough off of it, how about leveraging your study into a book project, consulting work, or a lecture tour? Are these ideas you might be interested in? The key in life is to be creative and proactive; life is open-ended! Treat it like it is. Everyone has twenty-four hours in a day and there is absolutely no prescribed tasks that you Must do other than eat and sleep and … (not all at the same time, I sincerely hope). I’m saying open yourself up to the possibility of getting another job for your personal and financial fulfillment. Staying busy doesn’t have to involve working, or making money, but it can. Open yourself up to that. See work as something that benefits you.
Whew, if you’re still reading I’m thrilled. This is has been a long, but, I believe, informative article. Here’s an easy way to keep it all in mind. It’s a summary in the form of a question. Print it out and put it on the wall of your cubicle or home office, it’s worth some thought:
Life is open-ended, so why not stay busy with activities that allow you to connect with good people, benefit society, study, earn income, save money, and love it?
Thanks for reading.
– OLEG KAGAN (lifeinoleg at gmail dot com)