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Treating your financial goals as a part-time job


January 31, 2017

Treating your financial goals as a part-time job


January 31, 2017

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Many, many people across the world use a second job to support themselves and their families. They need to do this in order to make ends meet, but they do it so that they can keep food on the table and maybe get a little bit ahead in the world.

Yet many people who are lucky enough to earn enough money to make ends meet for themselves never stretch themselves beyond their first job. They have big financial goals, but then in their day-to-day lives choose to live a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle where they're never getting ahead financially but keep the bills paid. Yet, after a while, people in this group often wonder why they're not getting ahead. "I earn $xxx,xxx dollars a year, so how come I am still broke?'

The answer to that question is simple: They don't address financial success with any seriousness. They don't handle it like a person in a tough financial spot handles a second job.

In fact, the "second job" model is actually a very good model for personal finance success. A person who devotes 10 or 15 hours a week toward turning their financial ship around is going to find themselves rapidly heading in a better direction before very long.

So, if you're stuck in a rut, here's a simple financial challenge for you: For the next few months, treat your financial goals like they are a part-time job. Give 10 or 15 hours a week over to those goals.

It doesn't matter what your specific goal is. Maybe your goal is debt repayment. Maybe it's financial independence. Maybe it's retirement savings. Maybe it's saving for a down payment for your home. Whatever your goal is, treating it as a part-time job, at least for a while, will press you toward that goal.

Believe it or not, this is something I've done for years and years and years. I spend a couple hours each day finding ways to cut our spending, learning about investments, starting side gigs, taking classes – anything and everything that can reduce our spending or increase our income. Of course, a lot of that effort eventually translates into articles for The Simple Dollar, but it's a practice I followed before The Simple Dollar was a twinkle in my eye and it's a practice I'll follow long after I'm done here.

Here's how to do it.

First, block off a couple hours a day to work on this. I'm not kidding. Treat it like a job. Schedule it into your calendar, two hours a day or five hours a day on the weekends… whatever works best for you. Those hours are sacrosanct, just like a real job. In every way, you treat those hours like a real job until you're in a much better place with your financial goals.

Personally, I like to do this in the evening, just after the kids are in bed. I'll spend a couple of hours taking a class or making a meal plan or reading a personal finance book or something else along those lines. The basics of our personal finances are secure, so what I'm looking at almost exclusively are ways to improve our income or to decrease our spending, and believe it or not, I'm still finding lots of ways to do that.

Second, if you happen to earn any income during this time, don't spend it; use it to further your financial goals. If you start a side gig that earns some income, put that income straight toward debt repayment. If you manage to get a raise at work because of classes you took during that time, keep your lifestyle exactly the same and put all of that raise toward retirement.

Don't ever let that money enter your normal budget or else you're quite likely to find an ineffective way to spend that money. You'll find that the dollars simply vanish out from between your fingers.

Finally, know exactly what goals you're working toward. For many people, eliminating some debts is a very laudable goal. For others, the goal might be bumping up retirement savings or maybe saving for some specific goal like a down payment.

Knowing what your goal is not only helps you keep focus when you're working at this "part time job," but it also helps you select tasks that might be sensible to take on.

What kind of tasks, you might ask? Here's a list of items you might want to devote your time to if you treat your financial improvement as a part-time job.

Work at an actual part-time job. This is probably the most obvious option on here. You could literally get a part-time job for 10-20 hours per week and convert your spare time directly into cash.

Naturally, you'll want to channel all of the income from this secondary job into your financial goals. That paycheck goes straight to debt repayment or into retirement savings or into a down payment fund, whatever you need.

Sell off your excess stuff. Just go through your closets and shelves and look for items that you haven't used in a while (say, in the past year) and likely won't use in the near future (say, the next six months). If you're not using an item, there's no real reason to keep it as it just sits on your shelf and slowly loses value.

Many items can easily be sold on Craigslist or eBay, or perhaps you could host a yard sale or garage sale to clear out some of the stuff.

When you do earn a return on all of this stuff, invest that money directly into paying off debt or saving for your future goals or else funding some of the other projects on this list.

Earn a degree or certification. This is exactly how my wife is using her "part-time job" right now – she's working toward her masters degree, taking one class at a time in the evenings. Whatever your career happens to be, there are likely degrees and/or certifications you can earn that will increase your employability or enhance your value in your current career path. Maybe you can add certification for a particular database system or a higher degree in your field or a certification to teach a particular class.

Whatever you choose to do, you're essentially taking on a part-time job to improve your long-term income. As with the other examples, if you are able to secure higher wages thanks to this additional training, don't use it to inflate your personal spending. Take that additional income and channel it directly into debt repayment or your savings goals.

Start a low-capital side gig. This is what I did when I launched The Simple Dollar, wrote a book manuscript, or tried one of my many other side gigs over the years. These side gigs didn't require much startup capital – they just require you to invest your time and energy into something that might yield income in the future.

So spend your time writing that book or making that YouTube channel or whatever it is you can do to earn some money in your spare hours at home. Set aside time each day to work on it, to build it into something that's good and entertaining and valuable, so that people will want whatever it is that you're making. Then channel those proceeds into your savings and plans for the future.

Learn about personal finance from books or blogs. Perhaps you feel lost in the world of investing or you don't know how to set up a CD ladder. There are things about finances that just don't click with you.

You can devote your spare time to understanding those things. Just hit the library and check out books on those topics, or spend time reading about them online (just be sure to evaluate the sources and make sure you're reading articles written by people who don't have ulterior motives). Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have about your financial moves, the stronger your moves will become.

Participate in career networking. Another option you can use to fill your spare time is to engage in activities that help you connect with other people in your field, increasing your chances of getting hired in the future or moving on to a better-paying position while, often, building useful professional skills.

Get involved with a professional's group in your area or join a civic or professional development organization. Get to know people. Get involved in projects and even in leading those projects. Doing so will open doors for you that you can't even imagine.

In the end, if you treat building your financial and professional future as a part time job, you're going to build up opportunities and drastically improve your financial state as long as you stick with it. Most people don't devote time toward building their long-term future; those that do tend to find a great deal of success.

The choice, as always, is up to you.



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