Small changes mean big improvements to your lifestyle

Published November 30, 2015   Posted in How to Save How to Think

Here’s something that I bet you didn’t know: it takes me 17 steps to get to work every day. For some bizarre reason, I mentally counted my gracefully effortless strides this morning as I made my short commute to my home office where I work full time in information technology.

But as I sat down to begin my workday, I simply could not get those 17 steps out of my mind. I kept thinking about them, but I failed to put my finger on why those steps were so meaningful.

Walking to work!Why the hell was I so fixated on the number of damn steps it takes me to cross my house? This can’t possibly be normal.

Finally (and after my first cup of coffee), I stumbled on the answer…

These 17 steps made me realize something truly remarkable – how seemingly small changes to one’s lifestyle can add up to something absolutely mind blowing.

What happened was I finally gave myself the chance to sit and think about how truly awesome it is to be working from home, and what this change in my lifestyle is doing for our plans to retire early.

For example…

I used to sit through traffic that I absolutely hated to commute to a job that I didn’t like just to cube-work in a cold, dreary office that truly made me appreciate getting the hell out of there every day. My co-workers were commonly either checked-out mentally or completely over confident, and spending time around them drained the life out of me.

I eventually became the manager of nearly all of them, and shit quickly got real – and I got lost!

Now, I drag my unimportant ass across the entire house and plop down in my comfy office chair, occasionally re-surfacing outside of the office to play with our dogs or check out the weather. In the summer, you’d commonly find me swimming in our completely-unnecessary backyard pool.

I also used to stuff myself into a work uniform – a button down shirt and khakis – because it was the office dress code. Now, I basically wear my workout clothes because I insist on taking some time in the late morning to pursue my fitness routine at the gym, which gives me an opportunity to get out of the house and grab some fresh air on the motorcycle.

Just in those two lifestyle changes, we’ve accounted for two significant improvements to my lifestyle. First, I am saving significant time and money on my “commute” (by not commuting at all), and second, I have dramatically increased my quality of life and overall happiness with my ability to pick and choose my own schedule.

As a full time professional, the power to pick your own daily schedule is right up there with winning the Super Bowl or having the best damn sex of your life…pretty much every day. It’s the best thing since sliced bread my drop-dead-delicious homemade guacamole with loads of fresh cilantro, pineapple, tomato and maybe a splash of Tequilla if I’m feeling frisky. Who needs sliced bread, anyway?

Changing jobs might seem like a huge change, but actually, it wasn’t. I still do the same type of work, only in a much more comfortable environment and far improved working conditions.

But that’s not the end of what small changes in lifestyle can do.

These small but powerful changes don’t stop there.  For example, we no longer subscribe to expensive cable TV service (we have a TV/Internet bundle that actually makes it more cost effective to keep basic cable than get rid of it.

I switched over to the Verizon Edge plan by choosing the cheapest Android phone on the market, reducing my share of the family plan down to $25 / month for unlimited everything-I-need. No more carrying around a stupid $600 liability (erm, phone). Score!

The wife and I ditched the “date night” excuse and now rarely go out to eat. To “date night” it up, we instead cook one of our favorite meals and eat it outside, poolside, with a glass of wine or Vodka tonic (or both, hehe).

I sold the Ridgeline, which leaves me with only a motorcycle during the day. Not so bad, even if I have to bundle up before knifing through the frigid 50-degree winter air here in Arizona to get anywhere.

And truthfully, each of these lifestyles changes were easy. Super easy. My quality of life sure as hell didn’t diminish. I feel happy and healthy. I am not missing out on anything.

I used to think that I couldn’t live without HDTV service. But look at me now, all living and shit.

Our minds play games with our souls

When we think about the lifestyle changes that will help to bring on financial independence and early retirement faster, we often link these changes to the “s”-word. It’s a powerful word, but carries with it an equally-powerful negative connotation. It’s a bad word. Horrible, just horrible, this word.

What’s the word? Sacrifice.

Our minds, hell-bent on maximizing pleasure at all costs, trick our souls into thinking that the changes we are making are sacrifices. Our minds are telling us that we are depriving ourselves of things – things that we used to do, or stuff that we once had. It doesn’t much matter whether or not we truly took pleasure in these things.

Our minds focus on the fact that we once did something, and now, we are no longer doing that thing.

Once you get started, pleasant reality sets in. Like almost anything in life, once you immerse yourself into your new lifestyle, it is not so bad after all. Life goes on. Whether or not we have unrestricted 24/hour access to ESPN in HD doesn’t mean a damn thing. It doesn’t.

But that money that we are saving every month by frugalizing our lifestyle? Yeah, that shit means something. We retire on that stuff. That money will be your life blood in the future, when you are kicking your feet up on a park bench on a warm spring morning, completely relaxed.

All of these little things add up to something insanely wonderful. There is also a word to describe this, but it’s a much, much better word. Awesome, just awesome, this word.

What’s the word? Freedom.

Pure, sugary sweet freedom. The freedom to do what you want, when you want. The freedom to wake up whenever, do whatever, and be whomever.

And all it takes is making small changes in your lifestyle that add up into something truly spectacular.

We track our net worth using Personal Capital


36 responses to “Small changes mean big improvements to your lifestyle”

  1. Hmm…I’m currently reading this while eating breakfast in my work “uniform”, consisting of a button up and khakis, about to make my commute…I definitely believe that small actions can pay pay big dividends (see what I did there ;)). I’ve seen benefits of utilizing small wins while working towards achieving bigger goals as well.

    We have started making some lifestyle changes ourselves that we aren’t missing once we got over the initial hurdle. I use to have to watch baseball every night during the season but since we got rid of cable I found myself not missing it as much as I thought, and I added back hours of time every night. We also got stuck on the convenience of take out instead of just taking the time to plan good meals and cook dinner. Since we have made the effort to cut back on eating out and plan our meals, we’ve seen both of grocery bill and restaurant spending go down. Amazing what a little planning can do.

    • Steve says:

      Mornin’, Thias! It is interesting how little we actually miss many of the things that we used to do once we get over the initial “shock” of not doing that particular thing. Going out to eat was a big one for me. I love going to restaurants and still do, but I’ve found that cooking at home can be equally rewarding – and is definitely much more healthy and cost-effective than the restaurant alternative.

      Awesome stuff, thanks for the comment!

  2. Mr. Groovy says:

    Hey, Steve. Great post. Couldn’t agree more. Dropped 27 pounds this year by eliminating bread and sugary drinks from my diet. I also dropped my annoying habit of yelling at the TV by getting rid of cable. Small changes; dramatic results. And as you pointed out, less is not only more, it’s freedom. Here’s hoping that your wonderful insights took root with the great unwashed. Cheers.

    • Steve says:

      Congrats for the weight loss, Mr. Groovy! And I’m sure you don’t miss the bread or sugary drinks these days either. You settled into your new lifestyle and made progress. Well done.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Like Mr. Groovy, we dropped most sugar and flour and lost a combined 17 lbs; we also stopped going to restaurants, which was probably the single greatest thing we could do for our health and our budget.

    BTW, this is the quote of the day: “But look at me now, all living and shit.” I know exactly how you feel. 🙂

  4. Small changes can have big impacts for sure. I’m usually more a big change guy like going head first into this FIRE thing and moving to Manhattan, but I’ve made small changes like trying to cook more, and only working on projects for the people I like at work. That last one especially has made my job much more bearable.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Fervent – good on you for picking and choosing who you work for. I absolutely agree that having the right manager can make or break a working environment. Sounds like you’re in a good place where ever it is that you work. Well done, my friend.

      As always, thanks for reading.

    • Hey Fervent, I’m intrigued to understand how you navigated your way to the position of only working on projects for the people you like at work – I wish I knew that secret as I was working my way up the chain! Other than doing a crap job for them, which ends up just hurting yourself anyway, I sometimes found myself stuck doing work for some painful people and it really was the worst part of my job.

      Even now I have to collaborate with some people in our business that I don’t really like!

  5. This is so true. Small changes turn into big ones. And for everyone, those small changes are different. We already had no cable, so we couldn’t become cord-cutters when we started this journey. That wasn’t our change. We started hustling. Asking for raises. Cutting our expenses (stopped buying “stuff”). And those little changes will lead us to the best, most awesome change ever!

    • Steve says:

      Hustling. Asking for raises. Cutting expenses. These are all perfect changes – little changes – that can definitely add up into something remarkable…like early retirement, for example! 🙂

      Keep up the good work up there Maggie. Thanks for your comment.

  6. It’s amazing what 17 steps can among to! 🙂 This was a huge lesson for me to learn – growing up instant gratification was such a prevalent theme from graphing calculators, to instant messenger. It seemed those themes carried out throughout college, that the instant results were all I craved. Learning to slow down & recognize that small steps amount to much more than what I could ever imagined allowed me to focus on my finances, health, relationships, and the like. Thanks for passing on a great lesson! 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Alyssa, appreciate the kind words! You’re absolutely right that slowing down really does allow us to take stock of our lives and, if necessary, begin to make some of these changes in pursuit of our goals – both financial and otherwise. So very true. 🙂

  7. Right on. I like to frame these decisions for myself in terms of whether or not they will matter to me down the road: “Will I care in six months that I didn’t have ESPN to watch the baseball game?” “Will it matter to me in a week that I satisfied my take-out craving tonight?”

    Almost always, the answer is that I won’t even remember the non-frugal activity even a few days from now … but I will be thankful for the frugal choices: having saved money and made healthier, lower-stress lifestyle decisions. When the answer is the opposite (“Yes, it will matter to me in six months that I didn’t spend the money to be with my family for a holiday”), that’s when I spend.

    • Steve says:

      Good call, Matt – focusing on the big picture can definitely help us put things into perspective and assist in our decision-making process. If it’ll truly bother you down the road, then I’d agree that it might be money well spent.

      Thanks for writing.

  8. John says:

    I have 15 steps to my home office where I “work” most days. Best commute I ever had!

    Our journey to financial independence was certainly made up of many, many little steps. People have asked how we did it, and it would be easier to say I won the lottery, but in truth it was a culmination of all of the little steps. It’s much harder for people to see how they add up to have such a great impact on your life, but if they’d only take the time they would see that it really does work. I guess that’s why I’m spending more time coaching people – I love to see the light bulb go on when they realize they can do it, too.

    Thanks for a great post!


    • Steve says:

      Thanks for taking the time to write, John. Nice, you beat me to work every morning by saving two steps. 😉

      And you’re right, it would be easier to say that we won the lottery, but we gotta do it the hard way – by making the right decisions to put us into a position to better our lives and achieve our goals.

      Thanks again John – appreciate you reading!

  9. Couldn’t agree more with the value of picking your daily schedule as a professional. I’m nowhere near the luxurious freedom you’ve attained, but it’s incredible how having a degree of freedom and autonomy can actually make all the difference to your work day – which my new job has incrementally improved on!

    It’s a funny thing how many people won’t bother even considering such small changes, because it takes some imagination to see how it can benefit your life in a big way. I’m more and more focusing on making small, incremental changes to slowly improve my life, especially when it comes to incorporating my own personal values around my day-job, which can otherwise become all-consuming.

    • Steve says:

      That sounds awesome, Jason. Small incremental changes are the easiest to make, and as you’re experiencing, they add up to something truly profound. Congratulations on finding a job with more autonomy! 🙂

  10. A few years ago I asked to move to a different project team – resulting in a much shorter commute. I went from spending approximately 2 to 2.5 hrs a day in the car to about 1 hour a day. It’s still not as good as I’d like it to be, but man – this was seriously one of the best life changes I’ve made in my whole career! It is seriously amazing how much a long commute can take away from your happiness.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Freedom40 – no doubt, cutting your commuting time in half is definitely a huge step in the right direction. I used to commute around an hour, total, to get into work every morning for years and years in a previous life.

      Congrats on the work upgrade! 🙂

  11. Mrs SSC says:

    I wish I could figure out how to work from home. Unfortunately, it is virtually unheard of in my industry. I keep trying to think of other jobs that would allow me to do it – but my degree doesn’t seem to lend itself to that benefit! I’m still keeping my eyes out though!

    • Steve says:

      Hey Mrs SSC – it’s true that in some industries, the ability to work from home is probably much tougher. I used to work in an industry that required special access, so naturally I couldn’t work from home in those rolls. They can be tough to find, but sometimes your boss will give in if you threaten to quit! Not advising you to actually try that, of course. At least not at this juncture. 😉

  12. “I used to think that I couldn’t live without HDTV service. But look at me now, all living and shit.”

    Somebody put this on a t-shirt!

    Our steps have also been gradual, with the easy things first: getting rid of cable, downgrading to Cricket and Republic Wireless cell plans, giving away old clothes, etc. I find that there is a snowballing, momentum-building effect, and now there is a full-force Avalanche of Simplification headed directly towards the free and easy future we have designed for ourselves. Once you par down the little things, it makes it easier and easier to par down the big things and see the big picture through all of your crap.

    • Steve says:

      Good point, ID – the snowballing effect is very, very real in this phenomenon as well. We do something small and we see it work, then we try something else, and then another thing, and the one more…it all adds up, and it gets easier and easier as we go. Excellent addition! 🙂

  13. Though I always know how lucky I am not to commute every day (except to the airport on travel days, which is usually once a week), I sometimes forget how lucky I am to work from home the rest of the time, because I’ve been doing it for about five years, and I take it for granted. But then I go see my colleagues in our HQ when I visit, and see how fast their hair is going gray, or the weight they’re gaining, or the wrinkles… and then I realize how much better my life is, by a long shot. Sure, I still complain about work, but man, I am not destroying my health and looks like they are. Hallelujah. Glad you’re in the same boat!

    Now, we need to talk about this guacamole. I’m glad you do cilantro and no onion. And the pineapple — tell me more. Canned or fresh? Chopped how finely? Can you tell I am feeling the need to try this? 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Totally, ONL! I go back to our headquarters every now and then too, and no matter how good that my manager describes the place (apparently there is beer on Fridays), the last thing that I want to do is be stuck at the office on a Friday night. I mean, come on! 🙂

      We LOVE cilantro. Fresh pineapple straight from the fruit. It is more of a dice, but it’s a smallish dice. We even add in some pickled jalapeño juice as well to give it some extra oomph. I can hardly eat guacamole any more without pineapple in it. It totally makes the stuff! 🙂

  14. MrRicket says:

    Kudos on working from home. I know what you mean. I have started to come to the office at 7am instead of 7.30am. This seemingly insignificant change has drastically reduced my commute to work and back home, I arrive home and it’s still day light in winter! I am happier and more productive in my day. All that by not lazing about in bed in the morning!

    Cheers for this article!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks MrRicket – back when I commuted, I did the very same thing. It’s true that getting into work early can drastically alter your commute time (both to and from work). I was often the first one into the office in the morning. That also meant I was one of the first to leave, too. It was wonderful! 🙂

  15. Kurt says:

    What an inspirational post, thank you! My commute is similar to yours. I think tomorrow I shall follow your example: count the steps and bask in the personal freedom I’ve arranged for myself!

  16. All change, whether big or amall. Move you closer to your goals. Getting rid of cable may seem like a sacrifice but not nearly so much as foregoing your retirement. Who wants to work an extra 10 years just to watch TV?

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