Swimming Upstream

by Gary Foreman


Did you ever get the feeling that the entire world was working against you? As if everyone and everything was trying to keep you from accomplishing your task? Well, it's possible that you were right.

Really? Well, it could be that what you were trying to do was against the laws of nature. Let's take a silly example. If you drop a rock what will happen? It will fall to the ground unless something is holding it up. No matter how much you hope that it will float, the rock will drop, well, like a rock.

So what's the point? Life is easier if we notice the way things work and use that knowledge to our advantage. We can be frustrated trying to make a rock fly or we can use gravity to our advantage by building a stone fence.

Obviously it's easier working with gravity than trying to fight against it. You can overcome nature and make the rock fly by putting it in an airplane. That will keep it aloft for hours at a time. But you'll consume a lot of energy in the process.

So how does that apply to our financial lives? Let's take a look at another natural phenomena. One thing we notice in nature is that many things start small and take time grow. But they can grow to a very large size if enough time passes. Trees are an excellent example. They start from a seed, acorn or sapling and can grow to be even hundreds of feet high.

The same thing can happen with our finances. Consider borrowing money. Suppose that you spent $10 more than you make each week. And you continue to do that every week for 50 years. Remember that $10 isn't a large amount to borrow each week. But if you do that continually and pay a nominal rate of interest (10% annually) you'll owe over $762,000 after 50 years.

Of course it works the same in the other direction. If you saved $10 per week you'd a millionaire in the 52nd year of your program. So it really doesn't take a big shift to move you from serious debt to being comfortable financially.

OK, I can hear some of you saying that you'd have a tough time saving $10 per week. Could you could save 72 cents per day? That's $5 per week. In just 30 years you'd have a bit less than $50,000. Again, a small change in direction can make a major difference.

Or maybe you'd like to change some habits? Experts say that you can develop a new habit if you follow the same pattern for 30 consecutive days. Make something part of your schedule for just a few weeks and it will become natural for you to do it for the rest of your life.

Do you wish you had a bigger vocabulary but can never find the time to do a lot of studying? Suppose that you could carve 10 minutes out of every day (during TV commercials?) and you used that time to learn a new word. In twenty five years you would have learned 9,125 words! The point is a simple one. The small changes that we make in our lives can have a significant effect if maintained over a long period of time.

And this is a perfect time of year to consider small changes. Most resolutions are made at the beginning of the year. We might want to lose weight, stop smoking or get out of debt. And those are all worthwhile goals. But most of us get frustrated trying to reach something that's so big. We just can't picture ourselves being 40 pounds lighter.

In fact we won't lose that much weight in a short time. Even if we crash diet, the majority of people put the pounds right back on after they finish their diet. Those who are successful follow a different approach. They change their lifestyle just a little bit. Only as much change as they're willing to accept on an ongoing basis. Maybe they cut out one soda per day. Or exercise fifteen minutes per day. Something that they can sustain for years to come.

Will they lose the 40 pounds? Not all at once. But they will begin to lose a pound or two each month. And after a couple of years they will have achieved their goal and also given themselves a healthier lifestyle.

The moral to the story? There are two. The first is that you don't need to be afraid to dream big. You can accomplish big things without doing anything heroic or noteworthy.

The second moral? You need to begin to take small and determined steps toward your goal. Save a few dollars each and every week. Not a lot one week and none the next. But a few dollars each week. Make regular progress to your ultimate destination a habit. If you fail one day get right back on track. You won't go far in any one day, but you will cover a lot of ground over time.

On the other hand you can decide that you don't want to make the small changes. Maybe you will be the one in thirty seven million who hits the lottery. But it's much more likely that you'll just be swimming upstream your whole life.

So what small thing will you begin that will end up as a big success? It's not as hard as you think. After all, you have nature on your side. So go ahead and dream big. And then take the first and then the second small step toward your goal. Remember that every big tree you see started out small.


Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money and he's a regular contributor to CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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