If you were to guess the recipe for success by looking at the ways people handle the financial lives, you might come up with something like “Work hard, play hard”. North Americans have a reputation in parts of the rest of the world for working incredibly long and hard, for no ultimate purpose. Science seems to support this way of thinking.

As many career people have no savings for retirement, this perspective is further vindicated. It begs the question, “If you can only support your lifestyle by working insanely hard, what will you do when you can’t work like that anymore?” It’s an important question; if workers have no method to one day dismount the hard work hamster wheel, this creates great uncertainty for the future.

All of this implies that, perhaps, the solution for having trouble making ends meet is not to work harder, but to cut down on the cost of living.

The average working household is fraught with inefficiencies and waste. Here are just a few examples:

  • You work 55 hours a week, so you don’t have to cook. Expensive take out and restaurants get you your meals every day of the week. 
  • Childcare eats up 30% of your salary, but you work all of the time, so this has to be the way it is. 
  • You’re so stressed from work, a few drinks at the bar a few nights per week is the only way you keep your sanity. 

These situations are endemic to career-first, career-only culture, but for many people this is not a healthy path. By taking time to learn about your money, perhaps with the help of blogs about personal finance, you’ll start to see how many people are realizing that constantly chopping wood to heat a house is hard, and filling in the holes in the walls is much better.

Perhaps the most fundamental habit in personal finance mastery is the practice of living beneath one’s means. This is such a commonplace idea that it’s practically a cliche, but it’s surprising how many people do not follow this important maxim. When you’re able to reduce personal costs to a level that allows extra money above your unavoidable spending, you won’t have to “Fight” to stay ahead of financial waste.

Some of this money can be easily be put to work by investing with Betterment or other automated “robo-advisor”. Twenty years ago, making regular investments was a time-consuming affair requiring lots of time on the phone. Today, it can be completed a few clicks on your keyboard.

Taking time to learn about how modern people save time and money is an integral part of partially leaving the rat race. You may love your job and wish to continue, but with perhaps fewer demands and more time to live your life outside of the workplace. Through budgeting and careful saving, it’s easy enough to have a satisfying life, without being broke or worked to death. As more adults decide this lifestyle is for them, it could lead to a major shift in career culture - for the better.

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