The Little Things

It was one year ago this week I was sitting at the same spot in my kitchen writing an article in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday.  Time certainly does fly by!  I think it is fair to say that if any of us would’ve predicted the circumstances of today as we are facing them, we’d either be the smartest people in the world or everyone would’ve thought we were crazy.  Either way I know that I certainly did not see a pandemic coming.  We continue to live in a world that is partially closed, somewhat broken, and trying to recover and find a sense of normal again.  Looking at it holistically can be overwhelming, especially as the holiday season looms.  To get through it, I think it is helpful to focus daily on the small things.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, what other small things should I be thinking about?  Everything today seems about small measures and safety in the everyday things we do – sanitize, wash your hands a lot, do not gather in large groups, wear a mask.  Believe me when I tell you that I am the line leader to get out of this crazy time we are living in!  I am feeling it most this week.  Nothing I do for the holidays is small!  I buy the biggest turkey I can find, cook for many people, make pies for my friends, and gather with those I love the most.  However, that’s not happening this year, except for the large turkey part, and my husband reminds me daily that I should not cook for an army this year since it’s just my immediate family of five at home for dinner.

When you are used to doing things on a large scale it’s sometimes hard to focus on the small versions.  I have been spending a lot of time thinking about this and thought it was a good time to remind myself, and you, that the small things make up the bigger picture – especially during the holidays!  You can look at the small ways you can make a big difference, not only for yourself and the people you care about, but also your personal finances.  Here are a few tips and tricks that are small you may consider focusing on that can create a better financial situation for you over the long term:

  1. Don’t let the holidays break the bank!  I read a report this morning that 57% of Americans are afraid to shop in person this holiday season due to the pandemic, and this number is up 6% just over the past few weeks.  Make sure as you are shopping for the holidays that you create a budget that you can stick to.  If you are not going to shop in person do not let the internet suck you in!  It’s so much easier to spend more when you do not have to carry packages to your car since they instead appear courtesy of UPS at your doorstep.  Keep track of what you buy and who you buy it for and stick to your list!  Easier said than done, I know.  Instead of getting sucked into Amazon’s Black Friday Deals, look at your local small businesses to see what they offer.  Many do curbside pick-up or delivery so help your community by shopping local and shopping “small.”  I am sure they will appreciate your business immensely.
  2. Invest in an excellent travel mug!  If you do not have the luxury of staying home and still commute to work, or are out and about shopping in person, break your drive-thru beverage habit!  You can buy a travel mug at your favorite local coffee shop and embrace the coffee pot at home!  I used to be “that” person who ran through the drive through every day until I did the math.  If you spend $3 five days a week for one year, you will spend $780.  That is a lot of beverage take-out!  Most people have work lives that span over 30 years.  Just to illustrate the numbers, if you took the same $780 and invested it over 30 years you would have increased your net worth by $61,655 (assuming an average annual return of 6%).  So yes, the $23,400 investment in yourself instead of Dunkin’ Donuts over time is just one small thing you can do to help yourself get ahead in the savings department.
  3. Speaking of working for 30 years…. Small changes to invest in yourself turn into big things for the long term.  As you can see in the coffee example above, $3 per day adds up!  Make sure you are investing in yourself and your future.  Increase your retirement contributions regularly to ensure you can stop working or change your lifestyle when you want to be able to do so.  If you earn $35,000 per year and kick your take-out coffee habit, you could increase your annual retirement savings by 2%.  Keep in mind that many plans offer pre-tax contributions so you would not even see a difference of 2% in your net pay.  If you are fortunate enough to receive a bonus this year try to save a portion of it.  When you get a salary increase, split the difference with yourself and you will still be getting a bigger paycheck while saving more for yourself.  Over time, you will notice a nice nest egg and you likely would not have felt any pain while working on this part of your financial plan.

Lots of small things can add up to big things.  It is said that it takes twenty-one days to create a new habit so be easy on yourself if you slip up while you try to break-up with Starbucks.  The point would be to get started on the extra savings program.  If we remain focused on the big picture without paying attention to the little things, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or lose sight of the ultimate prize.  While we are getting through what may be a challenging holiday season this year, take the time to look at these little things, formulate a plan, check in with your advisor, and put it all into motion.  Small monetary sacrifices can go a long way, and small sacrifices this holiday season will hopefully get us out of these pandemic circumstances sooner rather than later. 

Stay well, stay safe, and blessings to you and yours for a wonderful holiday season!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Iris Buczkowski is the founder of Birch Wealth Management (  Original content provided by Iris is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as investment advice.

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