Ten percent

“I stopped using Mint” to track my money, a friend said to me the other day.  “It was too depressing.”

Yeah, I get that.  It’s what we do.  It’s why cancer doesn’t always get diagnosed early enough and neighborly disagreements end up in court.

It’s the belief that the inspected life gets worse.

Yes, it’s depressing to look at a sea of debt, realizing that you’re at the bottom of it.  So depressing that you just want to look away.  And that’s when you need to stare at the ugliness, unblinking, and accept what it is in this moment.

Because that’s all a snapshot of your finances is — it’s a moment.  The next moment will be different.  Maybe not much different, but money magic is slow magic.  Small changes reap bigger rewards.

Anyone — and I mean anyone — can save ten percent of his or her income.

That’s what my oldest friend’s father told me when I was a young man struggling with debt.  Now I’m an older man struggling with debt, and that’s true in part because I didn’t always remember his words.

Why is this true?  In the United States, at least, people at any income level can piss away ten percent of their income and not even notice.  Cigarettes, soda, a video game.  Gas when you could have walked, super-sizing dessert, betting on a football game.  Who knows where the money goes?

You can save ten percent simply by being mindful.  Pay yourself first, ten percent right off the top.  Make it automatic if you can; either payroll deduction or an automatic withdrawal that puts the money in a different bank account.  If you don’t have a bank account, consider opening one, or finding some place secure where you can access your money, like Dwolla.

Scared?  Then save less, but save something.  A dollar a week.  A month.  Something.  Make saving a habit.  When you have more you can adjust, but you need the habit of putting money away some place you aren’t likely to spend it.

Ten percent.  Anyone.  Got it?

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