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Don’t try to do it all at once

I’ve been writing a lot about personal finance lately. I make no apologies for that; it’s what’s on my mind. Something that happened this weekend reminded me of why it’s hard to get on the personal finance treadmill to begin with.

The numbers are big. They’re intimidating. You can’t possibly fix it all right now.

So don’t try to fix it all right now.I had an unplanned incident this weekend. It was unplanned, avoidable, and expensive. Some people will spend $400 at the drop of a hat without flinching, but my wife and I aren’t among them. I wouldn’t let myself get upset over it, but truth be told, I thought about it a lot over the weekend.

Mainly I tried to formulate a plan to make the money back quickly. And making $400 is certainly doable, but most people don’t come up with a way to make an extra $400 in just a day.

And that’s when it hit me. Don’t try to do it all in a day.

It’s like in baseball, when a team is losing by 8 runs the way the Indians were against the Red Sox for most of last night. Usually when a team is down by 8 runs, they’re going to lose because everyone’s going to go up there and try to hit an 8-run home run. But it’s physically impossible to hit an 8-run home run.

The way you win a game when you’re losing by 8 is by getting on base any way you can, and then getting around and scoring any way you can. If enough people manage to do that, they can chip away at the lead and soon it’s a close game again.

And that’s the way I have to approach this unexpected expense. Look for the opportunity I normally wouldn’t bother with. Take snacks to work so I stay away from the vending machine for a while. Chip away at it, whether it’s a dollar at a time or ten.

That trick works with big debts too. I once used a mortgage calculator to figure out the smallest amount of extra money you could put toward your mortgage and still see a benefit. On my mortgage, the amount turned out to be $10. Just paying $10 extra per month every month would pay the house off a full month early. Ten lousy bucks. Up that to a hundred and you can start talking about years.

So that’s the key. Nickel and dime your way out of debt, and then you can be on your way to nickel and diming yourself into prosperity.

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