Personal Finance

How to achieve more by doing less

“We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are” – Max De Pree

As the new year is here, many people are busy making resolutions and thinking about what they can do differently in 2015. If you’ve read my posts before, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m a big believer in the power of goal setting. Setting SMART goals and creating the action plans to accomplish them has enabled me to make big changes in my life over the past few years but an article that I read recently made me acutely aware of the fact that, for most of my goals, the action plans tend to center around creating new habits. The article pointed out that, while it’s logical to focus on taking on new behaviors, sometimes the more effective approach is to simply focus on minimizing the “bad” behaviors that tend to sabotage our best intentions.

Related article: Setting financial goals and priorities

This “kaizen” approach to goal setting intrigues me so I spent some time this week thinking about how I could apply it to some of my financial goals for 2015. Here are five of the ideas of what to do less in order to achieve more results:

1. Fewer goals

In 2015, I’m going to embrace the “less is more” philosophy by resisting the temptation to set too many financial goals and focus instead on three key areas: eliminating debt, streamlining spending and building wealth. Rather than getting caught up in specific dollar amounts for specific items, I’ve decided to adopt JD Roth’s model of allocating percentages. JD suggests a ratio of 50% needs:30% wants:20% savings but because I’m on a mission to clean up the last of my debt and rebuild my savings, I’ve reworked the percentages to allow more for savings/debt payments and less for everyday living expenses.

2. Fewer distractions

One thing, I’ve realized over the past few months is that, if you’re not careful, your free time can get cluttered with unnecessary activities. For me, this usually results in me getting behind on things that are important to me, missing out on sleep and winding up feeling de-energized and grumpy. I think that cutting back my commitments and spending less time in front of the TV/computer will give me more time and more energy to focus on the things I actually want to commit time to and allow me to move away from things that are getting in the way of my goals.

3. Fewer recurring expenses

Subscriptions can be great things but a recent review of my bank statements revealed that there are a few things that I’m paying for each month that I originally signed up for on a “30-day free trial” and then forgot to cancel. There are also some things that I’m paying for and not getting full value from because I’ve been so busy. Cutting back on these expenses will free up more money for fun goals and get my money working for me instead of paying for services I’m not using.

4. Fewer fees and penalties

I’ve been pretty good this year at not getting caught out with late fees and penalties and I’ve done what I can to reduce my bank and investment fees but there’s definitely still room for improvement. Dropping the bad habits that tend to result in penalties and putting simple systems in place to make sure everything gets paid on time will reduce stress, keep more money in my pocket and get me closer to my goals.

5. Fewer excuses

As I’ve said before, life is unpredictable and you don’t always see its curveballs before they hit. It’s often easier to blame circumstances rather than step up and take action to make things better but making fewer excuses and taking more action is what leads to success. In order to create the change, you have to commit to the process of making the change and believe that making the change is worth the effort. I’ve learned that letting yourself off the hook too easily can really slow down your progress towards your goals which is why it’s one of the key things I’m committing not to do in 2015.

Related article: Simplify your finances

The idea of letting go of habits and beliefs that no longer serve you is one that I’ve applied in other areas of my life but never really applied to my financial goals. I like the idea of simplifying my approach to finances and keeping my focus on the things that will really help me achieve more success. I’m excited to see how 2015 turns out and whether this new approach will prove to be effective. What changes are you planning to make in 2015? If you’d like to share your goals, I’d love to hear them,


  1. The Roamer

    Those are some great general feeling to work towards in the new year. Like you said in the beginning its important to set smart goals and plan steps to get there.


    Thanks Sarah for your excellent advices. For me during 2015 Í´m going to stop my debts with the bank and I´m going to save more in order to travel in 2016.

  3. Claude Mayrand

    Achieving more by doing less.

    I’m lazy. One of my favourite sayings is: “That’s too much like work.”

    I have been investing for a long time. Never liked it but felt it was necessary, a requirement to prosperity. I’m fairly smart, pretty good at math; but never got the hang of “it”. I’ve met day-traders, wealthy day-traders; it just looked like lucky guesses to me.

    Mutual funds were a mystery to me: how could I lose money or value at the end of the year, yet still pay income tax? Or how could my RRSP-held Mutual Fund process a cost-base adjustment but I still held the same number of units and no increased value?

    In 2001-2002 I reduced my investment goal to a single criterion: only stocks or ETFs that paid me monthly. I added: only Canadian stocks, to eliminate the need to learn about foreign exchange and income tax implications and political volatility issues.

    That changed everything, including eliminating my need to understand the mysteries of selecting investment vehicles or investment advisors.

    Since about 2005, my portfolio has been paying me over 14% on a monthly basis, in cash, so I can pay my monthly bills. My portfolio value has also grown, but that’s a secondary objective.

    Today I spend about 25 hours a month monitoring, looking for new investments or culling the ones that are no longer paying me enough or on a monthly basis.

    Once in a while I hit a jackpot or I get burned; most of the time, the monthly cash just keeps on coming.

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