Personal Finance

Making the 1% difference

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill

A few weeks ago, in my “Making Success a Habit” post, I listed, “Find Your 1%” as one of the strategies. This idea, that making multiple small changes could create a surprisingly big difference, came from an article I read about British cycling coach, Dave Brailsford. In just three years, Brailsford took the UK cycling team from mediocrity to Tour de France victory (a win that the team was able to repeat the following year). When asked about the accomplishment, Brailsford attributed their success to the “aggregation of marginal gains”. Simply put, the team looked for ways they could make 1% improvements in multiple areas (fitness, health, technique, etc.) and the results of those small changes added up to exponentially bigger improvements in their overall performance.

It’s a concept that resonated with me and, over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to put it into practice in my day to day life. Rather than focussing on making one significant change in my life, I’ve been focussing instead on ways that I can be just 1% better in a number of areas that I know are sources of stress for me. For example, I have a tendency to procrastinate on things when I’m tired and also to put off small tasks until I have “more time”. This invariably means that I wind up leaving things to the last minute (which I find hugely stressful) so I have been especially focussed on challenging myself to do “1% more” when it comes to things that I would much rather put off until later. Some days it works a lot better than others, but I’m starting to notice a change for the better which is enough positive reinforcement to encourage me to keep up the experiment.

While my focus has been on being more organized, I’ve also been thinking about ways that the 1% difference rule could be applied to finances. I like the idea of focussing on small steps and small changes in order to create an overall improvement and because finances are an area where small changes can have a huge impact over time I think this strategy could be especially powerful. Whether you’re on track to achieve your financial goals or struggling to get started, there’s bound to be some small change that you could make to improve your situation.

For example:

While you obviously can’t measure change or effort in percentages, I think the essence of the concept is simply to choose an area of focus and then to find ways to consistently make small improvements. While it’s true that it’s not really possible to quantify whether the extra effort is truly a 1% boost, I think what has made the strategy such an easy one for me to implement is that ramping up my efforts by 1% means just doing a tiny amount more. Psychologically, it’s a lot easier to summon the energy to go the extra meter than to go the extra mile and it’s surprising how those small efforts made on a consistent basis can create quite a difference over time. All it takes is a commitment to make looking for ways to make small improvements a habit and a willingness to implement the changes necessary to bring those improvements to reality.

How could you give a 1% boost to your financial situation? As always, if you’d like to share your ideas and any strategies that have worked for you, I’d love to hear them!


  1. John A. Mangone

    Hi Sarah,

    The 1% difference is achievable and easy to do for most people. You have to think differently about what you want to accomplish. Small steps to your goal, is possible, with a little effort.

    Here is my 1% idea.

    How about committing to get 1% more on your investments. Moving your money from a 0% chequing account to a 1% HIGH INTEREST SAVING account can get you a 1% return, with about 1% effort in time.

  2. Claude Mayrand

    1% Difference

    I like this idea very much. People will drive to forever to save 1 or 2¢ (0.7% on $1.35) on fuel but would ignore a 1% difference in investing and for borrowing. Yes even borrowing.

    Let’s define 1%.

    A change of 1%, from a 1% return on capital to 2% return on capital is actually a 100% gain on the return on capital, or doubling the income. Since many are weak at math, they don’t see it as doubling your income.

    Take the 0.25% January 2015 interest rate drop. The banks reduced their Margin loans, for instance, by 0.15%. Why? Their profit margin on this strategy gave them a 40% instant benefit on this cash grab: their cost of money went down 0.25%, their loan profits went up 0.10%.

    Percentages are fun. If you save 50¢ at the grocery store on a $4.00 item, what is the percentage of that saving? Yet most people couldn’t be bothered to check prices or flyers. If your savings/discounts on a $100.00 grocery tab is $10.00, that’s 10%: what is your bank savings account paying you?

    And that’s for working 1 hour or so for one week! A year? $520.00 tax free.

    The grocery example is a 1% difference – very little effort or commitment for real money.

    What is a 1% difference on your time, per week? 168 hours in a week; most people are awake about 100 of those hours. 1% of 100 is????

    1 hour a week to monitor your investments, your hard-earned money. Monitoring will slowly teach you about what is going on in the investment world, what unknown companies or funds are really beneficial to you, what changes are happening that affect your hard-earned money. It is so easy and inexpensive today with the Internet.


  3. Dave MacLean

    The 1% difference in reduced fund management fees. Do the math over the balance of your lifetime. Save 10’s of thousands,even 100’s thousands depending on the size of your investment portfolio.

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