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A Motto for Your Budget & Life: Leave It Better Than You Found It

How to improve your finances

I grew up hanging drywall for my dad’s company, which was very small – just him and his four sons.  On nearly every job site I ever stepped foot on I usually heard something like this: “Alright boys, let’s leave the place better than we found it.

While this was an adage he used for his business, it can easily be applied to our daily lives, and everything else we do as well: leave it better than you found it. That’s how to improve your finances.

LEAVE IT BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT

Long before I was ever big enough or strong enough to lift a piece of sheet rock I was brought to the job site to help out in any way I could. As a little guy running around I usually had two jobs:

  1. Stay out of the way
  2. Keep the job site clean

“When the site is clean, our work is clean,” Dad was fond of saying.  Drywall, especially the mudding part, can get messy. The drywall mud easily slides off your trials and onto your hands, clothes, and the floor, where it gets stepped in and then tracked all over the job site.  Messes lead to more messes and unless you’re careful and make a concerted effort to stay clean, the job site can get very messy, very fast.

So it is with life.  Although I learned this lesson on the job site, it can easily be applied to personal finances: leave it better than you found it.

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR FINANCES

Said another way: improve your situation every day.  Is that even possible?  I think that yes, it absolutely is.  No matter how small, we should do something every single day that benefits our financial situations.  At the very least, even if you don’t have anything to save or don’t have extra money to pay down a debt, you can make a good decision that will improve your situation in some way.  Some examples:

  • Brown bag your lunch instead of eating out.
  • Don’t buy that new shirt.
  • Don’t put that purchase on a credit card if you can’t pay it off at the end of the month.
  • Get a drink from the water fountain, not the vending machine.
  • Shop around for cheaper home/auto insurance.

Yes, these are small and seemingly insignificant things to do.  In fact, you could do every single one of these things and still end the day with less money that you started it with.  I understand that might not feel like progress, but you’d be piling up small wins and laying the groundwork for new and better habits.  Over time, these small wins begin to pile up and eventually become significant.

PICK UP THE TRASH

Disneyland is renowned for being clean.  That’s an impressive feat for a park of that size, but it’s incredible considering how many people (and messy kids) walk through the park every single day.  Disney manages to keep the park clean because of a motto instilled by Walt Disney himself:

Everyone picks up the trash.

Picking up trash isn’t just for the custodial team. Everyone that works at Disney is taught to pick up litter if they see it.  It’s such a simple thing to do, and it makes sense to implement this same strategy your financial plan as well.  If you see a mess – clean it up!  Doesn’t matter if the mess is huge or seemingly insignificant – if you see something wrong with your finances, clean it up immediately.

Not only will this prevent small issues from becoming large issues, but you’ll also get into a good habit of monitoring your finances.  Wondering how to improve your finances? Start by picking up the the trash.

SMALL VICTORIES ARE STILL VICTORIES

Every day we can do something, no matter how small, that will have a positive benefit.  If you get into this habit of improving your situation every day through small wins, then over time you’ll end up far better off than if had you done nothing.

Then, every once in a while, you’ll have the opportunity to hit a home run.  Maybe you’ll get a bonus at work and you can save significantly more than you’re usually able to.  Or maybe you can pay off a bill that’s been lingering.

Together, these small wins along with the occasional home run combine into a winning formula and a funny thing begins to happen.  Small wins start becoming medium sized wins, and you’ll start making progress even faster.  Then you’ll begin to have more opportunities to hit home runs.

I call this the Personal Finance Multiplier Effect and it’s what helps you reach financial independence much faster than you realize.  But none of that’s possible if you don’t start leaving your situation better than you found it.  If you don’t, you’ll just find yourself in a big old mess.

Chime in!

What are you doing today that will make tomorrow better?  Small or large, it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you keep making progress.  Agree or disagree?  Please leave a comment and let me know.

By Ty Roberts

Ty Roberts is the founder of Camp FIRE Finance, and a husband and father of four living in the Seattle area. He's a fan of the 4% rule, 80s movies and music, dad jokes and cast iron cooking.

17 replies on “A Motto for Your Budget & Life: Leave It Better Than You Found It”

Hey Ty! Some great thoughts here…my mom used to tell us the same thing. Even in a hotel room we would always make sure it wasn’t a mess when we left. Now, when I travel with people, I see how they leave the rooms and it’s appalling. Just vaca use you know someone is coming to clean it doesn’t mean you should leave wet towels on the floor and wrappers everywhere! Ohhh, I didn’t realize how that struck a nerve for me until now! Haha…

As for improving your situation everyday, I am taking that one home with me. My BF’s 16 year old wants everything now. To be an athlete, to look buff. He swears he needs a personal trainer but he hasn’t even bothered to try a few push ups. We tell n all that time that he has to start small and when we see focused on improving we can discuss a ymca membership ($19/month compared to $40/hr for a trainer!). Perhaps your words will help him move forward. 🙂

A beautiful perspective, Ty! This is something I try to do as well: What can I do today to make tomorrow (and all the tomorrows after that) even better? If we’re asking that question, and giving an honest shot at answering it, my feeling is it really opens doors to great things.

Thanks for this awesome message today – really good stuff!

Your drywall story reminded me of a friend who recently had drywall work done in his home. The room was carpeted and those doing the work didn’t cover the carpet – or clean it up. It was an awful mess. I bet your dad’s company was in high demand and known for their conscientious work.

I agree with your sentiment 100%. We can do something each and every day to improve our situations. It may not always be easy, or fun, or comfortable, but it will give us that level up we need to move us forward.

It’s amazing how much our parents modeling influences who we are over time. I laughed when I read Miss Mazuma’s comment about the hotel rooms. We always pick up and try to leave things as tidy as we can! Making incremental changes definitely is one easy way to make a difference in your tomorrows. Nice post Ty!

Love your dad’s attitude and work ethic. We are working really hard at doing something every day to improve our finances this year. The little stuff really does add up: the five bucks you choose to NOT spend and put into savings or toward debt. That extra hour you choose to work at work. I think this is one of the most important lessons in personal finance success.

Great post Ty! Really liked the analogy you used and the lesson is such a crucial one. Our finances can be really overwhelming sometimes, but by breaking them down and focusing on just taking one small step of improvement every day we can reach much great heights! For me it’s always a lot more helpful to focus on the day-to-day choices as well as how far we’ve already come in our journey, rather than getting discouraged about how far we still have left to go.

It’s easy to become impatient and want that success immediately, but things like that usually take time. Counting the daily wins helps to keep me motivated and in the end, success is often nothing more that a bunch of those small daily wins that have piled up.

This is a great life motto. I feel so odd in restaurants that are halfway between fast food and sit-down dining–the ones where you order from the counter but get real plates and silverware–because we’re supposed to just leave everything on the table when we’re done and it feels so wrong!
It’s not usually much more effort to clean up after myself AND do a little extra too. If we all chip in, the work is done in no time.

Great motto! I have something that is similar. I try to have “no zero days”. Which means I try to do something positive and progressive everyday. The small actions really add up as it really gives you motivation to carry on.

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