What is an efficient life? What is efficiency for that matter? We’ll start with defining our term. Efficiency is any system designed to achieve maximum productivity with minimal waste or expense. And this has truly become the thesis for Simple Economist. An efficient life is one lived without wasted time, money, or resources. It is a life where the unnecessary has been removed and only the useful remains. It is a life in which we understand what brings us true satisfaction and we are actively pursuing it. It is about knowledge, self control and behavior. By applying the principles defined in economics, we can leverage efficiency to live a fulfilling, productive, relaxing, and awesome life.
The post is designed to be an evergreen post with further reading in almost every category. I’ve listed 9 practical areas in our lives where inefficiency tends to creep in over time. Areas where we end up wasting time, energy, money, or resources due to disorganization and poor planning. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not always productive as I wish. I still waste more than I should. I’m only slowly becoming aware of when I’m being efficient and when I’m not. And we must be careful because inefficiency is quite profitable for others. McDonald’s and Visa know this. Marketers are fully aware that we live inefficient lives and are often there to fill in the gaps. If we take the time, we can utilize the knowledge and resources we have developed to live awesome, exciting, efficient, waste free lives. Continue reading
Does having more choice make us happier? Is there a point where too many options leave us confused or uncertain? Certainly most would agree that some level of choice makes us happier. But, in wealthy countries like the United States, have we crossed the point where the plethora of options makes us less satisfied? For even the most basic choices like what to eat- there are literally thousands of options to choose from and hundreds of microdecisions that need to be made every day. Other things like choosing investment options, picking out a salad dressing, or selecting your next travel destination have hundreds and hundreds of choices.
A paradox is simply a statement that suggests an apparent contradiction that may be true. And the paradox surrounding choice is simply that. Contrary to popular belief, we may actually be happier with fewer options. Classical economists would suggest that more options give us the opportunity to find an object that provides the absolute highest satisfaction. But in reality, we are often constrained with time and mental energy; therefore, the idea of having a limited set of options may actually make us more relaxed. In addition, when there are fewer choices, there is actually less mental energy spent thinking about what might have been or what you didn’t choose. Continue reading
I’ve spend most of my life addicted to something. My addictions ebb and flow and have changed over time. I’ve been temporarily addicted to silly things like email/angrybirds /twitter/news; but over time I’ve realized there are a few categories that I seem to resurface time and again. There are certain areas of our lives that seem to gravitate towards dependency. Places where subtle addictions slowly creep into our lives.
It is a lot easier to see addiction or dependency in other people. Americans are certainly one of the most marketed to population in the world and it is apparent in our appetites and habits. When we look around, we notice the people we care about and are often aware of the addiction in their lives. I like the idea of being completely free from dependency. To be independent of so many addictions that we see in ourselves, family, friends or loved ones. The notion of freedom from all addictions stems from a great lesson from Sean Seay. In one of his messages about families, he introduces the notion that the one thing we all want, at the very least, is for our family to be free from dependency. If we have children it is even more paramount. We don’t want our children or people we love addicted to food, drugs, alcohol, video games, cell phones, or spending. Continue reading
There are very few things that can upset parents, politicians, economists, environmentalists, or anyone who is thinking of growing a mustache more than simple, unapologetic waste. It will look different for each person or individual. And rarely are the monetary issues the largest concern. Growing up, there was nothing that peeved my parents more than opening a coke, having a sip, then leaving it out to get flat. A kid loading up pounds of food on his plate- taking a bite then throwing the rest away, spending by politician’s opponents, sprinklers on in the rain, or idling in an SUV for fifteen minutes on a trip across the street, are enough to make the skin crawl of some individuals. The common denominator is that we all have a point where we find wastefulness painful to watch. For some it is our kids (or others’ kids), our friends, celebrities, or even rich people.
So what exactly is the sin of unapologetic waste? Well, I use the tongue-in-cheek term sin as a notion in which all people understand as bad. Not necessarily in a religious sense, but something that cross culturally is accepted as unacceptable. The concept of unapologetic refers to the idea that someone is proud, guilt free, or boastful of their situation. Someone that trumpets their own accomplishments and waste without a hint of remorse. And wastefulness can be anything including encompassing money, time, food, relational capacity, transportation, or natural resources. Although most often associated with natural resources and wealth, the frustration of wastefulness is a shared emotion of anyone who has ever lived in America or spent time in a first world country. Continue reading
Do you consider yourself good at caring for yourself? Do you take care of your body, mind, stress levels, and soul? Which areas of our lives still need work? I recently read several publications from the Headington Institute and they developed a unique one page questionnaire/measurement tool (link below) to comprehensively measure self care and lifestyle design. In an area that is tough to quantify, they have done a great job distilling the important aspects of lifestyle design into a quick and easy test that produces a lifestyle quotient number. Everyone has an ideal they are trying to achieve but how do we know when we are getting closer? We often look to others around us to determine how we are doing. But measuring yourself against others in lifestyle design is a slippery slope; however, assessment of ourselves introspectively is actually much more useful, especially when we measure our lives over time.
I’m still a huge fan of life hacking and I’ll continue to work through the principle of constant optimization. My goal is to always strive to live a healthier, more efficient, impactful life. But once you have been in this mindset for a while, it can be really difficult to measure progress. Am I actually improving my life? Do I have the same nagging issues that I had years ago? Have my life circumstances changed to the point where I am dealing with stressors that I never even considered five or ten years ago? Sometimes outside benchmark assessment is useful. Many people don’t know where to start. Most individuals are aware of the most urgent issues in their life, but I think a third party assessment can be useful to uncover hidden areas of our life that could use work. I’ll save you the hundreds of dollars in counseling by linking to the assessment and providing some context. Continue reading
When was the last time you felt rich? How would you feel if you made four times what you spend? Would you feel better if you had a little more breathing room? Someone making 100k but spending 120k won’t feel relaxed for long. But making 90k with typical expenses of 30k a year will give you plenty of comfort and options. The difference between what you earn and what you spend is the key to feeling rich.
When I was a teenager I worked at a summer camp as a counselor. We got paid less than minimum wage but our housing, food and entertainment was provided. Not only that, being quarantined at camp (not too unlike the military) provided little opportunity to spend any of the money we actually made.So, after a few weeks of work we received our checks and promptly went to the bank to get them cashed. 18 with no expenses and $700 cash. I felt rich. Do you feel rich? Even if your income has increased over the years, have you increased or decreased your margin? There is a strange but observable tendency for Americans to increase their expenses even as they grow their income. This net effect can often lead us to feel financial pressure despite growing incomes. Continue reading
Do you consider yourself easily affected by advertising? Are you someone who thinks through possibilities and foresees potential issues? We often think we are pretty smart. But our failure to anticipate challenges or plan ahead often leaves us making last minute decisions that are unwise or unhealthy. No one ever puts McDonald’s on the calendar as a destination. People don’t go out of their way to drive for hours to get the tastiest food available at the golden arches. People don’t plan on going into credit card debt with Ms. Visa. And people rarely wake up surprised after carrying around the weight of Sallie Mae, fifteen years after school is finished.
Companies fill in the gaps when individuals and families plan poorly, do not plan at all, or fail to build a life around efficient principles and habits. The effects of this poor planning often result in several extra pounds around the waist, clogged arteries, or mountains of unplanned, stressful debt. Companies like visa base their entire profit model on the expectation that individuals will not pay off their credit cards and use their product in an unadvertised way. Are they bad companies? Not necessarily. Most provide goods or services that are in demand by unwitting consumers. They are simply reacting to a gap they see in the market. And they are pretty crafty at it. If you are not careful, you will find out the hard way that McDonald’s is smarter than you. Continue reading
Do you have anyone in your life that frustrates you? Have you ever had the pleasure of watching someone you love continue to make poor lifestyle choices that impact their bodies, environments, or children? Do you have a spouse, friend, or parents that have a nagging habit that is painful for you to watch? One of the questions I get most often is something to the effect of “How do I get my spouse/friend/parent on board with living an efficient, financially sound, healthy lifestyle?”
As the old saying goes, You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Basically, the short answer is simply- people will change when they are ready. It is possible, however, to provide resources, be available, set an example, and work for teachable moments even in the interim. It can be even more frustrating watching someone make poor choices even after you have given them the information and tools needed to make meaningful change. However, for many people, change will happen when they are ready. And our role can be to support, influence, inform, and encourage. Often, results are what we desire, so waiting is tough and the process is often difficult. However, one of the joys in life is simply learning how to enjoy the process. What can you do right now? Be an example. Invite people to try things with you. Find the absolute best material possible. As cliché as it is, work toward being the change you want to see. Continue reading
Everyone wants to be healthy. Everyone wants to exercise more, eat healthier, be financially secure, and have high quality relationships. But we all know, a healthy lifestyle does not happen by accident. We don’t accidentally become healthier. In fact, most of our outside influences tend to make it more difficult to be healthy. Designing a healthy lifestyle is about putting structures in place that are conducive to living healthily. In addition, design takes place before action. A well designed life will make the the actions much easier to achieve. So, before many of us are really ready to take action, we must start by understanding, planning, and designing the life we want.
It is actually easier to notice when we have designed an unhealthy lifestyle. A fridge full of unhealthy, fatty, sugary, processed foods. A schedule so full we don’t have time to prioritize things like rest and exercise. A budget so over packed the next bump in the road will send us over the edge. A house that makes it hard to run, bike or play outside yet feels great for wasting away watching hours of mindless television. Surrounding yourself with people who live unhealthy lives or participate in contagious bad habits. Your environment influences you more than you think. So, we will address four main tenants of a healthy lifestyle in this article: diet, exercise, financial security, and relationships. -Stephen SE
I don’t normally get very personal on this blog but I thought I would let all the readers in on a few important decisions that have impacted my life. This is a long post but may be useful if you have ever questioned the role of alcohol in your life.
I have a funny relationship with alcohol. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve hated it (often in the same 24 hour period). I’ve said on multiple weekend mornings I’ll never touch the stuff again only to profess the very next week how excited I am to tour the new microbrewery in town. I’ve had a few friends that didn’t drink for various reasons and I’ve been with friends who can’t enjoy a social situation without alcohol. I’ve replayed the constant battle for years in my head about the joys and tragedies of consuming alcohol.
So, Why aren’t you drinking? It is hard to capture the social complexities and subtleties that encapsulate drinking in two sentences. I’ve spent years trying to figure out exactly what my thoughts were about the age old liquid. I’ve spent a lot of mental energy debating the pros and cons of the substance, its marketing, and its social status. I’ve traveled to countries where wine is everywhere and spent time in countries where alcohol was illegal. I’m impressed at the range of views that exist on the simple fermented beverage. (Photo: Train Wreck Winery)
After a particularly exciting night out with a bunch of buddies downtown, I woke up with a massive headache. I don’t know if it is just me but it seems like the older I get the worse those get too. I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I thought: man, it would be nice to take a little break from alcohol. Maybe I’ll stay in this weekend. Maybe I’ll take a week or two off. Maybe a month or two to clear my head. I needed time to answer the questions: Is alcohol giving me the true satisfaction promised in its advertising? or maybe: Is alcohol truly adding value to my life? Continue reading