I’m always searching for ways that I can be “better.” Since I got a new job at the beginning of 2016 and am currently putting as much as I can into my newly-acquired retirement account, the funds I have to better myself are limited. While I want to improve myself on a daily basis, I also want my future-self to have a shot at being “better,” which is why I’m currently focusing on saving, and limiting my “want” purchases. For me, saving means not going out to dinner as often as I’d like, in favor of perhaps being able to make a down payment on a house in the future.
A recent string of comments on another TFD article also made me realize that what I consider “better” is entirely different than what others may consider self-improvement. The things that I categorize as positive progress may be something that isn’t realistic or interesting to others. With that in mind, here is my list of inexpensive ways I feel I can add to my life, and hopefully some will apply to you. And if they don’t, I challenge you to come up with your own unique list of things that you love and aspire to do to make every day better. (Make it your own and tailor it to your specific goals and lifestyle!)
1. Writing more letters. It isn’t always financially practical to travel to visit the people you love. Compared to a flight, bus fare, or gas money, stamps will always be way cheaper. With the abundance of e-communication we all encounter, getting a heartfelt letter or card is a guaranteed way to make your loved ones smile. If you make it a regular occurrence and have loved ones that will write back to you, that is another way to boost your happiness, because it is heartwarming to know that someone took the time to respond via snail mail.
2. Carving out more time for myself. I’m the kind of person who often puts every. single. person on this planet before myself. I genuinely love making people happy and making things easier for them. But at what cost? One of my very close friends sent me this quote: “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” That really hit home for me. Even if it’s turning my phone off for an hour, taking a bubble bath, and allowing myself to tune out everything for an hour, I need to make sure I’m taking care of me before I take care of everyone else.
3. Making my home comfortable. I am a complete homebody. I prefer staying in to going out, and my humble apartment is a huge source of pride for me. I thoroughly enjoy “nesting” and in order to fully maximize the comfort of my home, I need to work on making my “at-home moments more beautiful,” as mentioned in yet another stellar TFD article. I don’t need to buy more stuff to do this. All I need is a bright sunny afternoon to reenvision my home space, and do some reorganizing.
4. Setting goals. I keep a sticky note with three or four short-term goals in my planner at all times. This list gets scribbled out, revised, and tossed often, because I achieve them and rework them to meet my weekly needs. Having this little reminder keeps me motivated and sets me on a track — whether or not it is the right track is up for debate. Having a direction is important, but it’s also okay to change that direction, and my little goal list is a constant reminder of that.
5. Reading more. My schedule doesn’t allow a ton of time to sit down and get a good chunk of reading done. I’m trying to be better about setting aside specific time just to read. I’ve been trying to go to bed 15 minutes earlier every night, so I can crack open a book of my choosing and get some quality page time in. It allows me to focus on the book instead of my work day, and then I’m able to fall asleep rehashing what I just read, as opposed to thinking about what I need to get done at the office tomorrow.
6. Expanding my knowledge. Not only have I been trying to read more, but I’ve been trying to change the content that I’m reading as well. Rather than scrolling endlessly through Facebook, I’ll pull up The New York Times and scroll through their articles. Knowing what my high school peers are currently up to is in no way connected to my long-term goals. Learning about current events is beefing up my knowledge and hopefully helping me become a better, more knowledgeable member of society.
7. Being kind and not judging others. Across the internet, I’ve seen a lot of backlash comments about “privilege” and articles not applying to people simply because not everyone has the same perspective. But I think when it comes to improving yourself and getting your finances together, everyone has to start somewhere. I think that one free way to be “better” is to offer constructive criticism instead of snarky comments (both online and off). There’s no need to duke it out on the internet. We’re all trying to make ends meet regardless of our current vantage point, so let’s focus on how to *better ourselves* by first being kind. Because THAT, my friends, is free.
You might be at a place where you are able to contribute as much as possible to your retirement account, or you might be cutting your spending to the bare minimum so you can pay off debt, but don’t judge those who are simply in a different part of the process. Three months ago, I was literally saving every penny (remember those paper coin-rolling thingies?) and only treating myself to an iced coffee when I had enough quarters in my cup holder to cover the expense. We’re all moving at different paces. And the sooner we approach that truth with kindness instead of judgment, the better off we’ll be.
If none of these apply to you, use my list as a guide to designate what on-the-cheap steps you can take to better yourself, or take the time to think about what living authentically means to you. And remember that living your best life doesn’t need to be expensive. Being “better” is subjective, and this is my challenge to you to figure out one small, inexpensive thing that you can do to be whatever your version of “better” is.
Samantha is a born & raised Vermonter. She works at military college as well as writing for a website about all things pet related (Wide Open Pets). She shares her home with a rescue Chihuahua and an adopted, and very talkative Siamese.
Image via Unsplash