Personal Finance Mastery the Kaizen Way

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Personal Finance Mastery the Kaizen Way

I have a new motto for my dream of mastering my personal finances:

One Small Step Can Change Your Life.

That also happens to be the name of a book by Robert Maurer, Ph.D.

The book is a simple introduction to the kaizen philosophy, a Japanese method of making big, long-lasting changes through small, steady steps.

It’s hard for me to believe that something SO big in my life – namely, my lack of mastery over my personal finances – could be overcome in tiny steps, one at a time, steady as she goes. But Maurer gives lots of success stories to prove it.

He says it works because it outsmarts the human brain. What gets in our way when we contemplate big challenges is fear.

You read it here first: change is scary!

A big challenge gets our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that focuses on analyzing and planning for the future, to sit up, take notice and start warning us about all the problems and obstacles that might happen along the way. Then our lizard brains kick in, get scared, and run for the hills.

Imagine the conversation.

Jayne, to self: No more impulse buying! No yarn, no books, no gadgets, no software. That’s it – zero tolerance.

Jayne’s Prefontal Cortex: Just who do you think you’re kidding? You’ll never be able to pull that off. You are Mrs Impulse Buyer. You’ll go into some kind of detox shock, and then you’ll self-medicate by spending $500 on something. Besides, what about that pattern you just looked at? You’ll forget all about it if you don’t buy the yarn, and that would be a crying shame. Also, the computer is acting pretty weird. You’ll be sorry you didn’t buy a new one when the death chimes sound. And really, can you actually go to Amazon without invoking 1-click buying? No. I didn’t think so.

(The accepted rules of blogging say that paragraphs should be short. I made that last paragraph long on purpose, so you can get a feel for how impossible it is to get a word in edge-wise when the prefrontal cortex has the floor.)

Jayne’s Lizard Brain chimes in: I can’t! I don’t want to! Get me out of here!

Welcome to the inside of my skull. It sounds a lot like this a lot of the time.

Having big goals wakes up the prefrontal cortex. Tiny steps let the sleeping dog lie.

So here is what I decided. I’m going to put my credit and debit cards out of reach. No, not ALL the time, because that would be too big. Just when I’m in Sodom and Gomorrah (also known as “online.”)

Right now I store all my credit and debit card data in a secure digital wallet. If I click buy, I get a popup that asks how fast. Not really . . . it asks me which card I want to use, and then it fills in all the blanks and processes without me lifting another finger. Click, done! Minimum of effort, hardly any thought at all.

As soon as I finish this post, I’m going to delete all the information out of the digital wallet.

This means that whenever I want to buy something online, I will have to get up, walk five feet, pull the card out of my purse, walk back five feet, and hand enter all the data.

That’s a tiny step, isn’t it?

I’m not saying don’t buy anything ever. I’m not saying put all the credit cards in a gallon jug of water and freeze them. I’m just saying put the credit cards five feet away. Make it just a tiny bit less convenient to use them in the place where I habitually do the most damage.

I want you to know that my prefrontal cortex is awake and heard that. That’s because I’m writing, thinking, and analyzing this small step, and those are all prefrontal cortex activites. Hence the following thoughts are coursing through my brain:

But what about the utility bills and the car insurance? You pay all of those online with your debit card. You’re going to forget, and then everything will get cancelled and shut off and it will cost you more money, not less!

And what about the security risk? It’s much safer using the encoded digital wallet than typing in the numbers and expiration dates right there in front of God and all the hackers. What about spyware? Malware? Fraud, deceit, and thieves?

Plus, what a dumb idea. You REALLY think that putting the cards five feet away is going to make any kind of difference at all? That is just plain wasting time. Why don’t you do something meaningful, like earn more money? That way you don’t have to waste the energy coming up with these silly ideas to trick yourself out of buying stuff you want. Doesn’t that make a lot more sense? Of course it does, because I said so, and I’m the smart one.

But I have become wise. Dr Maurer says a patient of his lost 80 pounds by taking the tiny step of marching one minute per day in front of the TV during a commercial break.

If she could do that, I can do this.

What about you, World of Dreamers? Have you ever taken a tiny step and had it turn into a really big change? Have you ever used the Kaizen philosophies in your life? Leave a comment and shore me up!


Jayne Speich is a small business coach/consultant who writes, thinks, and coaches extensively on customer service, business finance, and ways to thrive in the new economy. She is the owner of Onsys21 Dental, a coaching/consulting firm for dental practice owners. You can sometimes find her at Jayne’s post day is Saturday.

  • Manual Hiltz

    Useful article you got here. It definitely aided me personally!

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  • Mariska

    I love this article!! I want to try that exercising to TV commercials and see how it works!! Now I have to go buy that book!! -M

  • I like this post and the idea of the Kaizen way — very much. It makes the processes I used for success (without realizing it) make sense. It’s like the idea of not bringing in sweets or trigger food when you are eating healthy. Force yourself to get in a car and drive to the store – thus delaying the gratification.

    Interesting stuff!


  • Remy G

    thank you thank you! for this post! In fact i did something yesterday that was a little big step for me. I balanced both of my checkbooks to determine exactly how much cash I actually have. (one of my accounts is attached to some investments and it fluctuates daily) I was off by alot (had 120 dollars more than I thought I did) and what that tells me is that when I don’t know the exact truth I cant make the right decisions when it comes to bill paying and grocery shopping. not knowing also keeps me up at night. Information is power i guess! I cant wait to see your small step in action on Wednesday! :) Rem