Great Savings 52 – Think Outside The Box



JB’s stuck in a financial box. Things look different from the inside peering out.

Is money tight? Having trouble getting out of debt? Are you trying hard, but can’t save a dime? Do you constantly spend more than you mean to? Maybe money isn’t the real issue. Perhaps you’ve unintentionally locked yourself inside a box and haven’t considered what life looks like from the outside.


A box is another way to describe a self-imposed expectation or limitation on what you can or cannot do. For example, if you grew up being told to get married, have babies and buy a house you may now be driven to do all those things. In and of themselves these expectations aren’t bad. In fact, many expectations come about because of family values or the culture we belong to. The real trouble comes when we take on all the associated costs and can’t afford them. Remember:


Boxes come with costs and those costs can be huge.


GST #52Not every box is as big as something like buying a house or having a baby. Take a smart phone, for example. You may think you need a smart phone because (1) all your friends have one, (2) they’re cool, and (3) they can be very useful. Yet without thinking about the financial costs involved you could be spending upwards of a thousand or two per year for the privilege. That ‘s fine if you can afford it and not so fine otherwise.



If you are inside the closet looking out through a keyhole are you seeing the real picture? Are you sure? Better check below.

Let’s talk a little more about the boxes we inhabit. Boxes are like small prisons. Inside them it’s hard to visualize the world the way it really is for the only view is looking out through a small hole or gap. However, step outside the box and the world looks entirely different. From the outside we can see the size and shape of the box and its particular limitations. This is important for it means we can determine how it places restrictions on the things we think and do.


If living in a box is still hard to visualize, just go into a closet for a few moments and shut the door. If you find a gap at the floor, through slats, or a keyhole, try looking out. Your view is extremely limited, right? Now, step outside the closet and look around. Doesn’t the world like different from this perspective? Of course, it does. As hard as may be to believe, all of us limit ourselves by automatically rejecting certain ideas—some that can make a huge difference in the quality of life. We reject them them because they fall outside of our usual mode of operation or outside of our expectation of how things should be done. Yet to achieve a break, financially, it’s often important to re-examine why we do the things we do.



Now it looks like the view we had above was of the cover of a magazine. We can see a small part of the bathroom behind it. Still, our image is limited through this narrow keyhole so this could also be an illusion.

The idea we lock ourselves into unhelpful or even hurtful financial patterns should not come as a surprise. After all, we make many spending choices unconsciously, meaning without a real plan. Thus, by examining the way we spend we can sometimes shed light on the expectations and motivations we hold. You could say that by looking at patterns of spending we can shed light on the type of financial boxes we inhabit.


Let’s take a real life example, to see how this all plays out. Remember, the goal here is to step outside our typical pattern of thinking and do something different or look at the problem differently.


Say we are having a tough time getting out of debt. What could thinking outside the box look like here? To begin we’ll want to try and figure out why we got into debt in the first place. Then we’ll look to see how our boxes are hindering our efforts to get out of debt.


Examining a bank or credit card statement is a little like reading a person’s financial history. It can be enlightening. Thus, take out a batch of your recent statements or look them up online and scrutinize the way you’ve spent money over the past few months. Look for patterns. Look at items that you now see as frivolous or spending you wish you might have avoided. Also look at items you think are necessities. Try to group all your expenses one way or another so you have a better feel for them.



When our sense of the world is limited by our perceptions it’s easy to lock in on the wrong thing. Here, what first looks like a one dollar bill through a peephole is really a one hundred. How do your expectations and preconceptions limit your understanding of finances?

Now, it’s time to consider what kinds of boxes are associated with the spending you do. For example, you may find you go out regularly to a local bar to hang out with friends, but the tab always ends up on your credit card. Or you might see you’ve been spending hundreds fixing up your home and those fees put you in hock. Or maybe all the credit charges are for cash advances to pay off other bills. Whatever your situation looks like, there are reasons you chose to spend and use your card a particular way. Understanding those reasons is a big part of seeing how you limit yourself financially.


In the example of the bar, we may feel obliged to hang out where we do because we like the people we find there. And when we were kids we may have seen a parent or loved one always pick up the tab when they went out to socialize. Thus, to make a different choice financially we will need to overcome our self-imposed expectations for this type of social interaction.


As it now stands the bill arrives at the table. We reach for it before our friends have a chance to pick it up. We wave them off as they offer to help pay for it. Finally we pull out our card and charge it, which only serves to keep us mired in debt.


In this case, it’s relatively easy to see that if we step outside the self-imposed expectation of hosting everyone at the table, we could save ourselves a bundle. However, knowing we do something and making a conscious decision to change are two different things. Thus, it can be hard to break old habits or we may worry what our friends will think about changing what we do. In some cases, our friends will even resist the change. For example, if we wait for someone else to pick up the tab, they may not do it without a direct prod or might tell us they are short of funds. Thus, to make a real change we may have to ruffle a few feathers.


There are many ways we get stuck doing the same old thing financially:


If you own a home, you may feel like it has to be maintained a certain way. Perhaps, you feel the need to hire out for lawn and yard service in order to keep up with the neighbors. However, this monthly service really adds up so if you can do some or all the work ourselves you can make a big dent in your monthly expenses. You’ve just stepped out of the box.


A couple kissing at a wedding.

Do you have to spend thousands to make the perfect wedding? If you do, are you willing to accept the consequence of going into debt?

Getting married is a huge expense. You can bet the people you know and the companies profiting from weddings are all about telling you what you should do to have the perfect one. If you take on these expectations you could easily spend tens of thousands of dollars for your big day. However, by figuring out what’s really important to you and your partner you might put on the perfect wedding for hundreds instead of thousands. Again, you’ve just stepped out of the box. For real suggestions on how to save on your wedding see our post: Great Savings Tip 80: Cut Your Wedding Down To Size.


If you grew up being told you need an education to get the best career and have bought into the notion, you may be thinking of attending a four year college. There’s no doubt you’ll benefit from the experience, but is attending a traditional college really the only answer? If you step out of your box you might see a number of alternatives. You could get a degree online. You might go to work for a year or two at a company that trains their employees. You might join the military and get the training and benefits to pay for the education you desire. Any alternative like these could save a bundle. Congratulations for stepping out of your box.



This looks like a nice apartment.

Is having your own place a self-imposed limitation? Have you considered the alternatives?

You might be suffering under the burden of high rent. Are you locked into a lease? Are there no other options? What about a roommate? What about finding a smaller place? What about renting a room rather than an entire apartment? The self-imposed expectation that you must have your own place may be the very thing crushing your monthly budget. For more ideas about saving on rent, see our post, “7 Tips To Find Nice Affordable Rentals.”


No matter the financial box you’re in, don’t be afraid to step out of it and see the world in a new light. Embrace the world from a different perspective. Don’t buy into old limitations and expectations without deciding what you really want to do and who you want to be.


Action Item: If you haven’t done it yet, review your expenses in your checking and credit accounts and see where you might have room to make some changes. Don’t just try cutting these expenses out. Try looking at what you want to achieve in life and figure out a more efficient means to do it.


For more on the subject of boxes and change, read our posts:

Unbind The Chains and Unlock The Locks
Time To Shift Your Paradigm? 

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