Pay your head first

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Pay yourself first is an often repeated, seldom executed piece of financial advice, one that sounds good but most people fail to do. It’s quite simple: before you meet all of your other financial obligations, save some money for yourself so that you can build up emergency savings at first, then enough capital for investing after you’ve met your savings goals. Companies have made attempts at helping consumers pay themselves first from rounding programs (round up every purchase to the next dollar and deposit the difference in savings) to Safe Harbor 401(k) plans that automatically add money to a retirement plan. Yet it’s still not enough – more people than ever are without a secure financial future, even when times are good.

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It should come as no surprise, then, to realize that investments in other areas of life are falling short as well. Fitness goals aren’t being met because of perceived time constraints. Long term projects at companies are ailing because 100% of your workforce’s capacity is putting out day to day operational fires.

Most of all, an enormous number of people are failing to pay themselves first in their heads. What do I mean? How much time do you allocate (because, as the goblins say, time is money!) towards investing in your own learning every day? How many books do you read a month? How thoroughly do you read the blogs of people you claim to adore and act on the information you glean?

Pay yourself first in knowledge. What one area of your chosen industry, practice, specialization, or expertise do you feel weakest in? When was the last time you paid yourself with an hour or two of dedicated research and learning in that area? Days? Weeks? Months? Never?

Try this for a week. Take one small aspect of your specialization. It can be building an audience on Twitter, tanking as a protection paladin, cooking without wheat, whatever. Take one small aspect and ask a very challenging question of yourself, then over the week, spend 30 minutes a day researching it. Set your alarm clock for exactly 30 minutes earlier just for a week and really dig into your question. See what answers you come up with. At the end of the week, see if your investment has paid off at all – are you any closer to the answer to your question? Are you more knowledgeable about your specialization even if you didn’t get a final answer?

Pay yourself first in knowledge as well as money, and you might be surprised at just how capable you can become, far above the skills you’ve developed just reacting to circumstances blindly. In the same way that paying yourself first in money can accumulate capital, paying yourself first in knowledge can make your life much easier or make you incredibly productive. The trick is that you have to do it!

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5 responses to “Pay your head first”

  1. Randy Bosch Avatar
    Randy Bosch

    I understand the intent of “Pay Yourself First”. There is a critical ethical (and often legal) caveat, however, that was not addressed in this article.

    Pay your employees and your vendors/consultants first, THEN pay yourself. My employees, vendors and consultants are NOT the “First National Bank of ME” !

    1. I understand where you’re coming from Randy (and I’m experiencing some of the same frustration that you clearly are) but I don’t think that’s what Chris was getting at here.

  2. Thx so much for the great post. It makes it so much easier for people when you chunk it down as you suggest. We need to learn from books, learn from failure, learn from each other and learn from life. The more we learn, the more we appreciate this incredible world and its people.

  3. I just discovered you can pay your head and your body at the same time. I spent the day putting off going to the gym, because things kept cropping up that needed my attention. When my SO told me to just go already, I hit they gym. Whilst on the elliptical I fired up the Amazon Kindle Store on my iPhone, bought a book and started reading it. Two birds, one stone.

  4. […] make everyone happy, but you have to take care of yourself first. Or as Christopher S. Penn says, pay yourself first. My company, that pays me, is in the business of making money. If there is a venture we are going […]

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