Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Want to save money? Slow down

Haste really can make waste.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 6, 2009 7:42AM
Recently I almost paid what Dave Ramsey calls the "stupid tax." There I was in the university computer lab, trying to jam as many things as possible into the few available minutes: answer work-related e-mails, read a departmental notice, update my Twitter page, take down a voice mail message from a potential renter. Oh, and use my asthma inhaler -- I was breathless from having rushed across campus in order to get in as much computer time as possible before class.

I did a Swagbucks search and won, bringing my total to the 45 points that I needed for a $5 gift card. So I ordered it -- except that I was so distracted I wound up ordering an card, good only in Canada.

Did I mention that I live in the United States?

Fortunately, the Swagbucks folks are sharper than I am. They canceled the order and returned the points. It wouldn't have been the end of the world if they hadn't; in fact, I planned to give away the gift card to one of the Canadian readers of the Smart Spending message board.

The goof, though trivial, was utterly avoidable. When I start making mistakes like that it's a sure sign that I'm approaching critical mass. I can cram too much living into too few hours for weeks or months on end, but eventually I start to fray around the edges.

I'm not alone. Some message board readers are taking on second jobs to get out of debt. Others work all day and then spend every spare minute on frugal practices that are rewarding but cumulatively exhausting: cooking, sewing, gardening, home improvement, food preservation.

Here's an idea for all of us: Slow down. Prioritize. Then stop. Take a breather, maybe even a couple of days away from the forced march that has become the unfortunate norm.
Overwork can lead to budget problems. There's takeout because you're too busy to cook. Maybe some treats or gifts because you feel guilty about not being there for your loved ones. Oh, and don't forget the medical expenses; you're much more likely to get colds or the flu if you're not eating or sleeping properly.

Overdoing it can have more serious consequences, too. Ever had a fender-bender because you were in a hurry? Cut or burned yourself while rushing through meal preparation? Came down too hard on your kids because you were just too tired to deal with normal childhood behaviors?

Galloping through the days becomes a habit. The trouble with juggling so many tasks is that you don't know how to set any one of them down without actually dropping it.

But then I remember the time a friend went running for the bus. She tripped and broke her arm so severely that it's never really been the same. Given the chance for a do-over, she probably would have taken the next bus.

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