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10 tactics for improving your luck

It takes preparation -- not 'think and it will happen' nonsense.

By Karen Datko Sep 29, 2009 3:11PM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.

Yep, you read that right. Luck.

To me, luck occurs when a positive and fairly unexpected event happens in your life, whether it be financial or otherwise. Thus, improving your luck means increasing the chances of such positive events happening -- and also increasing the chances that you'll be able to take advantage of them.

In other words, there's nothing supernatural about it. No hoping, no holding four-leaf clovers in your pocket, no rabbit's foot or lucky coin. No "think and it will happen" secret nonsense. Just preparation -- nothing more, nothing less.

Here are 10 things you can do to make yourself lucky.

Keep a notepad and a pen handy at all times. Wherever you go, keep them in your pocket (or a PDA or another device on which you can easily record notes and thoughts). Information is money, and having the ability to capture ideas when they occur to you or data when you observe it can be invaluable. Some examples:

  • Write down creative ideas for your work, whether freelance or otherwise. People ask how I am consistently able to come up with ideas. The real secret isn't creative bursts, it's that whenever an idea crosses my mind, I jot it down. It might be at the park or in the grocery store or at 2 in the morning when I'm awakened by my son's cries after a bad dream. The key is to jot them down and not lose them.

  • Write down information you learn from others. You're chatting with a buddy and he tells you where you can get a great deal on big water bottles because you're getting into home brewing. Instead of trying to remember what he said when you get home, just yank out your notebook and jot it down. Not only will it help you remember, it can also flatter your friend if you do it right. Say, "Really? Wow. I need to remember that one!" then pull out the notebook, jot it down, and say "Thanks." He'll feel as though you thought his idea was really important (which it was).

  • Write down prices. You're shopping at Sam's Club and observe what seems like a really cheap price on bulk fruit juice, but you're not sure if you can use that much or exactly how good of a deal it is. Write down the price and the quantity now, then do the research later. You might just find yourself saving quite a bit of money.

Keep a reasonable amount of cash on you at all times. Luck requires opportunity, and opportunity requires the ability to jump on things very quickly. The most efficient way to make that happen is often cold, hard cash. From the opportunity to buy a dozen ears of delicious Peaches & Cream sweet corn along the side of the road for a dollar in August to buying some unwanted computer equipment for pennies, cash often ends up being the grease to getting spectacular deals. Here are some ways cash in hand can make you seem lucky:

  • Getting out of pinches. If you run out of gas in the country, no amount of plastic will help, but a $5 bill at a farmhouse door might get you the gallon of gas you need to get to a nearby town and fill up.

  • Buying items at deep discounts. Several months ago, I bumped into a friend who was trying to get rid of an old PC. It was in fine condition and was fairly modern, except the hard drive was on the fritz and he didn't want to deal with it. Ten dollars later, I had a new PC. A $50 hard drive later, I was able to resell the whole system for about $200 and about 30 minutes' work. That would have never happened without the $10 in my pocket.

  • Helping others. See Tip No. 6 for more on this, but having a $20 bill in your pocket when a friend is in a pinch can often make all the difference. Helping out a friend when she or he really needs it will pay back huge dividends later on, whether you notice it or not.

Don't get in a desperate debt situation. A situation where debt payments are eating up a significant portion of your monthly income makes everything more difficult. You have reduced freedom in your life: You're attached to your job, you can't make a radical career or personal move very easily, and you don't have the resources to make a sudden, significant purchase. Here are three quick tactics for reducing debt:

  • Spend less than you earn. Spending more than you earn means accumulating debt. Spending less than you earn means removing debt and, eventually, building up savings. Guess which one's better in the long term -- and more likely to open up doors for you. Remember that the next time you blow cash without a good reason.

  • Make a debt repayment plan -- and stick to it. It's not as hard as it sounds. Identify your debts and start paying them off in a logical order by making extra payments on one at a time until they're all gone.

  • Don't revert to overspending when your debt is under control. Instead, start saving. Set up an automatic savings plan with your bank so that the money isn't even there to tempt you. Keep it out of sight until you need it for a specific purpose.

Be social. Most useful opportunities come about as a result of knowing other people and engaging in social activities. Being involved in these kinds of situations can open you up to all sorts of new ideas and opportunities. This can be difficult, particularly if you're not exactly extroverted. Nevertheless, here are some tactics you can try:

  • Make an effort to get to know the people around you. The best place to start is with people you see on a daily basis: neighbors, people who work in your building, people you don't know well who are part of your social group. Take some time to get to know these people. Talk to them. Ask what their interests are. Invite them to do something socially with you.

  • Join social groups -- and take leadership positions. Your community is loaded with opportunities to meet people. Dig through the community calendar and find groups that are at work already in your community. Try out ones of interest, then get involved in ones that pique your interest even more. Don't be afraid to step up and take leadership positions. That way, you can really get to know some of the people involved.

  • Don't sit back and be quiet in group situations. Participate in the conversation and don't be afraid to let your voice be heard. If you have an idea, put it out there. Even if it's not the strongest idea, it'll likely still spur on the conversation and help you build a connection with everyone involved. That's far better than keeping it inside.

Establish relationships with many people who share your interests. If you're already passionate about the topic, finding and connecting with others passionate about that topic can help you in countless ways. You can tap into their knowledge on the topic, share your own ideas and experiences, and often share things outside of the interest area. Here are some tactics for getting started:

  • Participate actively in organizations that match your interests. If you like to read, join a book club. If you like to play board games, see if there are any board-gaming groups in your area and get involved. The people in these groups already share a passion that you have, so you already have something in common. Plus, it's quite likely these people will have access to some incredible insights and bargains in your interest area.

  • Make an extra effort to reach out to people you've identified as having an interest overlap. If you happen to meet someone casually who has shares an interest you have, jump on board with that connection. It can provide a great opportunity to build an unexpected friendship.

  • Share your skills, ideas and knowledge freely with others, particularly newcomers. If you're already involved in a group with a particular interest, make an effort to reach out to new people who might stop in. Not only will a friendly face encourage them to get involved, they'll see you in a very positive light. Similarly, when people come to such meetings looking for help, don't hesitate to offer what help you can provide.

  • Help others out when they need it. Luck often comes in the form of help when you need it, and the best way to grease the rails for help when you'll eventually need it is by helping others out now. If you're presented with an opportunity to help -- particularly one that you can fulfill without infringing on your other responsibilities -- the luckiest thing you can possibly do is help with all you can.

  • Build connections that people need. If you know someone who can easily solve a problem someone else is facing, make that connection immediately. Don't hesitate to call in a favor, either.

Shop at places where extreme bargains can be found. Enough about building relationships -- where can I get "lucky" deals? The best place to look is off the beaten path.

  • Avoid high-end shops like the plague. High-end shops like the ones littering your local mall rarely have true bargains. Even the sale items are usually overpriced. Instead, spend your time looking for truly amazing deals elsewhere and avoid that upscale mall (the home of whatever the opposite of luck is) like the plague.

  • Hit yard sales, consignment shops, local "miscellany" shops and other bargain-basement places regularly. If you're going to shop, don't head straight for the local chain store.

  • Look at Craigslist and Freecycle. Keep tabs on these by browsing the new entries regularly and you can find insane deals. I've acquired tons of free books and new computer equipment.

Have confidence that you can do something challenging. Having a diversity of skills and experiences under your belt can open amazing and unexpected doors. Being able to step up and say, "I can do that; I've done it before" can result in all kinds of "lucky" experiences. Here's how to dig in:

  • Try new activities regularly. Don't just fill your day with the same old routines. Try activities that stretch your skills and also might be useful to others. Learn how to do lots of home-repair tasks. Learn basic maintenance on your car. Know the basics of playing a lot of different sports and games, particularly card games that you might get a chance to play socially. Read a wide variety of books. Listen to a variety of music. Travel to interesting places. These will all teach you new things and get your foot in the door in certain situations.

  • Push the limits of what you think you can do. Don't shrink back from a challenge. Take it on. If you fail, so what. You'll learn something new from that failure, too. You'll discover only success from the effort put into pushing yourself, and those new limits can open "lucky" doors for you.

  • Make friends who encourage you to try new things. I'm incredibly lucky in that my best (non-spousal) friend constantly encourages me to try new things.

Know the actual value of lots of items in a particular specialty. The stories you hear of people buying something for 50 cents, transforming it into something valuable and reselling it for a bundle often occur because a person is knowledgeable about a particular area and the value of items in it. If you have a particular area of interest, knowing the value of items in that area can pay huge dividends.

  • Keep up with your specialty. Mine is trading cards, particularly sports cards and collectible card games. I keep pretty close tabs on the going rates for items in this specialty. I browse eBay and leaf through hobby publications to keep up to date about what's going on.

  • Keep an eye out for those items in unusual places. For my hobby, that means junk stores in rural towns. The stuff you can find is amazing, and that's one reason why I ardently follow Tip No. 2 (keeping cash on hand). I've purchased sealed packages of cards for $1 a pop in these stores and sold them for more than $100.

Here's the long and short of it: Build friendships, give freely of yourself, and put yourself in situations where you can take advantage of opportunities. That's what luck is really made of -- putting yourself in positions where opportunities simply pop up instead of just waiting for them to come along.

Other articles of interest at The Simple Dollar:

Published Sept. 12, 2008


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