I talk a lot about personal finance because, obviously, this is first and foremost a personal finance blog. But what inspired me to create this blog – and what inspired its name – was the fact that I prefer everything in my life, including my money, to be as simple, straightforward, and rational as possible. Common sense is something that our society as a whole seems to have a little less of every year, but being sensible is in my nature to begin with and I’m not going to let all common sense go without a fight. So I thought it was time to share a few ideas about how you can bring common sense practices back to all kinds of different areas of your life.
Write Thank You Notes
I’m amazed that something so simple is so rarely done. Writing a thank you note is so incredibly easy and it only takes five minutes of your time, and yet I don’t know hardly anyone who bothers to do it. Write thank you notes. Always. Write handwritten notes and send them to relatives, friends, or coworkers who gave you a birthday or Christmas gift (even your siblings or your parents - actually, especially your parents and immediate family). Make sure any person who interviews you for a job receives a brief note thanking them for their time (yes, you can email this one). If anyone goes out of their way to do something just for you – if someone came over to check on your dog or get your mail while you were away, for example – yup, you guessed it; they get a brief, friendly thank you note.
And Make Politeness a Habit
Just like writing thank you notes leaves a positive impression of you in the minds of others, everyday politeness and thoughtfulness does too. Supervisors remember those who are polite and gracious. Customer service professionals are more likely to work harder to solve your issue if you’re patient and courteous. Saying please and thank you where it applies not only makes the people you’re working with feel respected and appreciated, it’s also likely to be reciprocated in your direction. Not to mention, extending basic courtesies to others can make you feel good – you can know that being friendly brightens the days of those around you, and smiling is contagious.
Know How to Write a Check
I had to throw in one big, important, finance-related tip. I’m constantly amazed at how many twentysomethings (and even thirtysomethings!) don’t know how to write a check. Believe it or not, there are plenty of establishments out there that don’t take cash or credit cards – like a county tax and tag office, for example – and there may be a situation where you need to send someone a check via old-fashioned snail mail instead of sending money via PayPal. So know how to write checks, and know how to spell 40 (it’s forty, not fourty). Essentially, you need to be prepared and be able to move money around in various ways.
On the subject of financial preparedness, make it a habit to carry a bit of cash on you at all times. Yes, I know, it’s not as secure as using only a credit card. But you never know when you’ll unexpectedly find yourself in a cash-only situation (and I doubt you’ll remember to run by an ATM every single time when you actually know beforehand you’ll need cash). You don’t need to carry around hundreds, but a twenty and a few ones is always a smart idea.
Eat Real Food
You wouldn’t put pure ethanol in your gasoline or diesel engine, would you? So why on earth do we insist on eating stuff that isn’t actually food, but just a bunch of processed chemicals designed to look like food? Food is fuel, and if you’re putting the wrong fuel in your tank, your body nor your brain are going to be able to function properly. If you’re constantly complaining of being stressed out, bloated, feeling “icky” or off, or sluggish, take a good hard look at your diet. And then throw out anything that’s not a whole food or contains more than 5 ingredients. Processed food products make you sick, feel awful, and can even stress your grocery budget (not buying Oreos and Cheetos provides you more money to purchase fresh produce). Eat real food.
You never know where your next learning opportunity is going to come from – so don’t shut one down before it has a chance to teach you something new. Keep an open mind, especially when it comes to new ideas and different ways of looking at things. Ignorance is a tragic disease with an easy cure: educate yourself, think for yourself, and never stop trying to learn. This doesn’t mean you have to change your worldview or abandon the philosophies, financial or otherwise, that you hold dear or that have always worked well for you. But you shouldn’t completely ignore different thoughts and ideas that come your way. Check them out, try to fairly consider them, do your own research, and come to your own conclusions.
Dress Appropriately at Work
Most of us have heard the old adage, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” For the most part, forget that. If you work in a corporate office, follow the dress code. If you don’t work in a creative industry or in the fashion world, the office is not the place to experiment with your look. The general rules are as follows: Guys, tuck your shirts in and wear shoes without holes or scuffs. Ladies, no skirts or dresses that hit above the thigh and if you’re wearing something sleeveless, throw on a blazer or cardigan. And no one should ever show up in shorts or flip-flops.
Whether we like it or not, people form opinions and judgments about us at first sight – so as superficial as it may seem, your clothes do matter. You don’t have to wear the highest end apparel or have designer anything, and in fact, overdressing is a potential pitfall, too (if you work at a super casual office, but you show up to work in suits every day, you may be sending a negative message to your coworkers). You need to be aware of the culture at your place of work, what employees are expected to wear, and how something you see as fun/interesting/comfortable may send a totally different vibe to visitors, clients, or management.
Literally Unplug and Head Outside Every Once in a While
Technology has always grown exponentially, and it will continue to do so. Millennials grew up if not on then at least around computers and the internet (even if it was dial-up). And if we weren’t completely immersed in electronics as kids, then as teenagers and college students we definitely were as more and more things went from off to online. Now, as adults, we have more ways than ever to be connected and rarely do we even need wires or cables to get an internet signal from somewhere onto some device. While I think this is a great thing most of the time, as it allows for more world wide connectivity and provides the ability for us to get stuff done remotely, the fact is we were never made to sit and stare at a brightly lit screen day in and day out. We were made to be outdoors. Looking for an instant happiness and an effective mood-booster? Leave the smartphone and the iPad behind and make some sort of outdoor activity part of your daily routine. Go for a walk to clear your head, meet up with friends in the park, or head out for a run or bike ride. Whatever it is that you enjoy, make it a habit to engage it in often.
If You Drive, Know Your Way Around a Car
Know how to check your oil and other fluids. Keep up with regular maintenance, and if you’re unsure of what needs to be done, check your owner’s manual. It should include a schedule of normal maintenance. Understanding the basics of how your car functions and the basic life expectancy of major parts is the best way of protecting yourself against dealerships or mechanics who would otherwise take advantage of your ignorance.
Always carry a set of jumper cables. Know how to change your own tire and how to do it safely (if at all possible, do not change you tire close to the side of an interstate; you can always call for help if you don’t feel safe being outside your vehicle). Bonus points if you know how to drive a car with a manual transmission – and if you don’t, go out and learn as soon as possible.
And for goodness sake, if you drive a massive, over-sized vehicle, know how to park it.
Ask for Directions When You’re Lost..
..and readily admit when you don’t know something. The smartest people are those who know exactly what they don’t know.
And finally, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite common sense inspired expressions to keep in mind. I say this, probably too often, but it’s something that serves as a good reminder for me when I start getting anxious, stressed, or worried about things out of my control or things that haven’t even happened yet (not, obviously, a very sensible thing to do!):
If A Frog Had Wings, He Wouldn’t Bump His Butt
Okay, this one probably needs a little bit more explanation. I’ve been told this is a bit of a Southern expression (sorta like “more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs – my Dad’s full of them. I need to ask him for some more to share..), but it applies to all walks of life. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that you can’t dwell on things outside of your control. You have to work with what you have and make the best of your situation. Sometimes, things is what they is! So don’t waste time thinking of ifs and buts - instead, focus your energy on finding a solution that is within your power to implement to overcome the challenge or problem you’re facing.
Have any common sense tips of your own to add to the list? (Or have any favorite expressions of your own that you like to use?) Please share them in the comments!