Tuesday, February 5, 2008

10 Small Ways to Take On More Responsibility

In my last post I wrote about the possibility of getting a better deal if you make it a practice to take on more responsibility for what goes on in your life, particularly in your economic exchanges with others. If this is hard to do, it’s because you’ve gotten so used to relying on others to take care of things for you that you’re no longer conscious of how often you do it. Here I’ve provided a list of small exercises that can make you more conscious of situations in which you leave it to others to make things work out — and of what it means to personally make sure things work out well. This is not anything like a comprehensive list. I’ve intentionally picked examples that are very different from each other to get you thinking about the range of possibilities here.

  1. Read the ingredients of a food item — something you have or something you are thinking about buying. Don’t just read the list, understand what all the words are. You can look up most food ingredients in Wikipedia.
  2. Make a backup copy of software or music you downloaded. Then keep it somewhere safe.
  3. Pick a product you buy regularly and look for an alternative source for it. Try to find a substitute that is more convenient, less expensive, or better in some way.
  4. Pick something you own and calculate how much you pay in rent for the space it occupies (or how much you would pay if you rented the space). Calculate the cost of keeping the item over its expected life span and compare that amount to the original purchase price.
  5. Buy an item and pay with exact change.
  6. Spend 20 minutes shopping for cars online, comparing both used and new cars, and try to decide what kind of car you would buy tomorrow if your car broke down and couldn’t be repaired. This information should also give you an idea of the maximum amount it would make sense to spend to repair your current car. You never know when a car might break down, so knowing in advance what your replacement threshold is can let you face repair questions with more confidence.
  7. If you recently bought a new book release and read it, see if you can think of a friend who you might lend your copy to so they can read it while it’s still new. You can do this with music and movies too. Conversely, if you are thinking about buying a new book, movie, etc., consider whether a friend might be happy to lend it to you — or whether it might make sense to get on the waiting list to borrow it from the library.
  8. If you go to eat at a restaurant, take along a small food container and use it to take home any leftover food at the end of the meal.
  9. Try a different web browser for a day — not the one you usually use, and not one that came with your computer or operating system. You’ll appreciate the difference between choosing software for yourself and having the marketing department of a big company choose it for you.
  10. Learn the steps to a dance and be prepared to show them to your friends.