Focus On What You Can Control

Focus On What You Can ControlFor life in general one of my favorite pieces of advice is the serenity prayer.  When I get stressed out or frustrated, I try to repeat it to myself in order to adjust my viewpoint.  The most basic part of the serenity prayer is breaking down problems in life into two major categories, things you can control, and things you can’t control.  Overall we tend to spend a lot of time worrying and being upset over things we have no control over, it’s like banging your head against a brick wall.  When it comes to all aspects of life, and especially finance, we must be able to identify what we can control and what we can’t. Once we do this, we can break down the things we can control into action steps to improve our situations.

Currently I am working a job that most people would have no desire to do.  The main part of our job is snow removal in southwest Michigan at a power plant facility next to Lake Michigan. Although we use plows and heavy equipment for clearing out the large parking lots, we have tons of walkways and building entrances that need to be shoveled by hand. We are working night shift and at times the temperature and the windchill drop into the negatives, with 40 mph wind gusts off the lake.    In addition to snow removal we also do dozens of other tasks, from plumbing repair, to relamping, to painting, to moving office furniture, and other random requests.

The pay for this position is the lowest at the station, but it is still quite a bit above minimum wage.  One of my co-workers has been protesting our rate of pay for at least the past 3 months, insisting that they need to pay us a “fair living wage”, which he pegs at $15/hr.  I’ve written on my viewpoints of the minimum wage before, but what I’m really getting at here is that whether I agree or disagree with him, it doesn’t matter, because it is outside of our sphere of control.  The rate of pay is not going to change just because we feel it should be changed. The pay rate set in the contract between our contract employer and the utility is not going to instantly change.  For the past 5 plus years the rates have been unchanged.  After asking for a raise he was turned down for one.  In order to make more money, which is my co-workers ultimate goal, he would need to do the same as anyone else; focus on what you can control.

What You Can Control:

Your employer:  We could choose to vote with our feet, as other employees have recently done in my department, and find a better paying job. The department we work for is currently understaffed by 5 people out of a 12 man crew.  If we lose a few more and continue to have problems with hiring people the rates will have to increase due to these market forces.  I rarely advocate doing nothing as an action step, but sometimes waiting it out while others leave can actually lead to a raise.  Once it gets to the point where there aren’t enough people to get the most vital jobs done those who are left are in a stronger position to negotiate a raise.

Your side job status: A side hustle is a great way to make some extra money. Think about this: If you work 40 hours per week, and then elect to work an extra 10 hours, at the same rate, with no overtime, you still increase your gross pay by 25%!  And you would still have 118 hours left in the week not being at work. Sam at Financial Samurai wrote a great article on why it doesn’t make sense to complain about not getting ahead if you only try for 40 hours a week. In addition to primarily working outages that have built in OT while working 60 – 72 hours per week, I have worked multiple side jobs in the past, including septic tank cleaning, selling used furniture, and mowing lawns. I’m currently making face mask ear savers with my 3d printer to earn extra money.

Your expenses: When two people share a household the expenses for each person go down tremendously, which helps explain why in general married couples do better than singles.  Even as a married couple with kids, Mrs C. and I have had roommates in our houses in the past.  If rent and utilities combined are $1,000 a month, then having a roommate can easily save $500 per month, that’s some real money.  There are also a myriad of other ways to save money as well.

Your attitudes:  The number one thing I have found that holds people back is their attitudes.  If you are constantly upset about something, whether it is the weather, your pay rate, or your position in life, it won’t get better.  An optimistic outlook and positive attitude changes a lot of things. Most people find better jobs through networking, and if you are a constant complainer chances are people will not want to recommend you when they find jobs that open up.

Your education: If unskilled jobs aren’t paying you enough for the lifestyle you would like to live, then set up a plan to learn a skill to increase your marketability.  I recently spent time learning more in the project management field and passed the CAPM exam to increase my marketability.

Your taxes: There are several actions that can be taken to lower your taxes.  One of my favorite is the retirement savers tax credit.  This provides up to a 50% tax credit for retirement savings of up to $2,000 per person.

It’s okay to complain about things that suck that are outside of your control, but you can’t allow that to consume your time and your thoughts.  We have to be able to accept the things that aren’t in our control and take action to improve the things that are in our control.

Unhappy about something in your life? What actions are you taking to improve it?

John C. started Action Economics in 2013 as a way to gain more knowledge on personal financial planning and to share that knowledge with others. Action Economics focuses on paying off the house, reducing taxes, and building wealth. John is the author of the book For My Children's Children: A Practical Guide For Building Generational Wealth.

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