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Pay yourself first


For me the journey started in 2004 when I read the book ‘The Richest man in Babylon’ by George S Clason. It has some classical advice on how to get rich. One of the principles is to pay yourself first.

Every time you earn money, put 10% to saving immediately. The rest you can use for spending and paying creditors.

The idea is that those 10% that you pay yourself will accumulate over time, appreciate in value, and make you rich.

It worked wonders for me. Six years after reading the book I was debt-free and had enough money to quit my research job. So I did.

But why only enrich yourself financially?

What could be more valuable than money? … money is awesome isn’t it??… Well I finally realised that time is more valuable than money.

So I took this idea of paying yourself first from the book and applied it to time.

Every NEW day is like getting a pay-check where minutes is the currency. Pay yourself first by using the first hour of the day to do non-urgent but important stuff. Things that make you better or more fulfilled. For example Exercise, learning a skill or developing your spirit.

And yes, I eat my own dog food. … and like it.

I wake up at 6 o’clock and start to write one page in a journal with a focus on gratitude and priming this makes me happy. I Meditate for 15 minutes since mindfulness is the new pink. Then i do some exercises for the body. After breakfast, I indulge in reading in a book that I find interesting. Finally I learn a new dance move from internet,

Those activities are equivalent to putting money into the bank because they appreciate over time.

Former US president Dwight Eisenhower said “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.”

The sorry state of the modern world is that it screams about urgent stuff, but it whispers about important stuff. That is why is is a good idea to do important stuff first in the morning before the urgent stuff has eaten the whole day. Don’t wait until the end of the day to see if you have any energy left. When you come home after work, your plan to learn Russian language has to battle for your attention against the sofa and Netflix. I don’t know about you, but when I am tired, this is a battle I would rather not take. I choose to win it in the morning instead.

Before you nominate me for the ‘egoist-of-the-year award’ for focusing on myself first; — Remember the safety demonstration onboard airplanes. First put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help others. When you first take care of your own time and finances, you will become a better parent, a better employee, and a better citizen. As a result people around you will also will benefit from your investments.

I’ll give you another example. Barack Obama, gets up at 6:30, He starts the day with a 45 minute workout and has breakfast together with his family. Health and family are never urgent, but are important. They are so important that even one of the busiest people in the world still makes it a priority to do it first in the morning. Every single day. As a result, at 9 o’clock he is in a better shape to serve others. This is not egoistic. This is doing the right thing for himself, his family and country in the long run.

What is the opposite of paying yourself? You might think you pay yourself when you spend money on shopping. But you are not. Shopping does not increase your financial value. Quite the opposite. Shopping makes us feel good, but it only rewards your pleasure center. In the same way, playing computer games in the morning does not count as paying yourself. It is enjoyable, but not important. It does not make you better or more fulfilled in the long run. Rewarding yourself is not the same as paying yourself. Both have their place and time, but know the difference.

For me, the key to be able to pay myself consistently every morning starts the evening before. If you go to bed too late or can’t sleep, it will be hard to get up at the right time in the morning. Therefore I established a keystone habit. It is an un-winding routine that helps me fall asleep quickly. I turn off all screens at 22:00. After that I only do mundane tasks like cleaning, tidying and ironing. Finally I do 15 minutes meditation. At that point my brain is so bored and relaxed that it begs for the bed, so I sleep like a kitten.

I don’t know if this lifestyle is right for everybody. But if you have failed at improving finances of life before, then staring you pay yourself first could be the shift in mindset that changes everything. Why not give it a try it for six years?