I thought of these on the drive in to work today: initially I only had two, but three sounds better. They’re a work in progress.

Rule number 1: Track your money.

You will never know just how wasteful – or thrifty – you are unless you know where and how you spend your money. It’s that simple. Or, put another way, you cannot control what you cannot measure. Do you like being out of control?

Don’t trust the banks. I have, on several occasions, caught bank errors in my favor through my good habits formed over years of practice. Strangely I never seem to catch errors in their favor. That’s probably because the rules err on their side. Because they wrote them. Think on this. Then tell me why you don’t track your money. You worked for it, right? You traded your most precious commodity – time – for someone else’s money. They’re already getting the better end of the deal. You have no extra time to give in your finite life and even the richest person in the world will eventually die. So when you fail to track your money, you fail to track the very lifeblood of your existence.

Yes, I feel that strongly about it.

Rule number 2: Save yourself money.

Spend a little effort to build good habits by saving money where you can. Can you get it somewhere else for less money? Do it. Money = goods or services. If the product is literally identical, why pay someone a premium just because you like their style? Is that feeling really worth the money? I say you can’t put a price on feelings. So don’t spend money for them either: you cheapen them when you do. Money is simply a tool: do not let emotions become involved. Emotional decisions are not thoughtful decisions. The happiness you buy is temporary and expensive, and has no staying power. Instead buy yourself long term happiness by knowing that you are developing discipline and improving yourself. Which leads to…

**Rule number 3: **Save other people money.

You can only achieve this by mastering the previous two. Once you habitually and automatically save yourself money, you can make the world better for others by saving them money. This doesn’t mean teaching them how to do finances (indeed, most people don’t want to hear it), but it does mean making simple educated choices in your everyday life. For example: I have decided to purchase with debit instead of credit when given the option. I know that credit card companies charge the vendor a percentage to process their transactions, whereas debits come directly from my bank account. Since it costs the same to me, by using debit, I just saved my vendor money. Perhaps if enough people do this, their operational costs will drop and they can pass those savings on to me, instead of factoring the fees into their prices. Lower prices always attract more customers. Side benefit: we start getting rid of the corporate leaches on society.

But you can only do this by following rule #1, knowing how much you have in your bank account, and rule #2, helping yourself first, before helping others, by planning ahead.

The results

By following these simple rules, you may find yourself:

  • Saving for purchases instead of financing them. Paying for a car with cash would be pretty great, no?

  • Buying lightly used items instead of new items all the time.

  • Shopping on Amazon and eBay more.

  • Making fewer impulsive purchases.

  • Buying nonperishable items in bulk.

  • Buying generic groceries and medicines instead of name-brand items (assuming the ingredients are the same).

  • Fixing a broken vacuum instead of buying a new one.

  • Switching to a nonprofit credit union (beholden to its membership) from a for-profit corporate bank (beholden to its shareholders to exploit its customers).

  • Budgeting your play money and spending it indiscriminately, but stopping when you’re out for the month.

  • Squirreling away any surplus for emergencies and the future.

All of these behaviors can be traced back to the three rules for financial enlightenment.

I’ll add another one, which is more general in nature but will serve you very well in financial matters, and that is to…

Question everything.

Ask yourself why your credit card gives you points? Could it be that they are really trading something with low emotional value for something with high emotional value at your expense? What is an American Airlines mile really worth? Why can’t I trade it for something else without a huge cost? Why do I have to shop at Nordstrom? Why can’t I decide where I get to spend my money? The more I think about it, the more credit card “rewards” programs seem like a complete scam and utter manipulation, and I get very angry. I feel the Internet’s best “advice” has been co-opted by corporate interests and led me astray from what’s good for me.

But really, I should have known better.

So-long, Citibank. From now on, if I can’t pay for it, I ain’t buying it. PERIOD.

Oh, you’re not supposed to say the punctuation? Sorry. ☹