Pay Yourself First

money piggy bank

What is the first thing you do in the morning, either the instant you get up or once you’ve gotten the kids off the school? How do you start your day?

Chances are you start your day off just like I do. I reach for my phone the minute that I get up to check messages. Then, proceed to get lost in a black hole of emails, tweets, and likes…

This is a terrible habit that I formed while living on the West Coast. It may have only been 7 or 8 am my time, but my business partners, clients, and colleagues spread throughout the country were already well into their days. Naturally, I felt a push to dive right in just to compete or at the very least, prove my dedication by appearing to be available 24/7. It’s an easy, never-ending trap to fall into.

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The problem is that email and social media doesn’t function like a self-contained blaze. Once you douse it, it’s gone.  It’s more like a gas fire. The more oxygen, energy, and fuel you put into it, the more out of control it gets. You respond to one email and get three back. You post on Facebook or Google+ and incite a flood of commentary that begs for acknowledgement. The infinite scroll of Pinterest, Tumblr, and every newly launched social media site is designed to keep your attention locked to your screen. Before you know it, the day was done and you probably haven’t accomplished half of what you set out to do.

Is this the best way to spend your time?

There’s a concept in personal finance called paying yourself first. All of the money books tell you to do it. Every financial advisor will tell you the same. Even your parents have probably given you similar advice in the past. But what does this rule even mean?

To pay yourself first simply means this: Before you pay your bills, before you work down your debt, before you buy a single item, you are supposed to set aside a portion of your income towards investing in your future– 401(k), IRA, money market, or savings account. Over time, the compound growth of investing a little bit at a time leads to a greater dividends and ensures your future well-being. But the key is you have to start early (or as early as you can), practice it as a regular habit, and make it priority in your life.

Now, apply this same principle to your time. Before you run off doing for others, start your day doing something for yourself. Set aside the first moments of your day to go for a run, meditate, or collect your thoughts. Don’t look at your phone until you’ve had a chance to read the news or a book with a cup of coffee.

If you are a parent, in charge of running a business, or both, this probably sounds impossible. You barely have a moment as it is! Well, here is why paying yourself now will pay off more in the end:


When you pay yourself first, you’re mentally establishing YOU as a priority. 

You are telling yourself that you and your personal growth are more important than any email or any client. Building up your self-worth is a powerful motivator to finding success, confidence, and energy. It also sets an important boundary in your life. We teach other people every day how we want to be treated. When you value and respect yourself it dictates to others how much they ought to value and respect you as well.  

Pay yourself first ensures sensible and healthy personal habits.

You would love nothing more than to have a moment alone, but there just isn’t a second left once the permission slips are signed, contracts are sent, and proposals are completed.  Maybe you’ll take a break once you get this one other thing done… and that’s the problem. Most people try to find time for themselves in the cracks of their day, but there will never been enough cracks and you’re probably too exhausted anyway. When you set aside time at the beginning of your day, you get to use it before you can rationalize a hundred other distractions. 

Paying yourself first will improve your focus.  

In terms of money savings, making regular and steady contributions is the way to build a nest egg. You don’t have to put away a huge amount of money every month, but every little bit now helps in the future. So when you have to deal with an emergency, buy a house, or eventually retire, you can. Paying yourself first ultimately gives you financial freedom. In terms of your time, paying yourself first also gives you clarity. When you are constantly reacting to things like emails and requests, you tend to get caught up in the moment and lose sight of WHY you are doing all this.

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Now imagine if you set aside the time to make goals for yourself or for your business. Then each day, you spent a few moments to fine tune or reassess those goals. You could determine one or two things that you could do that day to work towards those goals. In knowing exactly where you want to go or what you want to accomplish, it’s easier to say “no” to the distractions and funnel your time where it will do the most good.

How will you go about beginning to pay yourself?  

Image via Flickr 

What do you think?

Pay Yourself First

Grace Duffy is a Dallas-based Digital Strategist and blogger with a passion for connecting people through technology-- be it to a goal, a solution, or simply with one another. She is a Principal and Co-Founder of Splash Creative Media. Her personal blog can be found a She is everywhere you tweet her name (@graceduffy) To learn more about Grace, you can find all of her links and social media profiles on ... More

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1 comment

  1. Every little bit can add up quickly, so I always pay myself first whether it’s cash money or time for myself. I’ve learned that I’m more available to my family, more open, and a much more valuable asset for my business if I have taken time to put myself first.

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