When I was in high school, I took part in a zillion organized community service events. I served as the school's Habitat for Humanity vice-chair. I led a fundraising campaign for Adoption Option. I swept litter off the streets in low-income neighborhoods. I went on summer volunteer trips to rural Appalachia and rural Pennsylvania.

But I never felt like I was producing something meaningful. Sure, I'd pick up litter, but the next day there would be more. I'd pound nails into a house, but the underlying factors that caused a family to rely on charity were still present. I wanted to create sustainable change, the kind of change that persists independent of my time and effort.

In college I joined a group that studied the feasibility of powering my university with renewable energy. Through that project, I learned two things: First, for change to be sustainable, it MUST be economically efficient. Money drives decision-making. Second, the average person has never been taught about how to control his or her own financial destiny. Fewer people would fall on hard times and be forced to ask for help if they harnessed the power of savings and investments during the good times.

Today I teach people how to take control of their money. I write about financial planning, budgeting, investing and growing wealth.

The cynical see this as the pursuit of greed. "Money's not important," they say. Au contraire. Money is the only thing that separates the middle-class from the impoverished. And who wants to set themselves and their children on a path to poverty?

On the contrary, every time I get an email from a reader that says, "you've inspired me to max out my IRA," "you've helped me pay off my debt," or "you've taught me how to create a stream of passive income," I feel like I've made a sustainable change.

It's not service in the traditional sense of the word. I'm no longer taking mission trips to Appalachia. But service isn't confined to such a narrow definition. Anything you can do to help someone help themselves – whether its offering advice, guidance, education, mentoring, or even a smile – is a form of service.

In my view, service is also how you respond to the outside world. Turning the other cheek when someone wrongs you is a type of service. Being the bigger, more noble person is a form of service.

When I was young, I thought service was something you did on Sunday. Now I see that it's a 24/7 way of life.


by Paula Pant

Society teaches us to visualize the end result.

Imagine living in your dream house. Imagine having enough money to allow one parent to stay-at-home. Imagine having the funds to travel the world, launch a business, or retire young.

The problem with this exercise? Visualizing a grandiose dream can leave us feeling overwhelmed. "Enough money to travel the world? Are you kidding? I'm trying to visualize next month's rent!"

When we feel overwhelmed, we're likely to throw our hands in the air, declare "I can't afford it!," and resign ourselves to an unnecessary fate.

That's why I recommend concentrating on the small steps. I'm sure you've heard the expression, "A journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step." Well, a journey towards a million-dollar net worth, a dream home, or a debt-free life, starts with the first dollar.

**

Back in 2008, I quit my job and launched a two-year trip around the world, traversing across the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Australia.

My friends all asked me the same question: " How can you afford it?"

"I saved," I replied.

No one seemed satisfied with that answer. They knew I wasn't a banker or doctor or lawyer. I was a small-town newspaper reporter, a class of people who are known for earning low wages.

So everyone was a little befuddled about how I'd managed to save. They began assuming all kinds of crazy stories – that I'd won a lottery, or met a wealthy lover, or amassed huge debt.

The truth is a much simpler story. I took small steps. I saved one dollar at a time.

I rented the cheapest apartment I could find that was still within bike-riding distance of my job.

I biked to work, saving fuel costs.

I wore thrift-store clothes and used secondhand furniture.

I bought store-brand products.

I refrained from buying processed and packaged foods at the grocery store.

I exercised outdoors instead of at a gym.

I never dyed my hair or manicured my nails.

I gave friends and family homemade, heartfelt gifts – like cookies baked from scratch – rather than expensive gifts.

These aren't huge sacrifices. They're mostly simple acts. But they helped me save, one dollar at a time, until I reached the day that I could pour those savings into a one-way airline ticket across the ocean.

At moments of weakness, when I needed motivation, I'd visualize the major end goal: two years of travel.

In the meantime, I focused on small steps. And I journeyed far more than 1,000 miles.


by Paula Pant

There was once a man who constantly hurled insults at the Buddha. Every day he'd taunt and tease the Buddha. But the Buddha never seemed fazed.

Someone asked the Buddha why the man's insults never caused him offense. The Buddha replied:

"When someone offers you a gift, and you refuse to accept it, to whom does the gift belong?"

***

When I started writing articles online, I had no idea how much criticism I'd be opening myself up to.

I had no idea how vicious and cruel people can be when they're cloaked under the guise of Internet anonymity.

I had no idea that honesty and openness would be rewarded with attacks and insults.

I had no idea that I would spend hours pouring myself into an article intended to help others, only to hear them respond by telling me to "go to hell" or worse.

Beware the Trolls

Writing articles for the web seems like such a straightforward task. And it is – until the comments come in.

Some comments are positive and affirming. Some comments are curious and filled with eager, intelligent questions. And some are posted by people who troll the Internet, waiting for a chance to attack.

I announce a new investing project, and the trolls tell me they can't wait to read about my impending failure. I propose an idea that seems original or creative, and the trolls tell me I'm an idiot.

It's not just me. This happens to everyone who posts online, especially as his or her audience grows. Just read any comment thread under a highly-watched YouTube video or a popular blog.

Who knew that sharing your life, your thoughts and your experiences on the Web could open you up to such vulnerability?

Reject the Gift

Of course, there's a ying to every yang, a silver lining to every cloud. Sharing your life with anonymous strangers makes you more vulnerable than expected, but it also teaches you an important lesson:

Vulnerability creates strength.

We're taught to view vulnerability as a sign of weakness. It's equated with fragility, with being soft and meek.

But once we put ourselves in a position in which we're vulnerable, we learn to morph that into power and confidence.

We learn that we can't be shaken. We learn to tune out the nay-sayers. We learn to pay deeper attention to the people who really matter: our family, friends and authentic fans.

We learn to reject negative ideas that others try to bring into our lives. We learn to prove them wrong. We learn to view ourselves as strong.

We learn to "reject the gift," as the Buddha did. We learn to stay true to ourselves.


by Paula Pant

Trillions of dollars change hands around the world everyday. More items, services and goods are bought and sold each minute than you could possibly imagine. More currency changes hands than you can possibly fathom.

Money, in other words, is virtually limitless. There's more money in the world than you could ever need, want, acquire or imagine.

Your time, on the other hand, is limited. We are on this earth for 80 to 100 years in the best-case scenario. Some of us are visiting this world for a much shorter period of time.

So why do we treat our time as if its "free" and unlimited, while we treat money as though it's a precious, limited commodity?

That's not a rhetorical question. I believe we treat our time as though it's not worth anything because we haven't awoken to the greatness of our time. We're unaware of how much we can create, and we don't realize the possible scope and magnitude of our contribution to this world.

If we lack confidence, lack enthusiasm, and lack purpose, our time feels worthless. We'll fritter away precious hours as though they're free. We'll channel-surf. We'll devote hours to extreme couponing. We'll handle our own tasks rather than outsourcing and delegating.

We learn to be frugal with our time, not our money, when we become aware of how valuable our lives are. Time is more precious than gold. Supplies are limited. When our time is over – it's simply over. We can't earn more.

So how can you awaken to the value of your time?

#1: Have a Purpose

Time feels worthless if you're not living for anything. Your purpose can be whatever you want it to be. It can be work-related, home-related or anything else. Your purpose might be excelling at your job, or making money, or being a great parent, or being a wonderful community member.

#2: Limit Your Priorities

Stay focused on your purpose by concentrating in one or two areas of your life. Many people never achieve greatness when their mind is "a mile wide and an inch deep." Ruthlessly cull your priorities so that you're concentrating on your mission.

#3: Accept What You're Good At

As children, we're taught to focus on the areas in which we're less naturally inclined. If we're great at reading but poor at mathematics, we'll get tons of extra tutoring in math, while our natural reading talent holds steady.

As adults, we need to turn that around. Concentrate on developing the areas in which you have natural skill and interest. Outsource the rest.


by Paula Pant

Live Like No One Else

by Paula Pant

There’s a popular saying in the world of money management: “Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else.” Sound redundant? What it means is that in order to be prosperous, we must depart from the beaten path. Instead of doing conventional things with your money, do something extraordinary – […]

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Courage And A Story Of Two Men

by Paula Pant

I’m going to tell you a story of two men: Jared and Sam. These stories are true, although the names of the men, and certain identifying details, have been changed. Jared constantly worried that he’d fail. He never saw any characteristic within himself that pointed toward success. He was always an average student, never the […]

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Do You Love Your Money?

by Paula Pant

When I tell people that I write about money, some respond by crinkling their nose and saying, “Money? But that’s not what matters in life!” And then – more often than not – they’ll repeat that famous phrase, “money is the root of all evil.” Well, that’s not exactly how the saying goes. Although that […]

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Quit Spreading Yourself (And Your Money) Too Thin

by Paula Pant

Want to save money? Focusing on ONE specific goal can be more effective than spreading yourself (and your money) too thin. Conventional wisdom says that the best way to save more money is by earmarking small amounts of money towards a wide gamut of goals. For example, your monthly savings might look like this: My […]

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Instead of, Try

by Paula Pant

Instead of: Maxing out your credit cards as an indirect way of showing people you care about them. Try: Writing a heartfelt note telling someone you care about them. Pair it with a small token of thanks: freshly-baked cookies, for example, or a small toy for their pet. Instead of: Driving yourself crazy racing to […]

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Consumption is a Rorschach Test

by Paula Pant

What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word “consumption?” Bob might think of consuming food. Turkey smothered with mushroom gravy. Mashed potatoes topped with melted butter. Roasted squash with pesto. Angie might think about consuming alcohol. Loads of it. Beers during the football game. Shots at the bar. Wine […]

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