Marginal Gains

In life we often have big goals that seem, at the start, impossible to reach. Goals come in all shapes and sizes such as founding your own start up, becoming a world champion, or becoming a multi-millionaire.

Maybe some people consider the above to be more akin to "dreams" and would consider goals to be something like being able to go on a luxury holiday to the Bahamas, or becoming a home owner, or getting out of debt.

Whatever the shape or size of the goal there's one thing that they all have in common - they are not easy to achieve and require a lot of effort, time and commitment.

But like the saying goes, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step".

However you can't just randomly start walking and expect to get to your destination. You have to make sure that each step taken is aimed in the right direction.

And as long as you've got that correct, every step becomes a marginal gain that will eventually result in the goal being achieved.

Working towards financial independence

It should come as no surprise that this concept very much applies to financial independence.

There are a number of things that are required before we can reach the coveted goal. We need to understand how much we spend on living costs, we need to get control of our debt, we need to have financial safety nets, we want our money to be working for us while we sleep, and more.

Each of these items are mini goals that can only be brought to fruition by clear, targeted actions and behaviours.

In other words "steps in the right direction"; yet at the very beginning it can be very confusing on how and where you should start.

Now, the shrewdest of readers will immediately think of the FIRE Flow Chart that is out there on the internet (just Google it and you'll find it). In fact, if you haven't seen it go look it up now as it's one of the most helpful things you'll find with regards to reaching financial independence.

What you'll notice is that the FIRE Flow Chart is a series of small steps that guide you through the things that you can do in order to get on the path towards financial independence. The shrewd readers were absolutely correct in their thinking.

Each step on the FIRE Flow Chart is essentially a "marginal gain", a change in your financial behaviours that by itself will make a very small improvement to your life, but when aggregated altogether will drastically change your life for the better.

I don't intend to cover old ground by repeating what is already known, or can be learnt via the FIRE Flow Chart, but I thought it was a nice example to bring up to set the stage on what this concept of "marginal gains" is.

We all understand that big goals need to be broken down into smaller chunks. And we understand that in order to reach financial independence we should set up a budget, then get out of debt, and so on and so forth.

But what other marginal gains can we make, not mentioned in the FIRE Flow Chart, that will also boost our chances of reaching financial independence?

First Marginal Gain Idea: Experimenting in the kitchen

I have a strong belief that one of the biggest risks to our progress towards financial independence is in food.

At the end of the day we have to eat.

But unfortunately due to the "lack of time" in our busy schedules and the "lack of energy" after getting home means we often opt for more convenient options rather than cooking. My estimate is that each take-away meal costs around £10 per person if you're not going crazy.

Even with some of the meal prep services that are available these days, either the "healthy packed lunches" you buy in bulk or the pre-packaged ingredient boxes that saves you prep time, you're looking at around £5 or £6 per person.

By contrast a decent meal cooked at home and in bulk, correctly portioned, costs something like £2 per person.

You can already see how the difference in costs can result in marginal gains to your savings if you cook more frequently.

So how does experimenting in the kitchen help?

Because if the food you cook sucks, and you're not efficient at prepping the ingredients, and you only know like two recipes (one of them being cheesy beans on toast...), your chances of submitting to the take-away menu are going to be pretty high.

Do you know why I never order from a Chinese take away?

Because the dishes I cook myself are better.

Author's side note: Being British Born Chinese I practically grew up in a Chinese takeaway and helped out so I guess I have an unfair advantage here. But still, my point stands and the Chinese takeaways these days are nothing compared to "back in the day".

Experimenting in the kitchen means trying new recipes every now and again, and understanding what works and what doesn't. It means you'll start to understand which herbs or spices can be used with which ingredients, and how you can combine them in different ways to create different flavours.

You'll start to look at a cut of meat and be able to visualise ten different ways to prepare and cook it. No more dry chicken breast that you tried to pan fry, and ended up burning all the rosemary that was supposed to give it "flavour".

Slowly over time you'll memorise many recipes ranging from pies, to roasts, to salads, to pastas, and curries. You'll know which supermarkets have the best offers for the ingredients and you'll know exactly how much you need.

And more importantly you'll know how to cook a better meal than what you'll get from a restaurant for less than £2 a meal.

Experimenting in the kitchen every now and again can lead to lower living costs in the long run, and that's a marginal gain that will put us closer towards financial independence.

Other Marginal Gain Ideas

I have many ideas on where a FIRE hopeful can make marginal gains but this blog post will go on for far too long if I dive into each and every one with the same level of detail as 'Experimenting In The Kitchen'.

Instead I'd like to write a series of short blog posts in the coming weeks to give each idea a good level of attention. Here's the list so far:

  • Listening to audio books instead of music

  • Sleep and wake two hours before the world

  • Establish a productive morning habit

  • Journaling

  • Workout before work

  • Forget about early retirement

  • Practice gratitude

I may end up extending or adjusting the list but as I write the posts I'll come back here to link things up.

But for now, let me simply post this brief article and make a marginal gain towards the completion of this series.


Don't wait for some magical number before you start "living". Life is full of surprises and you'll never be able to plan it perfectly. If you're doing sensible things with your money you'll eventually reach your goal. So start living now. The longer you wait, the less time you'll have. Money can be made, but time cannot. You are the barrier to the life you want to live, not a 4% safe withdrawal rate.

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