Back in the day when I was single, it used to go something like this.

On the rare occasions I’d actually make myself dinner (frozen pizza, usually), I’d eat 75% of the thing and stick the other 25% of it in the fridge. It would sit there for weeks/months/years, growing a wide variety of organisms until my mom would get disgusted with it and throw it away.

That preceding paragraph is the most pathetic thing ever written. I am 100% honest to God blushing right now, guys. How did I not die? Sometimes my wife says I’m like a child (a valid criticism), but I used to be a hundred times worse.

My world is a lot different these days. Not only do I make my own dinner regularly, but I also make a real effort to cook enough so there’s extra. Hell, I’ll even crack out the pots and pans after dinner to make myself enough pasta or chili to last the whole week. I eat leftovers so often it’s a little weird to be without them.

The only time this didn’t work out was when I cooked 40 breakfast sandwiches at once. The real fault in that wasn’t the idea; it was cooking 40 of them. A dozen would have been a much more suitable number.

There’s 15 left, by the way. I just can’t bring myself to eat another damn breakfast sandwich.

So how did I go from hater of leftovers to someone who actually likes them and the money savings they represent? It turns out I had to trick myself.

The reward system

I basically turned myself into a dog who gets a treat whenever he takes a dump in the right spot.

Even when I hated leftovers there were still certain ones I’d eat. Pasta is every bit as good the next day. Leftover pizza is bananas too. I’m a fan of instant mashed potatoes (whatever, haters, they’re delicious), which heat up remarkably well. I’d argue chili that’s been sitting in the fridge for a few days is actually better than the fresh stuff.

That was the first step. I focused on leftovers I actually liked. I wanted to feel like eating this stuff would be a reward. So I’d leave the bad stuff at home for Vanessa to eat.

(Immediately receives husband of the year award)

I also made sure that I’d give myself another reward immediately after I ate leftovers. I’d pack one of my favorite granola bars to eat for dessert. Or I’d splurge and buy myself a soda versus my usual drink of good ol’ free tap water.

It didn’t take long to go from “ugh, leftovers” to actually looking forward to the food I had waiting for me. And I saved a lot of money in the process.

Tricking yourself is easy

This post isn’t really about leftovers. It’s more about tricking yourself into doing things you don’t want to do.

You can apply the same simple principles to anything you want. Do you struggle with working out? Give yourself a reward every time you go to the gym, preferably one that isn’t a cheeseburger.

I’ve been known to bring my Kindle with me when I go and just walk on the treadmill for an hour, reading about some business guy’s life. I enjoy reading, so that’s the reward.

Make it easy to enjoy yourself. Do exercises you enjoy. One of my short-term plans is to take advantage of my gym’s drop-in sports. I like playing sports way more than I like lifting weights, so I know that I’ll be more successful focusing on that. Besides, there’s a sense of urgency if I miss floor hockey. I can always hit the elliptical tomorrow.

Do you struggle to invest? Then give yourself a reward for putting money away. I’d probably get bored of the exercise if my only choices were index funds. Investing in things like hard money loans or buying blogs are far more interesting than funneling all your cash into an S&P 500 ETF. Let those kinds of interesting investments be your reward for putting money away.

Fantasizing about becoming hella rich is pretty fun too.

You can apply this principle to almost every part of your life. It’s pretty simple once you understand it.

Let’s wrap it up

We’ve all got a list of things we think we should do, but yet we bother to make any actionable changes. All you need to do is create systems needed to succeed and then reward yourself when you do something good.

Our brains aren’t nearly as fancy as we give them credit for. Learn to take advantage of it and you’ll start to do the things you really want to do — whether it’s saving money on leftovers or making extra money.

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