Using DIY Tutorials To Save Money: What & How?

Friday, November 14, 2014

There’s a popular line about the internet and technology that periodically resurfaces on social media. You may have run into it already:

"If somebody from the 1950s time-travelled to today, what would be the hardest thing to explain to them?

I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers."

It probably touches a nerve for a lot of us. We live in an era of unparalleled access to information and expertise. If you wanted to learn about quantum physics at this very moment – you totally could. If you wanted to learn about it via a cartoon, you could do that too. But, we don’t. Why don’t we?

This is particularly frustrating when you know there’s a real practical benefit to what you could learn from internet resources. For example, how much money could you theoretically save if you could just learn how to tackle some of life’s more expensive tasks yourself? For example, getting your make-up done. In 2012, Australians spent roughly eight billion dollars on hair and beauty. What if you could do it yourself?

And, really, that’s the thing. You actually could do it yourself. There are some absolutely great resources out there for learning how to do sophisticated makeup techniques that are both accessible and free. MakeupGeek is one of the bigger ones – but my makeup-expert friends heavily recommend Pixiwoo and Lisa Eldridge. If you’re looking for hair tutorials, you apparently can’t go past Kayley Melissa(Disclaimer: I feel I should acknowledge that I have had my hair cut by my mum my entire life and I’m also apparently “one of the most frustrating people to put makeup on in the world” – but my friends know their stuff, I assure you.)

There are plenty of non-beauty resources we’d all love to take advantage of, too. For example, the Australia Council for the Arts found earlier this year that 70% of Australian adults wished they could play a musical instrument. According to Forbes, ‘not learning a second language’ is one of our top twenty-five biggest regrets in life.

But, a service like Duolingo allows you to easily learn multiple languages for free – and, through something like Coursera, you can freely learn things like how to play guitar from a specialist music university. Coursera can also offer you free university-level courses in skills like computer programming that will save you money and make you more employable. But, again. Typically, we don’t.

I’m not being cynical, either. Coursera is just one of a handful of platforms offering online university-sanctioned courses for free – EdX and UDacity also provide a similar service. They’re known as Massive Online Open Courses or MOOCs – and studies have shown that, of the thousands of students who will start an online course, less than 13% are likely to actually complete it. So - how do you sidestep that statistic? 


How do you actually use DIY online tutorials to save money?

In my personal experience, it’s a combination of factors. On a basic level, it comes down to habit formation – shifting something from a conscious exercise in willpower to an automatic behaviour. This is actually a very difficult process. Researchers at University College London found that it takes, on average, 66 days of repetition before an action becomes habitual for a person. But, that’s an average. One participant in the study was estimated to take 284 days to develop a habit.

My personal approach to habit formation is to use an app called Lift. If you’ve read any of my other articles, you’ve probably seen me mention it before. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a smartphone app designed around building habits. It allows you to create a flexible checklist of the habits you’d like to build – complete with weekly targets, rewards and reminders. That checklist allows you to keep a focus on the repetitive actions that build habits. Through Lift, I’ve managed to practice my French daily for nearly two years.

But, I actually think there’s an additional obstacle that prevents a lot of us from successfully using DIY online tutorials to save money or learn skills – stress.

That may sound like a particularly vague obstacle – but it’s actually closer to a medical issue. See, stress isn’t some ambiguous and subjective concept. It’s a medical phenomenon that has a clear and identifiable impact on your psychology and physiology. Physically, stress can induce headaches, muscle tension, chest pains and exhaustion. Psychologically, it can lead to lack of motivation or focus, anxiety and depression.

Already, it should be obvious how stress could negatively impact your ability to follow an online tutorial or build a habit. But, it runs deeper. It’s long been known that significant or chronic stress can have a negative impact on things like memory formation and data retention – but recent studies have shown that even short term stress can impair brain function in areas of learning and memory development. All of which makes it difficult for you to use the internet for more than cat pictures and arguments.

Because, if you’re tackling an online tutorial in Australia to save money, there’s a high likelihood that you’re suffering from stress. To begin with, a majority of Australians tend to suffer from stress. The Australian Psychological Society’s 2013 National Stress & Wellbeing Study found that 7 of 10 Australians reported stress having an impact on their physical health – 1 in 5 reported it was having a strong to very strong impact on their physical health.

Beyond that, that same report discovered that over 50% of Australians identified finances as a key source of stress. So, again, if you’re tackling an online tutorial in Australia to save money, there’s a high likelihood that you’re suffering from stress – and as such will find it difficult to focus, learn, develop memories and retain information on anything like makeup techniques or French practice. So, if you want to actually use DIY online tutorials to save money, you need to target your stress.


How do you that?

Personally? I’ve found meditation to be invaluable. Depending on your background, you may have ideas about meditation as a spiritual or religious practice but, while it can be, it doesn’t have to be at all – and it actually has got multiple medical and psychological benefits. It’s been proven to strengthen your immune system, increase your attention span, improve your memory and, crucially, reduce stress (among countless other benefits).

I’m actually clinically prone to high stress and anxiety. And, again, meditation has been invaluable. There’s nothing spiritual about it – it’s ultimately just breathing and focusing. If you’ve never tackled it, there are plenty of smartphone apps available to give you an idea. My personal recommendation is The Mindfulness App – which is designed to teach you how to meditate and has meditations as short as three minutes for beginners.

(I still only do five minutes a day.)

But, that’s ultimately just one strategy for relieving stress. Many Australians, according to that Wellbeing report, enjoy simply watching television. The key takeaway is that stress is a major obstacle to tackling things like online tutorials and saving money. So, if you want to use the internet for more than just cat pictures and arguments, you should work on building your habits and reducing your stress. Hey, if cat pictures chill you out, you could be halfway there already!