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Seven years ago, I woke up, sent some emails, and went bowling for a friend’s birthday. And I did it all as a full-time entrepreneur. As of July 1, 2012 I was no longer a Procter & Gamble employee, I had officially started working on Humor That Works full-time. And 2,556 days later, I’m still at it.

Over the past seven years, I have: delivered 536 programs, performed 574 comedy shows, published three books, delivered two TEDx talks, spoke in front of 40,000+ people, launched a coaching program, online course, and awards program, visited all 50 states, 27 countries and 6 continents, and, most importantly, have built a sustainable business spreading the word about the power of humor.

But not everything I’ve done has gone according to plan. Below is a look at some of those “accomplishments” in a little more detail, along with the takeaways I’ve gained from each.

I wanted to share this recap not to brag about what I’ve done (you can see many aren’t brag-worthy), but to share the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur, content creator, and idea haver. Not everything you do is going to work, not every project will be profitable, and not every video will be impactful. But if you never put anything out there, you’ll never create the thing that can change the world (or at least one person’s day, year, or life).

21 Lessons from 7 Years as an Entrepreneur

JULY 24, 2012: I did my first paid gig for Humor That Works after making it my full-time job.

The event was a 3-hour workshop for Santander in Dallas, TX that paid me $1,000 plus travel. Going into the event, the organizer acted liked there would be the opportunity to do a lot of different trainings for the group. After the event, I never heard from her again. That may have been because I didn’t deliver on what they were expecting, it was just hopeful optimism on both of our parts, or it was a way to get me to lower my price (like getting paid in “exposure”).

Takeaway #1: There’s never a guarantee for additional work unless it’s in the contract.

NOVEMBER 13, 2012: I uploaded a video called Zombie Tag to YouTube.

The video was a simple demonstration of one of my favorite applied improv exercises. I had little expectation of how many people would see it, I just wanted to share a fun activity. It slowly became a popular team-building video, now with more than 500,000 views. I foolishly used the song O Fortuna to make the video seem epic which means any ad revenue from the video goes to the music owner, not me.

Takeaway #2: You never know what’s going to resonate with people. As a result, create as though the entire world will see it, but only do the things you’d do even if no one saw it.

NOVEMBER 14, 2012: My first “real” book launched.

501 ways to use humor book

I say “real” because I had previously published a collection of quotations, but they were more curation than creation. I self-published 501 Ways to Use Humor, Beat Stress, and Increase Productivity in both print and on Kindle with the goal of providing a resource for people who wanted to use humor but didn’t know how to get started. The book has so far sold 6,123 copies, netting a 3.8 rating on Amazon off of 18 reviews.

Takeaway #3: You can’t have a third book if you never created a first one. Even if it doesn’t go gang-busters, the first attempt helps you learn for the next several.

MARCH 14, 2013: I officially launched my humor coaching program.

The goal was to provide one-on-one coaching for people who were looking to make a change in their life. After the first six months I all but abandoned the idea after discovering I didn’t really love coaching. I had a grand total of 12 clients, three of which were paid.

Takeaway #4: Just because a successful person does something a certain way, it doesn’t mean you have to. Find the things you like to do and focus on those, rather than doing something because you think you’re “supposed” to.

APRIL 3, 2013: I announced the first ever Corporate Humor Awards.

The awards were created to celebrate individuals and organizations that use humor in the workplace. They recognized five individuals and five companies that effectively used humor in creating a better work environment for the humans that worked there. I repeated the awards in 2014, completely ignored them for three years, and then brought them back in 2018 and (soon) 2019. Yes, I wish I had continued the Corporate Humor Awards every year, but I don’t want the inconsistency to stop me from bringing back the awards whenever I have capacity for them.

Takeaway #5: More important than being consistent is being persistent.

FEBRUARY 4, 2014: I had an enlightening lunch with a fellow engineer.

The lunch was with two PhD students at Carnegie Melon University. I had reached out to them because they were also engineers  who were interested in improv. Towards the end of the lunch, one of the guys asked me who managed my website. I proudly claimed I did and asked why. His response was, “When I talk with you now, I get that you’re an engineer and that you focus on humor because it works, and it sounds fascinating. But when I read the site, it seems fluffy and touchy-feely, and doesn’t seem like something I’d be interested in.” I was appreciative of the feedback and it made me wonder how many other people never reached out or considered booking me because they were turned off by the language on the site.

Takeaway #6: You hardly hear the “nos.” No feedback is, in fact, feedback. If something you try isn’t getting a response, it means something needs to change.

FEBRUARY 8, 2014: I delivered my very first TEDx talk at TEDxOSU.

humor at work tedx

Though the talk never went “viral,” it has racked up more 200,000 views and has led to 13 speaking engagements and over $30,000 in revenue. Looking back at the talk now, I still believe in the content but cringe at the delivery knowing that I’m so much stronger as a speaker now. Part of me wishes I had delivered a stronger talk, but that was a great delivery for my skill level at the time. Plus, I’d much rather look back five years and think I’m a better speaker now than look back five years and realize I haven’t grown at all.

Takeaway #7: If you don’t look back at the past five years and at least cringe a little bit, you probably aren’t taking big enough chances or continually improving.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2014: I had my first five-figure event day.

For the first time in company (and my personal) history, I earned over $10,000 in a day. To do so, I delivered a keynote, breakout, and two workshops over the course of one day for a group of project managers at Nationwide in Columbus, OH. It would be two years before my next five-figure day.

Takeaway #8: One success doesn’t guarantee another success, just as one failure doesn’t guarantee another failure. But a peak at one time can give you a glimpse of what the future could hold.

JANUARY 21, 2015: I launched an online course on humor at work.

After three months of planning, shooting, and editing, my first (and currently only) online course went live on Udemy. I hoped that it might lead to a nice stream of passive income and generate leads for in-person workshops… thus far it has netted $1,682 from 1,198 students and zero leads. Despite my insistence that it is not a course on being funnier, it sits at a 4.15 rating (on 45 reviews) with more than a few negative comments about how it doesn’t make people funnier. More than anything, it did force me to put together a cohesive workshop-style program that I used for in-person deliveries.

Takeaway #9: Passive income is very misunderstood; very often it’s delayed income from work you put in a long time ago, and it’s not guaranteed.

AUGUST 7, 2015: My second app, the Perfect Day (now called 5 Daily Habits), launched.

While I hoped others might benefit from the app, the primary purpose was to provide an easy way for me to follow my five daily habits program. My first app, 501 Ways to Use Humor, came out in November 2013 as an add-on to my first book and has made -$723 dollars off of roughly 200 downloads (revenue of $902 minus $1,625 cost to build). 5 Daily Habits has netted -$3,960 (the app is free but app development is not) with over 6,000 downloads, but it has more than paid for itself in keeping me accountable to my short- and long-term goals… that is until I stopped tracking my habits sometime in 2018.

Takeaway #10: Return-on-investment doesn’t always come in the form of money back, sometimes it’s a new skill, accountability, or additional credibility. Also apps are hard.

JULY 17, 2015: I did a talk for sales new hires at P&G.

Since leaving P&G, I’ve returned to the organization for a number of the events, including one for new employees in sales. In the audience for the talk was Adam, a new hire and the son of the president of the National Speakers Bureau, Brian. Adam enjoyed my presentation so much, he called his dad about it and two days later I talked with Brian about being part of his speaker line-up. That meeting resulted in them listing me as one of their speakers and I’ve done five talks with them for more than $25,000. I’m also friends with Adam and Brian.

Takeaway #11: You never know who is sitting in your audience and what opportunities may come when you deliver a good product or program.

FEBRUARY 11, 2016: I completed my 1,000th performance in my 50th state on my 32nd birthday.

performances by year running

The storytelling show in Hawaii was one of the defining moments of my career up to that point as it was the culmination and celebration of months of travels, years of performances, and decades of existence. I never would have guessed that this introverted teacher’s pet would go on to perform in more than 1,000 shows, let alone do it in all 50 states.

Takeaway #12: What starts as a hobby today could become your passion/career/purpose  tomorrow (where “tomorrow” is a metaphor for the future, 24 hours from hobby to career seems unlikely).

APRIL 22, 2017: I gave my second TEDx talk, this time on the skill of humor at TEDxTAMU.

I dedicated nearly four months to prepping for the talk, doing stand-up and speaking engagements to iterate on the message. I felt great about the performance and the end result. On January 2, 2018, six months after the talk came out, it only had 3,000 views. It hit one million views on July 2, 2018, currently has over four million views, and has been an idea worth spreading.

Takeaway #13: Success is rarely instant. Yes, some people “go viral” “overnight,” but often it’s the result of years of hard work before it happens. And yes, luck plays a huge role in success, but the harder you work, the luckier you seem to get.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2017: My second book, The United States of Laughter, came out.

When I started my  nomadic journey on March 1, 2015, I had no idea what it would lead to or why I was even doing it. By the end of trip, I had traveled 159,023 miles, gone to all 50 states, and visited 14 countries over the course of 18 months. I also had such incredible experiences that I felt compelled to write about them. Like 501 Ways, The United States of Laughter was self-published but in a much more professional manner. It’s currently sold 2,220 copies and has a 4.7 rating on 54 reviews. It has led to 22 media appearances and, perhaps most importantly, gave me the opportunity to do a literal book launch.

Takeaway #14: There’s a cliche that asks, “If anyone wrote a book about your life, would anyone care to read it?” Why not do something worth writing a book about, and then write the book.

SEPTEMBER 29, 2017: I uploaded The Cliched Meaning of Life video.

The video is a stand-up bit that involves 100 cliches in 4 minutes exploring the meaning of life. I had spent years perfecting the performance but kept putting off uploading the video as I thought it had the chance to go viral (and maybe even get me on Ellen), and I was scared to find out if it would. The video currently sits at ~7,000 views and I have not appeared on Ellen.

Takeaway #15: Sometimes we hold off on sharing something with the world because the dream that it might work feels better than the confirmation that it won’t. But you can’t watch a video that’s never been uploaded, and holding on to a fantasy prevents you from building a new reality.

FEBRUARY 18, 2018: I delivered a talk at NSA Winter Conference on the Future of Content Creation.

The talk explores what the world of speaking may look like in the future and was well received. In addition to a standing ovation and a few speakers jokingly “bowing” to me, people afterwards told me they could see that talk being given at nearly every tech conference out there… I’ve only delivered the talk one more time, at another speaker event. However, it has prompted me to work on creating the creative assistant I imagine we’ll have in the future, which might be a product or service in the future.

Takeaway #16: Don’t let compliments or insults sway you too far one way or another. They can be helpful pieces of feedback, but they don’t guarantee success or failure. Only your attitude and commitment do.

JUNE 13, 2018: I streamlined my websites into two brands: Drew Tarvin and Humor That Works.

Drew Tarvin became a combination of Drew Tarvin (comedy / blogging), Andrew Tarvin (speaking, authoring), Slash Entrepreneur (entrepreneurship), and Create / Consume (time tracking). Humor That Works (humor at work training) absorbed Humor Engineer (humor work), Humor’s Office (funny office humor), Humor Awards (corporate humor awards), and Understanding Comedy (how to be funny). For those keeping score, that’s two successful sites out of nine that I started. Though none of the other sites really took off, I wouldn’t call them failures either because they helped me explored ideas and many of the posts still exists under the new brands.

Takeaway #17: You will fail more often than you succeed, but often you will only succeed because you’ve failed.

OCTOBER 25, 2018: I stepped down as co-owner of CSz New York.

CSz New York was the first group I did improv with when I moved to New York City. 10 years and over 350 shows later, I was co-owner of the organization and working to build its presence in the city. Eventually, Humor That Works grew big enough that I wasn’t able to commit time to running the organization or performing as frequently as I once did. The group remains one of the most supportive, hilarious, and joyous groups I’ve ever been a part of was one of the biggest things I had “give up” in order to build the business I wanted to.

Takeaway #18: Owning a business is not without sacrifice. Sometimes you have to stop doing the things you really like to do for the things you love to do.

FEBRUARY 1, 2019: The first Humor That Works workshop not delivered by me took place.

The facilitator-led workshop was a version of a communications workshop I had delivered 80 times for the Flatiron School over six years. But workshop #81 was delivered by Vandad, someone who I trained up to do the program. Since then, 22 Humor That Works programs, including one keynote, have been presented by people not named Drew Tarvin, allowing the message of humor to be spread even when I’m not available or already booked.

Takeaway #19: There’s only so much you can do alone. If you want to multiply your efforts, you’ll have to engage or partner with other people. As the adage goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

MARCH 8, 2019: I gave a presentation on my fifth continent in two months (and my sixth continent total).

After a few years of various conversations with IBM, I got booked with them to do three week-long events in three different countries (US, Spain, and Singapore) for the largest contract amount I had ever recorded (more than twice the amount of money I made my entire first year as a full-time speaker). Rather than just do those events and be done with it, I decided to seek out additional speaking opportunities in neighboring countries, adding a talk in Morocco and a workshop in Australia, giving me five continents in 47 days.

Takeaway #20: When you achieve success, find ways you can build on that momentum rather than rest on your laurels.

APRIL 1, 2019: My third book, Humor That Works, was published by hybrid-publisher Page Two.

humor that works books

The book was a culmination of everything I learned over 10 years regarding the what, why, and how of humor in the workplace. The book launched as a #1 new release and was featured in FastCompany, Thrive Global, and Monster.com. It was named a top gift for Father’s Day by Forbes and one of the best 49 business books for Empowered Professionals. In the first 3 months, it sold 941 copies, garnered a 4.8 rating on 29 reviews, and led to literal book launch version 2. To get all of that, all it took was over $30,000 in publishing and PR services… but it has led to increased credibility, workshop add-ons, and helped confirm a few booked engagements.

Takeaway #21: To get to the next level, you have to be willing to invest in yourself and your business. The payoff may not always be immediate, but it will come eventually (hopefully).

SUMMARY

That brings us to today, July 1, 2019, when I wrote this post capturing some of my successes and failures over seven years of working for myself. Reviewing the past septet of years has served as a helpful reminder of the importance of continuing to create. Honestly, I hadn’t remembered all the things that I tried that didn’t go according to plan. By always having things I was working on, I could focus on what worked instead of dwelling on what didn’t.

A sincere thank you to all who have supported me these past seven years, and for the haters who have helped me grow and get stronger. Here’s to another seven (and hopefully more) years full of successes, failures, and everything in between.

I recently wrapped up 18 months of being a nomad. During that time, I lived primarily out of two carry-on bags. Here’s what was in them.

My fully packed Red Oxx Airboss ($275.00) bag weighed in at 22 pounds.

Everything in Red Oxx

It included the following (pictured in the featured image):

  • Homage Zip Hoodie. One of the softest hoodies I’ve ever worn and a main part of my wardrobe. It’s great for fall and spring temperatures, plus air-conditioned summers, and is a nice added layer for really cold winters. $65.00
  • Next Mileskin Jacket. It took me going to Scotland to find a coat that looked good on my slender frame. This is a great winter coat that layers nicely and isn’t too heavy when carrying it. £90.00
  • Tommy Hilfiger Rainwear Jacket (now discontinued?). A very lightweight jacket that repels the rain and can easily be folded or scrunched into a bag. Also makes a decent make-shift pillow.
  • Clarks Leather Sandals. A casual pair of sandals for beach days, laundry days, and quick errands. $29.99
  • Nike Downshifter 6 Running Shoe. $49.94
  • Aldo Men’s Boot (similar to these). The first pair of boots I owned were great but started to fall apart with all of the walking I did, so I switched to a pair of Aldo Men’s boots that are comfortable for most of the day and look nicer than gym shows. $109.95
  • Aldo Edoewin Oxford Dress Shoes. A nice looking pair of dress shoes to go with the navy suit I have for events. $79.95
  • Going in Style Travel Laundry Clothesline. A must-have for drying out clothes in hotels and AirBNBs. $12.95
  • Metolius Carabiner. A carabiner I used for attaching said clothesline to things. $9.95
  • Travelon Inflatable Hanger. For hanging up clothes when a hanger isn’t available; I never used it. $10.00
  • Microfiber Travel Towel. A compact towel that dries quickly. It doesn’t feel nearly as nice as a real towel and can start to smell quickly, but is a must for when you’re crashing somewhere that doesn’t have an extra towel for you. $14.95
  • Parachord Bracelet. A combo chord and whistle; luckily I never had to use it. $8.99
  • Inflatable Neck Pillow. Always better in theory than in practice, I tried using it periodically and never really enjoyed it. I still travel with it just in case. $13.99
  • Bounce Dryer Sheets. These served more than one purpose, including their intended use when drying clothes, but also to prevent shoes from smelling, and to (supposedly) prevent mosquito bites. $15.99 for a big pack you don’t need.
  • Small Lint Roller. Useful for cleaning off hairs and fuzz from your clothes, particularly helpful when you crash at someone’s place who has a cat or dog. $7.99 for 4
  • Uniqlo Men Heattech V Neck T Shirt Long Sleeve. A long sleeve shirt that is thick enough to provide extra warmth but thin enough to be used with other layers. $14.90
  • Woolly Men’s Merino Wool Short Sleeve V-Neck. A staple of any nomad wardrobe is merino wool and this is a cheaper alternative than a lot of other brands. I replaced an Icebreaker shirt that started gaining holes with this one and was happy with it’s performance. It’s odor resistant, easy to wash in the sink, and quick drying. $39.99
  • Icebreaker Men’s Anatomica Short Sleeve V. The second merino wool shirt I bought and worked great in alternating with the other shirt. By switching between the two daily, I could go at least a week between washing if I wanted to. $51.99
  • Uniqlo Men Heattech Tights. Uniqlo calls them tights, I think of them as long underwear, but either way they provide a nice base layer for the legs when the temperature drops below freezing. $14.90
  • Ex-Officio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer Brief (x3). Another staple of a nomad’s packing list is the underoos. These boxers are odor resistant and quick-drying. With three pairs, you have flexibility and can do your washing every other night. Hang them up while you sleep and you’re good to go in the morning. $14.99 each
  • Darn Tough Men’s Merino Wool No Show Socks (x2). The final staple of the nomad’s wardrobe is socks. These Darn Tough socks work great while wearing tennis shoes. Also odor resistant and quick drying. $15.95 each
  • Darn Tough Men’s Warlock Crew Light Cushion Hiking Socks (x2). A long version of the Darn Tough Merino Wool socks that go great with boots or dress shoes. $19.95 each
  • Suitsupply Sienna Blue Suit. An incredible well-made suit with a tailored fit and a professional look, perfect for the presentations I give and more formal affairs. $599.00
  • Olivers All Over Shorts. Multipurpose shorts that can be used for casual attire, workout shorts, or swim trunks. They’re probably more expensive than what they provide, but nice to cut down on space. $65
  • Uniqlo Slim Fit Straight Leg Jeans. Fashionable jeans that fit well but also stretch when moving around. They aren’t the most rugged–I went through 2.5 pairs during my trip–but there may not be a jean that exists that can survive the wear and tear of nomadic living. The plus is that these are cheaper than alternatives from places like Bonobos. $49.90
  • Adidas Performance Training Pants. Comfortable pants for lounging around or working out in colder temperatures with the added benefit that they are part of the ComedySportz uniform. $29.99
  • J.Crew Slim Washed Shirt (x2). A slim fitting button-down shirt that works great for business casual situations and is part of my standard jeans+button+hoodie look. $19.95 each
  • J.Crew Thompson Dress Shirt (x2). A nicer quality button-front shirt that goes well with a suit. $34.50 each
  • American Apparel 50/50 Crewneck T-Shirt. A casual t-shirt for summer days. $20.00
  • Ohio State Buckeyes Shirt. A casual t-shirt for rooting on the Buckeyes (or showing off Ohio pride). I’m not sure of the price because my mom got it for me.
  • Various Toiletries (see below).

In the Red Oxx Bag was a Tom Bihn Clear Quarter Packing Cube ($32.00).

My Toiletries

I used to used toiletries, including:

  • Travel sizes of: toothpaste, hair gel, shampoo, lotion, sunscreen, body spray, and cortizone.
  • Regular sizes of: bar soap, deodorant, fingernail clippers, cuticle scissors (surprisingly TSA compliant), thermometer, and beard trimmer.
  • A “switchblade” style toothbrush (much better than the ones you put into the long tube).
  • A small plastic soap holder and a small empty spray bottle.

On my back was a Tom Bihn Synapse 25 ($200.00) that carried my electronics along with a few other tools (and snacks!).

Everything in the Backpack

It had:

Check out pictures all of my gear in this Flickr album.

As an entrepreneur, one of the hardest things to figure out is “What should I work on?” This is also true while working for someone else, but for those of us on our own, it can seem even more daunting.

Here’s a quick strategy I use when trying to figure out what to work on; I call it the Prioritization Matrix.

Step 1: Create a list.

You should already have a task-list of things you want to / could do floating around in Evernote, Trello, or any of the thousands of To-Do list apps. That’s great, but for this exercise, start a new list.

Off the top of your head, name 10 things you could be working on. I recommend listing off the top of your head versus reviewing your existing lists because these are the things that are top of mind, and, at least for me, tend to be the things that are most important because I’ve been thinking about them recently.

For me, while writing this article, my list looks like:

prioritization matrix step 1

Wow, that’s a lot that I could be doing. All of which (save #10), could contribute to my business in some way. It’s at this point you might start to feel overwhelmed, but worry-not, just move to step 2.

Step 2: Assign value to each task.

Now, with the list in front of you, assign value from 1-10 (10 being the highest) to each of the tasks you’ve come up with.

You have to determine what drives value for you; is it exposure, credibility, money? Hint: as an entrepreneur, money is a good one.

prioritization matrix step 2

As you can see, this isn’t a ranking of the list, so it’s OK if two or more entries have the same value ranking. Now if they all have the same value, you have to be more honest with yourself as to which are truly the most valuable.

Step 3: Assign difficulty to each task.

The next step is to think about how hard each task is going to be to complete and assign it a number from 1-10 (10 being the hardest).

Note that the difficulty assignment should be based on your ability (and motivation) to do it. It doesn’t matter if entering numbers in a spreadsheet is technically easy, if you despise it and find it a challenge for you to complete, then give it a hard ranking.

prioritization matrix step 3

Step 4: Calculate the priority score.

Once you have both a Value and Difficulty score for each task, calculate their priority score by dividing the Value by the Difficulty.

So, for example, if a task has a Value of 8 and a Difficulty of 4, the Priority score is 2.0.

prioritization matrix step 4

Step 5: Re-order the tasks according to score.

The final step is to re-order your list of 10 things to do by Priority Score, with the largest value going up top. Congratulations, that’s the task you should be working on.

prioritization matrix step 5

A Few Notes About the Process

The whole point of the Prioritization Matrix is to make the process of prioritizing tasks a lot easier. That being said, there are a few things to consider:

  • The value of the Matrix is that it takes a look at both Value and Difficulty. Just because a task is valuable, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to work on at that time (or for you to do it at all, see below). Just because a task is easy (such as watching Rick and Morty) doesn’t mean it’s where you should focus your efforts. Productivity lies in finding the tasks that are valuable and easy enough to do that you actually do them.
  • Just because something has a score < 1.0 doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, it just means that it’s harder for you to do than the value you can get out if it. If it’s not a task you’re willing to delete (aka not do at all), it means it’s a perfect task to consider outsourcing or delegating to someone else. For example, determining my Perfct Day app strategy is very valuable, but it’s hard for me to decide. So I’m going to request assistance from some smart friends to help me figure it out.
  • This is just one way to think about the work you need to do. If through this exercise you realize you really want to work on Task #2 instead of #1, great, do that. That you do something is better than what you do.

I hope that helps you with the prioritization process. You can find an example copy of the spreadsheet I used here: Prioritization Matrix Example. Share any feedback or questions in the comments.

Congratulations! You’ve finished your first level of improv classes. You have 8 weeks of training under your belt, a new group of improv companions, and a rocking show that you did for friends, family, and strangers.

So, now what?

Here are 5 things you can do after you’ve finished your first improv class:

1. Take Another Improv Class

The most common next step after finishing Level 1 is to take Level 2 at the same school / theater. You’ll pick up right where you left off and start learning more advanced techniques.

Another option is to take a Level 1 class at a different theater. This can give you a different perspective on how to approach improv, as well as give you another chance to work on the basics.

2. Start a Practice Group

Unfortunately you may not be able to jump right into the next level of classes (because of scheduling, availability, or financing), or you might find that you want to improvise more than once a week.

If you’re in either boat, starting or joining a practice group can be a great way to keep practicing improv outside of the classroom. To get started, all you need is a group of people, a rehearsal spot, and a coach.

3. Find a Way to Perform

If your favorite (or least favorite) part of class was the show, then you may want to get on stage more frequently. In NYC there are a number of free jams / mixers around the city where you can show your stuff.

Or, if you do create a practice group, you can find venues where your Indie team can perform. Either way, getting on stage will help you apply the things you learned in class and help improve your confidence on stage.

4. Try Another Art Form

Trying improv might have sparked a passion for comedy or performance that isn’t limited to just making stuff up. You might be interested in taking a sketch class, trying stand-up comedy, or even giving acting a try.

These art forms all benefit from having strong improv skills and can be a great outlet for performance that’s not improv.

5. Take Your Knowledge Out into the World

Whether you continue on formally with improv training or decide to hang up your improvised boxing gloves, you can take the concepts of improv out into your everyday life.

Ideas like Yes And, supporting your scene partner, and really listening have tremendous value in the corporate world, in education, and in day to day life.

Applying these concepts can be as simple as keeping them in mind as you go about life, or may include deliberately using the concepts in what’s called applied improvisation.

Regardless of what you do next, congratulations! You’ve experienced the first level of improvisation; go out and use your new found knowledge for good, humor, and funny.

So you finally decided to sign up for your first improv class? That’s awesome, congratulations.

Over the years I’ve taken a number of classes; some of have been incredible, others not so much. Here are a 10 tips I’ve learned on how to make the most out of your maiden voyage into classes on improvisation.

#1) Have an open mind.

Let’s be honest, some improv exercises are weird. Organic openings, honest emotional monologues, and even Bunny Bunny can seem weird at first. But they all have a purpose in making you a better improviser.

Keep an open mind and allow yourself to truly commit to the exercise.

#2) Don’t try to be “right.”

I like to be right. I also like to do things right. As a result, improv can be a challenge. When doing improv exercises or scenes, I used to have a mentality of “I want to do this exercise correctly” or even figure out the purpose of it and then do it “perfectly” to impress the instructor.

Improv doesn’t work like that. First, the exercises are not meant to be done perfectly. You’re going to forget a word or two when jumping into Hot Spot–that’s more than fine. Second, the beauty of improv is that there is no wrong choice, but that also means there is no right choice either. There’s only the choice you make in the moment and what you do with it afterwards.

#3) Leave your judgment at the door.

You’re going to do bad improv scenes. Your classmates are going to do bad improv scenes. Heck, your instructor may lead you into bad improv scenes (or “stupid” exercises or “dumb” sidecoaching or countless other things you may want to criticize).

In fact, if you aren’t doing any bad scenes or exercises that challenge your style of play, you probably aren’t pushing yourself.

The point is, leave any type of that judgment at the door. If you want to critique your own play later, after class (as I often do as a way to see where I need to make improvements), fine. Just don’t do it in class. It takes you away from the moment and distracts you from what’s important–being present for your other classmates.

#4) Be confident but humble yourself.

Some people enter into an improv class with loads of experience. Maybe they were in an improv group in college or have performed in theater or have done a number of shows as a stand-up comedian. Some people enter class never having done any type of performance before.

Whichever group you fall into, be confident in your ideas (they’re already awesome, they may just need to be tweaked as you go), but also be humble about your skill.

This second point is especially true for people who have improv experience. You may start to think “I’m too good for this” or “I already know all this.” Sure you might already know concepts like “Yes And,” but it can be hugely beneficial to take a step back and review the basics from time-to-time.

Use a return to basic improv as an opportunity to work on a new style or challenge yourself in a new way. Be confident in your abilities but humble yourself and do all of the exercises with 100% commitment.

#5) Get to know your classmates.

In all the classes I’ve taken the one thing more important than the instructor has been my classmates. And I don’t mean who the people are, but what’s my relationship to them, how well do I get to know them.

The classes that I’ve hated or were ambivalent about were the ones where I didn’t get to know the 15 other people who I’d be spending 8 weeks with. They were just acquaintances I saw once a week.

The classes that I’ve loved have been the ones where I got to know the people I was learning with. We would go out together after class, see shows together, or even just do bits over email. Not only does it make the class more fun, it also makes the improv scenes better.

And a bit of forecasting for you: it’s the people you stay connected to that will likely make up your first Indie team (an important next step after your first few levels of classes).

Note: The first 5 tips were more on the mindset and attitude to have while in class. The next 5 are more practical in nature.

#6) Bring a notebook (and pen).

You don’t have to take extensive notes (like I did), but write down key phrases or ideas that your teacher says that you like. Some of my favorite improv quotes include:

  • “Treat your fellow players like geniuses and poets.”
  • “Be more brave than impressive.”
  • “We want to see the t-rex with the backpack.”

#7) Bring a bottle of water.

It’s always good to stay hydrated and you’ll likely be talking and/or moving around a lot.

#8) Eat something before class.

You don’t want to be distracted by hunger while you’re focusing on becoming a better improviser.

#9) Wear appropriate clothing.

While you may look great in that suit or stunning in that dress, it will likely restrict your choices as an improviser. You want to wear comfortable clothing that you would be fine rolling around in–you never know when your improv scene is going to require demonstrating “stop, drop, and roll” or re-enacting an army “crawl-through-the-trenches” scene.

If you’re coming directly from work (as I so often did), either bring a change of clothes or be willing to spend a little more on dry-cleaning in case you get dirt on your business attire.

#10) Most importantly, have fun.

No matter what your reason for taking an improv class, you should have fun. Not just because, “yay, fun!” but because it will make your improv scenes better. When you’re enjoying your time on stage with your classmates, you’ll make moves that excite you and your fellow players. And isn’t the whole point of improv to have fun? I think so.

Starting in 2002, Billy Merritt (of Ninja, Robot, Pirate fame) started writing what he called “Billy Merrit’s Improv Party.” It started as a story to share his thoughts on improv and turned into a full-blown thread of awesome improv tips.

I definitely recommend reading the entire thing (though it is a bit lengthy at 50 posts). It was originally posted on the Improv Resource Center. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s probably the most active forum on improv out there.

Note: I’ve fixed some spelling and grammatical errors, but everything comes from Billy. I’ve bolded tips that particularly resonate with me.

50 Improv Tips from Billy Merritt’s Improv Party

  1. Every scene has a sound track to it. All scenes have rhythm. Some scenes rock out like Rush. Some scenes hit you like the Call of the Valkries.
  2. The Harold is a musical in a sense, You have the Overture, three songs that you revisit and a couple of rousing dance numbers.
  3. You cannot effectivly play any GAME in any scene unless you know who you are and where you are.
  4. Don’t sever your connections to the outside world, don’t become totally isolated in the community we have created, if you do, you will implode. We are conduits. We observe, take in, and record into our sense memory. We then take that information and release it on the stage. Using our improv skills we make that information dance, sing, and jump through hoops. If you stop collecting information you just have hoops.
  5. It’s a lot of work only if you make it alot of work. With each line of dialog your character’s history becomes more clear, the more clear it becomes, the easier the choices become.
  6. Wit is not something you just have, it is something that you must earn. You must earn it everyday [by continuing to learn].
  7. Everybody has an opinion, so every character you portray should have an opinion. You start with an opinion and eventually it grows into a philosophy.
  8. When in doubt talk about philosophy.
  9. You become an improviser, once you feel you have it down enough that you can improvise with anyone at any time.
  10. You can’t eliminate all bad habits. Sometimes you have to break the rules in order to further the scene and go where you never thought you could.
  11. Don’t be afraid of the unknown, don’t play it safe. How else will you make discoveries. 
  12. When a scene is started you tend to ask yourself who are these people, where are these people, and what is happening? But do you ever ask when are these people?
  13. There is no heightening from blue, just more blue.
  14. The most important thing is the Moment. You do all that work so that you can be in the “Moment.”
  15. We need to check in with each other every now and then so that we all know what is going on, but we don’t need to do it all the time.
  16. You can have a plot, but you don’t need to talk about it.
  17. How can you expect to do an improvisational scene without really knowing the people in the scene. Once you know the people, the information flows all over the scene.
  18. Not knowing where you are going to go in a scene yet knowing that it is going to come out all right is the core of great improv.
  19. Having said all that, of course there is plot in improvisation, and most of the time it works really well. But when it works well, it is not because of the players playing to the plot. It is because of the players playing to each other and to the scene at hand.
  20. Let the story come to you , don’t go looking for the story.
  21. Any chance that you can place personal items into the scenes with you, do it. Make it personal, it grounds you to the scene, and it grounds you to the truth.
  22. You should always walk away from an improv session and ask yourself, what have I learned, how can I use this information, how can I keep this information with me until I need it.?
  23. Improvisation is an art form. Anyone can paint a picture, a good picture. But it takes more than being able to paint, to be a great artist, it takes patience, it takes observation, it takes an ability to learn when there is nothing left to learn.
  24. Performing is art, it is about a sense of play, it is about growing and being allowed to fail. Producing is about business, it is about attendance, advertising, financial success. Get your art down first, develop confidence in your art , then focus on the production. Never let the production override your art. That is bad business.
  25. You repeat back to your partner what you feel is important in what they just said, then both of you know whats important in the conversation you are having.
  26. In acting you are told that your “being” comes from 4 places. The Head, The Heart, The Stomach, The Groin. Acting from the groin, that it is all about taking action. To find something in your scene to fuck, to engage, to become a part of. Coming from the gut, what does that mean? It means to react, to listen, to be affected. To act from the heart, is to act with emotion. To act with emotion is to feel the words that you are saying.
  27. It is all about being observant, seeing things and always in the back of your head saying to yourself, I can use this in a scene.
  28. To act from your head is to get in touch with your inner Robot.
  29. Getting your brain programmed for “Don’t Think” takes years of preparation
  30. An edit is not the end, it is the beginning of something new. 
  31. The key to improvisation is patience. You will not learn everything in a year, two years, 10 years. You will never learn all there is to know, once you realize that, it becomes easier to enjoy the ride. Enjoying the ride shows patience, patience is the key.
  32. Relationship and game are one in the same.
  33. Your relationship is constantly defined with each exchange of dialog. Knowing your relationship defines what you will say next, the more you know the more you have to say.  Your relationship with the location will also dictate what you will do in the scene. Relationship also has to do with object work.
  34. Finding the game is finding the pattern. All scenes have patterns. Patterns are structure. Structure is Game. 
  35. It is important to remember to look for the first unusual thing within the reality of the scene, not the reality of the actors.
  36. Words are the least important thing when it comes to communicating.
  37. It is the struggle to survive that makes living so much fun. 
  38. Rage is not about anger, it is about passion.  Never lose your rage, keep it inside like sushi. Eat it when you need to. Rage drives you, pirates make you alive, minjas make you take action, and The robots make sense of it all.
  39. What your character believes to be true can only be heightend if the oppisite is true for someone else. Philosophies must be compared with each other so that we the audience can decide for ourselves.
  40. You must constantly look for the balance in everything you do onstage, once you find the balance, then unbalance it. Create a pattern then break it. In that you will find the truth.
  41. I don’t have talent, I earned talent. 
  42. Success is Talent meeting Opportunity.
  43. Every scene you improvise should have a Rosebud in it. Something that grounds your character into the scene, makes you take notice of your life, allows you to evaluate yourself in the place that you are at.
  44. The moment you step on that stage, you own it, you are meant to be there and they were meant to watch you. That is the meaning of Stage Presence.  Stage Presence is simply the confidence to be where you are. 
  45. “Humor is not jokes. It is an attitude toward being alive without which you would long ago have jumped off the 59th street bridge. Humor is not being funny. It is the coin of exchange between human beings that makes it possible for us to get through the day. Humor exists even in the humorless.” – Michael Shurtleff
  46. The scene is already there before you do it. The characters have been living their lives, going to work, playing, falling in and out of love. You are just showing one moment in their lives, hopefully the funny ones. But it may not be funny to the characters at that time. You must play that real. If you play it real you will discover the humor in these peoples lives.
  47. Yesing a scene does not make a scene go further, it is the “And” that breathes life into the scene.
  48. There are over 100 performers that play on the UCB stage every week, of those 100 how many have given back to the space? Have painted anything? Repaired something? Lit an incense?
  49. What is a moment in scenework? The moment is something that the characters, created in the scene, will remember for the rest of their lives.
  50. Discovery = Truly not knowing were the scene is going to go, taking your idea and your scene partner’s idea and creating something both of you had not intended. Don’t drop your idea, meld it into another.

I just got back from the Shoot from the Hip project and had an amazing time.  Not only did I meet some great people and make a pretty solid movie, I learned a ton.

I learned more about filming in 10 days than I could have by reading 100 books.  Here are some of the bits of wisdom I picked up on making a film:

Acting

  • Just like in improv, you have to interact with your fellow actors. Be paying more attention to them than yourself.
  • Once you connect to your characters background, motivation, and objective, it becomes a lot easier to react as they would.
  • Be willing to have fun with your characters and make interesting choices.  Something as simple as having skittles with you can turn into a symbolic moment for the movie.
  • When shooting the film out of order, remind yourself in each scene where you are in the story so you still have the right progression as a character.
  • When improvising scenes, establish the important beats of the scene that need to be hit and then go. On the next takes, keep what worked and refine what didn’t

Editing

  • If you create a consistent hierarchy of folders on all of the computers you are working on, it will make it easier to transfer files and save the Final Cut Pro project files.
  • Watching your edits on a big screen will help you identify small fixes such as needed cuts or audio issues.
  • At the end of the day, continuity is less important than the performance. But it is what will set your movie apart from being amateur.
  • If you “notice” an edit, it’s not good.
  • Multiple camera angles make switching between takes easier. Also having shots of the other person (and not being able to see the speakers mouth) allows you to use the best dialog without worry about syncing.
  • Just like in improv, reactions make the joke. Your edits should include the best reactions.
  • Cut in the middle of dialog when possible to maintain audio continuity for the audience. This also looks more professional and allows you to see reactions.
  • Shots without actors acting or speaking can be used to round out the movie (things like establishing shots)
  • If you sync all of your angles into a sequence you can quickly jump back and forth between the two angles.
  • One way to do editing is in the first pass “edit for radio”–just worry about getting the audio where you want. then you can adjust the video as needed.
  • When possible, the editor should be the one to log and capture video since they will need to be watching all footage anyway to do their editing.
  • When editing as an ensemble, you can create a master editing list that assigns scenes or chunks to each editor.

Directing

  • When shooting two camera, if the OTS or CU shots are shot at the same time, then its easier for the editor to do back and forth edits (as opposed to shooting one cu and one wide and switching back and forth btwn takes).
  • You can use lighting, sound, and camera placement to help tell your story.
  • Allow for time to improvise in scenes. The best moments of the film can come from completely improvised bits in the moment.
  • Having multiple cameras is easier on the actors, helps with continuity and shortens the shoot time, but is more footage for the editor, requires more people and potentially restricts the types of shots you can do.

Production

  • Being able to do every role helps you appreciate them more and realize what you can do to make their jobs easier.
  • The more filled out a continuity sheet, the more helpful it is to the editor.
  • To help the editor, create a document that lists which tape and scene numbers were used for a particular scene.
  • The setup is usually what takes the longest, not the takes. If the director can pre-plan as much as possible the crew can get there and set up. The talent can then come in once its setup (assuming they are rehearsed and have also already talked with the director).
  • It can be tough to balance wanting to be efficient and stay on schedule and also taking the time to have fun and play with different decisions and options
  • For scheduling, print each scene on a single strip. Highlight the different combinations of INT/EXT and DAY/NIGHT.
  • Group each location time together and piece together the scenes that can be shot together.
  • Organize all of the scenes into respective days taking into account location, time, characters, and costumes.
  • With an ordered scene list, list the needed crew people for each one (and call time if different).
  • The assistant director is there to make the directors job easier. They’re the ones that keep things moving, on schedule. They have to be more in command even if to the point of sounding like a jerk.
  • The AD yells quiet on set and then roll cameras. When the cameras are rolling and focused on slate, they each say speeding. The slate person then reads the slate information and drops the clapper. The camera people then get to their frame and say frame when they are there. The director then says action when ready and cut when done.
  • The clapper is incredibly important when using more than 1 camera. The visual helps with the editing process for logging and the clapper hitting is the first nonblurry frame and is what allows you to sync audio at the sound of the clap.
  • When slating, its better to actually clap the sticks instead of letting them fall. This will help in editing because the clap will be more succinct and the top won’t bounce.
  • Having a list of all of the beats of the movie is important. Then ultimately having a list of every scene plus a couple of sentences about the crux of the scene, major character changes or information, and any key lines
  • Masking tape on floor can help you set your marks (even for things like tripods).
  • Script supervisors are responsible for continuity of things like costume, actor movements, props, etc.
  • You can take digital pictures to track prop locations and wardrobe.
  • Slating at the beginning will help editing (both on camera recording and on the log).
  • Script supervisor can also track how each scene went (good takes, mistakes).

Lighting/Sound

  • When first setting up a scene, first try to control the environment (sound and lighting).
  • Light is like water–you can have direct hard light or when you bounce it off something, it will spread and also become softer.  Gels can change the ambience of the light.
  • Work to make your lighting and sound seem realistic (you almost don’t notice it).
  • Top and back light can make someone pop out more.
  • Use a blanket on the wall or floor to try to muffle any echo in a room.

Writing

  • To determine the plot, think of each storyline separately and decide on each of their resolutions. Then list all scenes and beats for each one and match up where they overlap.
  • For the story, write down all of the scenes on small cards and then rearrange them into the flow of the movie.

Camera

  • For each location (and really any new shots) the camera settings for light and sound should be checked.
  • To get focus, zoom in on your main focus point, get focus and then zoom to frame.
  • Main types of shots include wide/master, establishing, closeup, ecu, two shots, over the shoulder.
  • Remember the rule of two thirds when framing.

21 tips I picked up from watching a variety of performances this week:

Monday – Acting Class Graduation Show

1. Commitment is key. If you don’t believe it, the audience won’t believe it.
2. Always think about stage picture, always.
3. Acting is reacting–to your scene partner, environment, and circumstance.

Tuesday – Upper Level Improv Class Show

4. The ending of the show will leave the most lasting impression.
5. Never leave your scene partners hanging.
6. The “star” of an improv show isn’t the person with the most stage time, it’s the person with the most support moves.

Wednesday – Amateur Improv Show

7. Bigger / louder characters does not mean funnier.
8. Amateurs go for blue comedy by default.
9. Emotional reactions are entertainment.

Thursday – Professional Dance Show

10. It’s the job of the performers to tell the audience what they should be paying attention to.
11. When the audience can tell you are having fun on stage, they’ll have more fun.
12. Repetition (plus variation) and mirroring actions is fulfilling for the audience.

Friday – Professional Improv Show

13. It is better to edit too soon than too late.
14. Be specific–it’s funnier.
15. Commit fully and do it immediately.

Saturday – Amateur Television Script Read

16. Make a choice. It doesn’t matter what choice, just make one.
17. Know your audience and know what they know.
18. You have to sell it. Hilarious lines are ruined by poor performance. Poor lines are improved by commitment and confidence.

Sunday – Semi-Professional Play

19. A mistake is only a mistake on stage when it is called out as one.  Otherwise the audience thinks that it was supposed to happen.
20. Know the history of the character, even if it never is said or written.
21. Look for the deeper meaning in the words or actions.

7_habits The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey has become one of the best selling books in the realm of Personal Development.  With over 15 million copies sold, the seven habits (be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win/win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize; and sharpen the saw) have helped many people focus on what’s most important to them.  Though not directly pertaining to humor in the workplace, the book does help you understand how to create a sense of work/life balance.

Buy It Now

Stephen R. Covey gives us The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Well I give you 7 Things I Learned from 7 Habits (that aren’t just the 7 habits).  If you can, try to read this post in 7 minutes, then share it with 7 friends and drink a 7-up.

1. “To know and not to do is really not to know.”
Knowledge is useless until you act on it.  It’s not enough to know something, you have to turn that knowledge into action.

2. “We are responsible for our own lives.”
What a scary thought, huh?  We are the ones responsible for how our lives turn out, we determine what we do and how we act, so why not make it more fun and exciting?

3. “It is possible to be busy–very busy–without being very effective.”
Or as Peter Drucker said in The Effective Executive: “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”  We need to be effective.

4. “If both people aren’t winning, both are losing.”
In improv this is known as “Yes And,” but it applies in business as well.  When you work to make sure that both sides win in any arrangement, you not only have the short-term victory, but you’re also setting yourself up for success in the future.

5. “When you listen, you learn.”
The key to effective communication is not telling people everything that you know, but everything that they need to hear.  And the only way to know what they need is to listen.

6. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Mathematically this isn’t true, but in terms of productivity and effectiveness it certainly is.  We can accomplish more together than we ever could separately, after all H.E. Luccock quipped “No one can whistle a symphony.  It takes an orchestra to play it.”

7. “The greatest asset you have [is] you.”
At the end of day–actually during the entire day, and night too, all you have and can control is you.  Your ability to be effective rests on you.  Taking the time to improve your skills, maintain your health, keep your sanity, and “sharpen the saw” will help in all other aspects of work and life.  Luckily for us, humor can provide many of those benefits.

    For more, check out our other Recommended Reading.

    The single most important thing you can do to take care of your finances is to create a budget. Sure it’s an ugly word, and not a fun process, but if you don’t track where your money is going, and try to make a plan for future revenues and expenses, you aren’t going to achieve the kind of success you want.

    The Real Value of a Budget

    I’m not going to pretend that I sit down and plan my budget every month and stick to it to a T (or is it tee, or tea?), but the process of just making a budget of what you’ve done in the past 3 months is eye-opening.

    When I went through this process a few months ago, I discovered I was spending around $700 just for a place to live (rent, cable and other bills), $750 for transportation (car payment, insurance, and gas – close to $200 for the fuel alone), and $400 or so for food (a pretty even split between groceries and dining out).

    That’s nearly $2,000 I’m spending every month just to survive (shelter, food, and of course getting to a number of places for either P&G or comedy). All things considered, this isn’t really that bad – I have no children or wife to take care, I’m only paying rent, and my car payment could be worse, but when I went back and looked at my individual expenses, it certainly could have been lower.

    The advantage to completing a budget (even if it’s one based on past data, not future looking), is that it informs you of where that hard earned cash is going – and as the GI Joes told us, “Knowing is half the battle.” Once you know where your money is going, you can take steps to curtail spending in key areas to increase the overall amount of money you are saving.

    What to Do With the Money You Save

    Before I get into some steps to save money, I want to briefly talk about what you should be doing with the extra money you are saving.

    While “investing” may be a scary word, it is absolutely necessary in today’s world. Considering the state of social security in this country these days, you can’t rely on the government to provide you sufficient funds once you retire.

    You need to be proactive and plan for your own future, whether it’s having kids, going to college, or retiring. Plus investing puts your money to work and allows you to accrue income just for having money (sort of). I won’t go into details of how you can get into investing, as I am certainly not an expert. Instead, I’ll point you to http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com – the site that got me to really think about my finances.

    The site is geared towards a younger audience, but it certainly has relevant information for everyone (I suggest starting here). If you’re serious about increasing your wealth and your future security, go to that site now (well, after you finish reading this post).

    A Disclaimer About A List

    Ok, so you’ve got your resource for what do when you have disposable income, what can you do to actually get disposable income? Below is a list of 15 tips you can do to save money. Most of them are tips I use every day, others are things I’ve read but don’t necessarily do. A few disclaimers before we get started though:

    • This list is just a set of suggestions. You don’t have to do every single thing listed to see results. You have to define which things will work for you.
    • If you take the time to actually do a budget, this list can help troubleshoot key areas. If you find that you spend a lot of money dining out, then the restaurant or food tips will be of particular interest.
    • Like we’ve talked before, it’s best to start out small. Don’t expect to find happiness or success by doing all of things listed below, as most of them require some type of sacrifice that you may think detracts from your overall happiness in life. Identify these and manage them. The list isn’t meant to turn you into an anti-social hermit that does nothing, it’s just meant to get the gears in your own head moving to find other ways to save where you can.
    • Finally, the biggest way you can increase the amount of money you have is to increase the actual amount you receive. This can be done by getting a better job, getting a raise, adding a second (or third) job. The key is that if you do increase your income, don’t increase your expenses. It’s truly powerful when you can live below your means.

    15 Tips to Save Money

    Ok, with all of that out of the way, here are 15 ways you can work to save money:

    1. Learn to love technology. Take advantage of new technology to save time (which then frees you up for other things) and to better educate yourself. Things like reading blogs (made easier through blog aggregators like Bloglines), listening to podcasts, and connecting with other people can help you learn new ways to save money.
    2. Become a savvy consumer. Use the Internet to do your research before you make any large purchases, and learn to negotiate prices. You’ll be surprise how many places you can actually haggle for a better deal. Check out this eHow article for more tips.
    3. Seriously, eat at home. Dining out can seriously damage the pocket book if it is done too often. The added expense of food, beverages, leaving a tip, driving to the restaurant, etc etc all adds up. When you combine smart grocery shopping with some creativity in the kitchen, you can create a number of meals that net out to be less than $3. And you don’t even have to be a great cook to dine at home. Anyone can use a George Foreman grill, and it’s perfect for hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled cheese, chicken breast, and a huge host of other things. Head over to Cheap Eats if you want to find some other inexpensive dining options.
    4. Be a freezer. If you really wanted to maximize your savings by buying groceries, learn to love your freezer. A Sam’s membership plus a sizable freezer allows you to buy in bulk and really find savings. Things like bread can be frozen now and then put in the refrigerator to be consumed weeks later. The watch-out here is that your savings from bulk purchases has to outweigh the cost of the Sam’s membership and of a new freezer (if necessary)
    5. Love water. For the times that you do dine out, stick to ordering water. Non-alcoholic drinks easily push the $2 range, and alcohol is even more – not to mention drinking water is healthier for you. If you dine out 5 times a month, that’s a savings of $10 a month or $120 a year – just to drink water. And if you must have your fix of Diet Coke or Iced Tea, buy it at the store where it only costs you $.50 a can. Drink water at the restaurant and then reward yourself when you get home with a much cheaper alternative.
    6. Be DD. I don’t drink alcohol for personal reasons, but it also turns out to be quite the money saver. Going out sober for a night nets quite a nice ROI, and not just because you aren’t spending money on drinks. If you offer to be the Designated Driver for your buddies, you can easily get them to pay for gas (if you drive your car), get them to let you drive their car (no gas or miles on yours), and/or pay your cover at the clubs/bars. They get to have a night of responsible drunkenness, and you get to have a night of free fun. If you don’t think this will work because you don’t think you can go out and have fun without drinking, then saving money shouldn’t be your only concern.
    7. Be creative. Find new ways to have fun that don’t require much money. Going to the movies is nice, but it’s also at least a $10 ordeal (whereas if you wait till it comes to DVD and do a rental it’s much cheaper). Find new and creative ways to have fun like playing Frisbee golf. Or do your research online and find free events happening around your area. Cincyupdate.com has a whole list of events going on around Cincinnati, subscribe to their email and pay special attention to the free events on Fountain Square or down by the river.
    8. Find a hobby. Hobbies can help you fill free time and prevent from spending money out of boredom. The key here is to pick hobbies that don’t require much money (so golf would be a bad idea). Consider trying knitting, reading, writing (blogs are free) or improvising.
    9. Break the materialism. Stop tying your “happiness”/confidence/perception of fun to material things. People often go shopping or get their hair done when they think they need a boost in confidence, when all they are doing is adding an expense for something they can work to get for free. Similar to drinking, learn to work on your own personality and character so that you don’t require the crutch of material things to satisfy you.
    10. Kick the habit. Whether it’s smoking, gambling, or even being addicted to coffee, habits often cost money. The cost of cigarettes continues to rise, you’ll never beat the house when gambling, and that $4 Starbucks coffee is putting a drain on your budget. And while it’s certainly not easy to kick a habit, using some of the previous posts from this week, and getting professional help where applicable, can certainly help – you’ll end up with more money and a healthier lifestyle.
    11. Drive like a granny. When you average around 3,000 miles on your car every month, gas starts to add up. But even if you only drive 5 miles to work, improving you gas mileage will always make financial sense. There are plenty of ways to improve that MPG (removing unnecessary weight from the trunk, changing your air filter when appropriate, having properly inflated tires), but one of the biggest sources of better MPG might be your own driving style. Driving the speed limit and using cruise control can easily bump up your mileage 2-4 MPG. Every car is different, though the standard is 35mph and 55mph provide the best mileage, but do your own experiment to find the optimal speed for your car. The next time you fill up your tank, reset the trip odometer and drive like normal. When you have to fill up after that, divide the number of miles on your odometer by the number of gallons it took to fill your tank back up (that’s your MPG for that tank). Now reset your odometer and drive only the speed limit. Next time you fill up, do the same division and compare the two numbers. Repeat a few times to decrease variance, and play around with your speeds, and you’ll see the difference. In addition to saving money by filling up less, you’ll be doing a small part in saving the environment.
    12. Get rid of the crap. De-clutter your life to save time when cleaning and relieve unnecessary stress. Plus if you put your garbage on eBay, you might be able make some money for getting rid of your crap. How do you know what to get rid of? If you can’t foresee needing something within the next year, get rid of it. Sure there will be a few times that you throw out something only to need it a month later, but it’s worth it to get rid of the remaining 98% of crap you’ll never need. And remember, “when in doubt, throw it out.”
    13. Don’t be dumb. Stupidity can be a big expense for some people. Speeding leads to speeding tickets and increased insurance costs. Jumping from a 10-foot ledge leads to a trip to the hospital and the cost of a cast. Take some basic precautions and save yourself some cash (because, as of yet, stupidity insurance doesn’t exist yet).
    14. Live pet free. Dogs may be man’s best friend, but if you’re really strapped for cash, he’s also an added expense. There are a number of studies that talk about the positive effects pets have on their owners, so if you need that then consider this a last resort, but if your happiness isn’t tied to having a pet, then consider finding it a good home. Dog food, bones, leashes, and the overall time it takes to care for a pet can really add up. Note: please don’t do this with children, though they are also huge expenses.
    15. Drop the Cable. Not only does TV suck away hours from your life, sapping you of your productivity, but cable is pretty expensive. As broadband Internet connections become more and more mainstream, you can find nearly everything shown on TV online for free (or at least cheap). Sites like Joost and YouTube allow you to watch all types of video content, and stations like NBC are starting to allow you to stream their shows from their websites. You can find even more if you ignore that whole “law” thing, but I am by no means endorsing that.

    And there you have it – 15 tips for saving money. I realize this is quite the marathon post, but there’s a lot of content to cover. I certainly didn’t hit everything, so don’t be afraid to google specific topics that you can use some help in (which you have identified by filling out a budget, right?).

    Also, be sure to check out iwillteachyoutoberich and getrichslowly for more information dedicated to taking control of your finances.