The Importance of Incrementalism

I commute for more than two hours every day and I’ve found that listening to podcasts makes that time more enjoyable. As you can imagine I get through a lot of content, mainly on the subjects on financial independence and health and wellbeing, see here for a rundown of my favourite podcasts. Recently, I’ve heard a few different podcasts talk about incrementalism or marginal gains – the theory that lots of small changes that build on each other add up to bigger results in comparison to a few large changes.

The Freakonomics Radio podcast in their episode “In Praise of Incrementalism” cited a range of situations where an incrementalist approach resulted in significant changes for individuals, for culture and for society, for example in the Italian Renaissance, LGBT rights in the US and saving for retirement.

The Choose FI podcast in episode 49 “The Aggregation of Marginal Gains” interviewed Alan Donegan and The Escape Artist who also had a blog post with this title. The Escape Artist talks a lot about the British cycling team coach Dave Brailsford and his technique of making tiny improvements to every aspect of the cyclists’ lives resulting in great achievements at the Olympics and the Tour de France. No one tiny improvement was the deciding factor in the success of the team but the sum of them all was more than the parts.

The Escape Artist shows how relevant this is to achieving FI. Giving up buying coffee will not get you to FI but it’s one of a hundred or  more tiny improvements that you could make that together snow ball exponentially through the beauty of compounding and that will get you there.


I wanted to reflect on what improvements I have made so far, bearing in mind that I only discovered the possibility of FI last September, and what other tactics I could try next.

Tiny Improvements Made

  • Started using the library more to avoid buying Kindle books
  • Opened a Vanguard account (ISA)
  • Set up a separate savings account for emergencies
  • Paid off credit card debt
  • Set up additional overpayments on my personal mortgage
  • Bought my first rental property
  • Swapped to a cheaper supermarket for most grocery shopping
  • Grown radish, watercress, coriander and basil to use in cooking (and they are all still alive!)

Planned Tiny Improvements

  • Open a pension account (SIPP)
  • Pay off car loan
  • Find an additional income source
  • Reduce grocery bill to less than £200 per month
  • Increase contributions to ISA and SIPP at least annually
  • Build a full vegetable plot in the garden

What tiny improvement could you make to take one more step towards FI? Is there anything I’ve forgotten that I could be doing?

4 thoughts on “The Importance of Incrementalism

  1. I too am a believer of small marginal gains being made, leading to bigger overall gains.

    I don’t think I’ve radically changed my life too much these past few years, just a few small things, so I don’t feel like I’ve made any ‘sacrifices’ – this makes it easier to stick to, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on any life enjoyment.

    Good luck with continuing to make your tiny improvements – they will definitely make a difference when all added together.

    I wish I had green fingers though so I could grow my own veg!


    1. I agree, so far nothing feels like a sacrifice 🙂

      I’m not convinced I have green fingers, last week I thought I was eating home grown water cress leaves but it turned out to be the leaves of a radish!

      Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I got hung up on the first sentence. You commute over two hours every day? There is a huge potential incremental improvement lurking right there! That has to be expensive,
    not counting the precious loss of all that time.


    1. Hahaha! It’s not as bad as it sounds! It’s only one hour each way and I quite enjoy it as it gives me time to listen to podcasts and audio books. Plus I love my job and I love where I live so I don’t want to give up either! In terms of expense, I drive in but have a reasonably economical car so it costs me between £150-200 in fuel each month. I knew that when I moved so I’ve made my peace with it. Thanks for the comment!


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