How to Create Sustainable Money Habits
Today’s goal: Make it easy to do the right thing with your money.
The January 2020 Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge* ends today. Congratulations to everyone who participated! A major focus of this month-long challenge is enshrining healthy money habits for the longterm. It’s not good enough to do good with your money one month, you’ve got to do good with your money all the months. That’s the only route to true improvement.
Frugality can become your default and you can train yourself to do the right thing with your money. It’s about establishing habits that are easy to follow and that remove paralysis by analysis.
I live my life according to habits and routines because without them, I’d be running around the house with baby socks flying out of the laundry hamper, braiding one kid’s hair while the other kid eats peanut butter off dirty plates in the dishwasher. JK, that happens anyway, but at least I have a routine for it.
*You can sign-up for the Uber Frugal Month Challenge at any time! Although we take the Challenge as a group every January and July, you can start it on your own whenever you’d like. Sign-up here.
Routines: For Schedules, For Money, For Life
Listen routine-haters, the routine routinely saves my bacon. If it’s not for you, I get it, but if you think it might possibly maybe be for you, hear me out. Routines create automatic pathways for how we live our lives; we can follow positive routines or negative routines. Science has proven this!
My favorite podcast, NPR’s Hidden Brain, recently aired this episode about building habits, during which I shouted YES and jabbed my finger in the direction of the stereo as psychology professor Wendy Wood explained:
When we repeat an action over and over again in a given context and then get a reward when you do that, you are learning very slowly and incrementally to associate that context with that behavior. Eventually, that behavior becomes automatic, to the point where we aren’t consciously thinking about the behavior anymore. Many of the things we do every day fall into this category. About 43 percent of everyday actions are done repeatedly almost every day in the same context. It’s very much like driving. We have this general sense that we’re doing things but it’s not driven by an active decision-making process.
Extrapolating Professor Wood’s findings: if we spend money every day in the same way, we’re probably doing it without even thinking about it. And if our spending is automatic and unconscious, all we need to do is reverse the habit and make not-spending our automatic, unconscious default.
Automate, reward yourself, reiterate. In other words, do the same stuff every day and do the stuff you want to be doing. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, make it harder for you to spend money. Introduce artificial roadblocks that prevent you from spending on autopilot (such as the 72-hour rule). If you want to spend more time reviewing your finances and goal-setting, make it part of your weekly/monthly routine. Make positive money actions (or inactions, as the case may be) unavoidable, easy to accomplish, and consistent.
Disrupt The Cycle
The Uber Frugal Month Challenge is intended to disrupt your spending habits. If you used to buy coffee every morning at the same coffee shop on your route to work, the UFM challenged you to stop that habit and replace it with a new, less expensive habit: brewing coffee at home every morning and taking it to work in a thermos.*
It’s easy to fall into habits of spending, but it’s possible to unwind those habits and thread new, less expensive routines into our lives.
Identify: Think through your typical day/week and identify every juncture at which you spend money.
Disrupt: For every money-spending event you identify, make a proactive plan for how you’ll eliminate or reduce that expense.
For each of these spending junctures, figure out if you can: 1) eliminate it entirely; or 2) utilize frugal substitution. The coffee situation above is an example of frugal substitution: you’re not eliminating the expense, but you’re reducing it by substituting homemade coffee for coffee shop coffee.
Here are a few other examples:
- Frugal substitution: bringing your lunch from home rather than buying it out
- Elimination: cancelling a gym membership you’re not using
- Frugal substitution: buying a dress to wear to a friend’s wedding at a thrift store instead of new
- Combination elimination and substitution: not drinking alcohol on certain days/weeks to reduce your expenditure in that area
I’ll also note that it’s usually not a good idea to change a ton of things at once. Choose one habit at a time and make that change stick. Research points to success being most likely when you change a small aspect of a habit. Using the above example of making coffee at home, you could start by not buying coffee on Wednesdays. After a few weeks of successfully not buying coffee on Wednesdays, stop buying coffee on Mondays too and so on until you’re never (or rarely) buying coffee.
*P.S. I am NOT saying that making your own coffee will save enough money to move the needle on your finances. Rather, I employ it here because it’s a convenient, easy-to-understand example. Furthermore, the whole concept of the Uber Frugal Month is to identify as many of these “coffee out” expenditures as possible and to save on all of them. The total of all of these expenses is likely to tally up to something in the neighborhood of significant. So, no, you’re not going to reach financial stability by making your coffee at home, but if you couple it with: cancelling cable, switching your cell phone to a cheap MVNO, cancelling subscription services, reducing lunches out at work, decreasing dinners at restaurants, reducing your clothes budget, etc etc… you’re going to reach an actionable dollar amount.
We all have spending triggers and, for the most part, we know what those triggers are. Mine are almost entirely food-related and so I try to make it easy to not spend money on food. The main way I achieve this? I don’t go into stores that sell food. Sounds ridiculous, but it totally works. Plus, Mr. Frugalwoods is an excellent grocery shopper (and the one who does all the cooking) so this is an all-around win for us.
Professor Wood, quoted in The New Yorker this time, backs me up on this:
The central force for eliminating bad habits… is ‘friction’: if we can make bad habits more inconvenient, then inertia can carry us in the direction of virtue, without ever requiring us to be strong.
…the path to breaking bad habits lies not in resolve but in restructuring our environment in ways that sustain good behaviors.
So if we can engineer an environment that doesn’t take us past our favorite coffee shop on our way to work, or an environment that doesn’t reinforce excessive consumption, we’ll be less likely to buy the coffee and spend the money. It’s no longer a question of resisting temptation–it’s a question of the temptation not existing in the first place.
None of this is rocket science. None of this is about sudden, radical transformation. It’s about making incremental changes that add up and bear fruit over time. It’s about crafting a life that shifts away from a consumer mentality and towards a worldview of simplicity and sustainability.
This idea of removing temptations is about setting yourself up for success. For example, since my family tries to eat healthfully, we don’t buy chips and cookies at the grocery store. If we had chips and cookies in our pantry, I WOULD EAT ALL OF THEM. But since they’re not there? I can’t eat them. I’ve set myself up for not eating chips and cookies by not having them in my house. Figure out what your spending triggers are and then engineer an environment that supports your goals.
Make Money Management Simple
For the most part, being good with your money means being simple with your money:
- Only buy stuff you need (live below your means)
- Avoid buying things you can’t afford/don’t need (don’t fall victim to lifestyle inflation)
- Save/invest your surplus money every month (plan for the longterm)
That’s pretty much it. But most of us get hung up on the whole ‘avoid buying things you can’t afford/don’t need’ part. It’s not something to feel guilty or embarrassed about, it’s just something to be aware of. Find ways to change your behavior–and your routines–to enable you to simplify how you manage your money.
You might need to start going to a different grocery store–one that doesn’t tempt you with their colorful displays (looking at you, Trader Joe’s… ), you might need to avoid going into your favorite shop where you always find the perfect dress/cardigan/pair of flats (if you don’t know it’s there, you can’t buy it), you might need to unsubscribe from sale and promotional emails that tempt you to shop online (if you can’t click it, you can’t buy it).
You can also play tricks on yourself, such as I game I like to call “Go Places Without Any Money.” When we lived in the city, Mr. FW and I used to leave our cash and credit cards at home when went on strolls around town. With no money on us, we couldn’t pop into a cafe for a latte or buy a cute dishtowel we saw in a shop window. It’s a basic, effective way of keeping yourself in line.
Mistakes Happen: The Goal Is Not Perfection, The Goal Is Consistency
Avoiding temptation and following your routine aren’t always possible. I recently spent no less than $50 at a CVS Pharmacy due to an ill-advised (but unavoidable) roaming of the aisles with my two sick children while waiting for their prescription (for said sickness) to be filled.
This was a deviation from my routine in many, many ways:
- I never shop with the kids (if I can help it)
- I never shop at CVS (if I can help it)
- I never go anywhere with sick kids (if I can help it)
- I never shop without a list (oh this was a list-less roam, let me tell you)
As fate had it, Mr. Frugalwoods was out of town and I had to go to CVS to get their prescription filled and they do not have a drive-through pharmacy pick-up and we had to wait for the prescription and it was 2 degrees outside. The perfect recipe to induce impulse buying.
And I was not buying necessities, people. I bought a balloon for my kids, I bought a bag of chocolate chip cookies (the really soft gourmet kind… for myself… ), I bought hand lotion, I bought fruit for the kids. I mean it was ridiculous. So I don’t write this from a place of perfection. I write this from a place of knowing what can work over time because…
I used to spend $50, $100, $150 at places like CVS and Target all the time. Allllllll the time. Like every week. Once I brought awareness to this excessive spending (by tracking my expenses every month), I realized I was roaming the aisles of these stores, buying unneeded stuff that seemed like a good idea in the moment. Since coming to this realization, I avoid going into these stores. Again, this tactic boils down to the removal of temptation: I can’t buy what I can’t see.
Frugality–and wise money management–aren’t about doing things right all the time. Rather, they’re about setting up guardrails and guidelines around your money that are easy for you to follow… most of the time. When you do break a rule you’ve set for yourself? Notice it, acknowledge it, readjust your habits/routines as needed, and move on. We’re not going for perfect here, we’re going for consistent and easy-to-follow.
Clarify and De-clutter
Clarify your priorities. Spend money on things related to those priorities and eliminate spending that’s counter to those priorities. De-clutter your home and your mind: pare down what you own and what you think you need. Pare down what matters so that you can identify and work towards what matters the most.
If everything is important, then nothing is important. Similarly, if your house is overrun with stuff, you might as well own nothing because you can’t find anything for all the mess.
My reasons for not buying stuff aren’t solely related to saving money. They’re also related to a desire to not own too much stuff, a desire to reduce my carbon footprint, a desire to eat healthy foods, a desire to model non-excessive consumption for my kids, and more.
Slice away at your spending and your possessions to let the best rise to the top. Do away with everything that’s an unnecessary distraction and reap the benefits of lowered spending, decreased stress, and more time, space, and peace.
- Know your priorities and goals.
- Set clear rules for your money (and follow them).
- Aim for consistency, not perfection.
- Avoid paralysis by analysis: don’t drive yourself crazy debating purchases. Instead, rely on the guidelines you’ve set for yourself until those guidelines become automatic and habitual.
- Make small, incremental changes you can stick to.
- Simplify, clarify, and de-clutter: your priorities, your mind, your physical surroundings. Let the important stuff rise to the top; eliminate everything else.
- Managing your money well is ultimately about creating habits that work. Habits that stick. Habits that are easy to follow and that make you proud of yourself.
How was the Uber Frugal Month Challenge for you? What are your good money habits and how do you follow them?
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Thanks so much for this post. I have been reading your blog for a few years now but my frugal habits are still not consistent! I love the idea for “creating friction”. My temptation is not typically “stuff” but rather experiences, most of which happen to be expensive! For example, I have a young daughter who loves musical theater, so it’s easy to justify buying expensive tickets when Broadway tours pass through town. Same goes for really amazing day camps for my daughter. Unfortunately, these things are coming at the expense of me saving for retirement. It’s just easy to justify giving my daughter these incredible experiences! Any ideas about creating friction around these decisions?
I’ve been thinking about going back to ushering at my local west coast repertory theater. I don’t know that big commercial theaters have this option but it’s worth thinking about for other things.
You could only buy them at/for Christmas and birthdays in lieu of other gifts, so that they’re special. Stop subscribing to the day camp emails?
Not a friction one, but you could think about frugal alternatives. Instead of an arty day camp, but some paints and paper and give all your attention to your daughter for an art session. Maybe get out in nature to sketch and take photos one day and paint from them another.
Or find some cheap fabrics/curtains at a thrift store, arrange them hanging up and get daughter and friends to do a play that parents can come to. Kids busy all morning rehearsing, parents turn up for an hour. You could even bake a cake together for interval refreshments!
Great ideas! And I’m sure she would love the mom-daughter time even more than being at camp. For a couple more years, at least!
I can relate! Here are my thoughts: Is it possible to have your retirement savings automatically deducted from your paycheck or automatically deposited? Mine is deducted from my paycheck every month, which means I never see it. I don’t even factor it in to my monthly budget, which helps me a LOT. I have a young daughter, too, and I know what you are saying about awesome experiences! In fact, I am starting the summer camp registration thing now. Ugh. Ouch, so financially painful. I usually pick two to three amazing, expensive summer camps for her, and then she does the cheaper ones for the rest of the weeks. It turns out she enjoys the cheaper ones almost as much – shew! Also, I have a line item in my budget for “family fun,” and I find discounted tickets for experiences whenever I can. We do something fun once a month, and then we rely on museum and rec center memberships (which we get for christmas presents from family) for our other family fun experiences.
Love all these ideas, especially picking 2-3 super special camps. And yes, I need to get back to having retirement deducted automatically! Put a pause on that to pay off debt, and have been procrastinating getting it going again.
Going to Broadway plays is fun!! Having grown up in San Francisco, I fondly remember attending CATS and The Lion King as a child. These were very special occasions for me, and if my family had gone to several plays every year, I actually might not have appreciated them as much! As I raised my own children, with frugality in mind, I tried to expose them to lots of different cultural events – and some of these are free! You don’t always have to spend money to expand your horizons. Our local library has a “Cultural Pass” which provides free admission into several local venues, such as the Chinese Garden and the Rock and Gems Museum.
That’s a really great point about scarcity of these experiences making them more special!! We just saw Cats on tour and my daughter was blown away. If she saw a performance of that caliber every month, it probably wouldn’t have made as much of an impression!
My husband used to have this problem with IMAX movies – he loves seeing movies on the big screen. When we got married, we a) had next-to-no money, and b) has limited time together that I didn’t want to spend at the movies.
This caused a LOT of friction between us at first. Eventually, we agreed that we could see up to one movie a month (either together or separately), we would only pay to see a movie in theaters a maximum of twice, and we would only pay for IMAX 4 times a year. While it was an adjustment at first (it was still WAY more movie going than I was used to, and less than he was used to), we find that we rarely use up our quotas unless it’s truly something special (Star Wars, Marvel, or Harry Potter, or the remakes of the Disney movies). By setting a limit, we choose more wisely and we enjoy ourselves more.
This is excellent advice and it mirrors that which I found in a book I recently read called “Atomic Habits.”
I realize that one of the biggest obstacles to better money management is the friction involved in whatever the situation is. If I can eliminate as much friction as possible, e.g., Automating savings so I never see the money, keeping a ready supply of easy-and-fast meal ingredients on hand like canned salmon for salmon patties, then I am much more likely to adopt a good habits, like saving cash and avoiding impulse grocery shopping.
wow, thank you so much it´s been an eye opener. Really helpful. thanks, again. I love your blog
I’ve tried to live simply and frugally all my adult life, but the clutter creeps up on you over the years, partly because of all the great thrift shop finds! I have been known to attend weddings in a thrift shop dress, but one time it got me in trouble. I went through the greeting line after the ceremony and when I got to the bride, she looked at me and said, “I had a dress just like that! Did you happen to buy it at the local thrift shop?” That’s when I wanted to drop through the floor…😩
But it showed you both had excellent taste!
I really understand your shame. But in fact there was no reason.
Your acting was good for the enviroment and you supported the lokal thriftstore with your money.
One possible answer to the bride could be like „ I got the dress from this thriftstore and I love it. „
I know that I wouldn‘t have answered like that in the real situation 😉
The challenge was great. I am learning a lot. About time. I am 73. We did not go out to eat in January, period! I used to be a saver. It is coming back again. We are learning to live on less again. We had plenty when we retired at 51, but we did not spend wisely for years. Now we are becoming very frugal minded through necessity. It is becoming easier day by day. We have no debt and a 2015 minivan paid for. Thank you for what you do. Dean.
This is inspiring! Good for you, Dean … I’m glad there’s hope, and we’re all starting at different points in life. Cheers!
This post is so timely. I just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better Than Before” which is all about habit formation. I need to listen to the Hidden Brain episode you linked. Here’s to better habits made easier.
I LOVE Gretchen Rubin! Her four tendencies work was helpful for me and some of my friends (but I think personality frameworks are so fun, even if they are not 100% accurate). I’m lucky that I easily form habits, but I have to be careful because sometimes they can become prison-like. Ack! I will have to find “Better than Before” at the library! Thanks for mentioning it!
Thank you for putting this challenge together. I am more aware of what I get up to and how/where I leak money. I am pleased to say I started to make some changes, included bringing lunch and eating “all the the things.” Reading your newsletter will keep me going. Best wishes.
I recently read atomic habits which touches on some of the above and is AMAZING
That book is on my “to read” list!
How long was the CVS receipt? I bet it was epic. I got one taller than me once!
Dude! That’s a receipt!!!
I have CVS receipts sent to my email. No trees endangered!
Excellent post. This is just what I needed today, as I’m struggling to change some behaviors.. Thank you.
CVS is SO dangerous! So is Target. Fortunately, I honed my CVS shopping skills long ago and only buy according to the discount of the day (whatever coupon or Extra Care Bucks they’ve emailed me) and they buy what I need: hair color, chocolate, toilet paper, etc.
Other than that, I can vouch for these examples. Implementing them helped me reduce my annual spending by $6,000!!! Yes, that much! All those savings went straight to my retirement accounts. And then I reduced my spending and increased my investments even more. Thank you, Mrs. Frugalwoods!
Love that chocolate is considered a necessity. Me too except I only buy what I plan to use for baking that week (unless there is a sale. And my local “Food Basics” often has KitKats on sale for $0.88… a treat for the ride home!
You know, I also considered hair color a necessity until I did the last round of the uber-frugal month challenge in July. I forced myself to NOT buy any because normally at the first sign of colors I don’t like reappearing, I run out and buy it. The discomfort I experienced got me to take a good hard look at my underlying feelings of fear & discontent around my appearance. Not everyone needs to experience this, but thought I’d share as it was eye opening!
This has really been a fantastic month for me. I wasn’t super duper uber frugal (according to probably most people’s definitions), but compared to ME, it was awesome. I learned so much and actually did make a lot of changes. Not all in one day, but spread throughout the month. I definitely want to keep on this path. Thank you so much.
That’s awesome!! Congrats!
Mrs. FW, I don’t think it’s fair that you post yummy food pictures without a recipe to go with it. Just don’t stop posting food pictures though, but do post the recipe. 🙂 I still make your rice and beans one, plus the quinoa – so simple and so yummy…
Hahah, which recipe would you like?
I thought a little bit about the notion of unbundling things. This has a bit less to do with money and for me more to do with calories, but I have a standard long distance drive each week and a habit of popping into a 7-Eleven type place for a 0 cal ice tea plus a cookie or this or that. I’ve thought a little bit about the notion of unbundling things. This has a bit less to do with money and for me more to do with calories, but I have a standard long distance drive each week and a habit of popping into a 7-Eleven type place for a 0 cal iced tea plus a cookie or this or that. Mentally I think about an ice tea for the road but in fact it’s always an ice tea plus a cookie. So these days I’m making myself an iced tea at home so it really is an ice tea for the road and that’s it.
Fyi Hannaford has a drive-through pharmacy (but it’s where I get my groceries anyways 🙈) Also, long story, but I was stuck waiting for family at CVS on Christmas day by myself with both kiddos and same thing happened to me.. except chocolate and diapers and popcorn lol..
All things that will help me! Baby steps.
Love the plum tree picture. It almost looks like a pith helmet as she’s battling through the unforgiving wilderness 🙂
What a great post! I bought a dress at a consignment store and four weddings later it’s still going strong. I love knowing that it works for every wedding and feel confident in it! That’s the kind of spending confidence I want to bring to the rest of my life. It’s an autopilot decision that I’ll wear that dress to any wedding. I’ve been trying to share frugality with my friends in what I hope isn’t an annoying way. Recently a friend asked me to shop for a new couch with her so I went along and looked she didn’t find anything and we stopped by one last store to look at stuff where she found a slip cover that can go on the couch she already has!
I really, really, really enjoyed this post! Thanks so much for writing it! Normally, I’m not a heavy spender, but for the past two weeks I have spent much, and this article really hit home. I justified the purchase of new hand towels and wash cloths for the upstairs bath because the old ones were thin and ragged, however, I have extra items tucked away in a closet. On and on this shopping went, ending up with a large plastic container to hold flowers which are used to decorate the front porch. When I came home I told my husband that I didn’t ever want to go shopping again!
I liked your message but I found one thing missing. You said automate, reward, reiterate. But unless I’m missing it you never gave a single example of what a reward is. I think one problem people have with exercising is there are exactly no immediate rewards. The immediate results are pain and fatigue. The rewards are days or weeks away. I’m a long time distance runner and I’m speaking from that perspective. To me the reward that mattered was being a runner, changing my identity.
For me, exercise may not feel good while I am doing it, but I enjoy the endorphin “high” afterwards and know that I am healthier! I have more energy, muscle tone, and can afford to take in more calories when I am on a good exercise program. You can still be a “runner” if you only run 2-3 miles per day. Perhaps you are running too far? The rewards of frugality may be different for each person. Sometimes when I resist the temptation to purchase something that I do not need, I revel in my willpower, and that alone makes me feel stronger! I am in the Mrs Frugalwoods camp of being a role model for my kids. Egregious excess in this country is counter to a happy life.
Decluttering is currently my favorite hobby, call it delayed nesting in our new Wyoming house. However, I find it extremely easy to get rid of physical things and extremely difficult to get rid of commitments. I’m careful to avoid signing on to obligations (I’m an upholder, not an obliger), but I do tend to say yes to lots of things that are fun. It’s just that there’s only so many hours in a day, even in early retirement, and it’s a challenge to juggle all the fun things because it feels wrong to say no to something I wanted to do.
The wandering around the store buying stuff I don’t need! That is so me! I recently went to Target to get my FREE prescription from the CVS pharmacy. I left with 200 bucks of stuff which I didn’t really need. I can’t even blame this on a child! My kiddo is grown and moved away lol. I love to go to Ross, or Famous Footwear or Target and look around. I know it is dangerous for me, I get out of control. So I have to limit my access to these places. Next time I get a RX at Target, I’m not leaving the pharmacy area until it’s done, and only taking the amount of money I need (if it’s not my free one).
One of the most overlooked reasons people overspend is the space they have. Humans have the nasty habit of trying to fill up the space they have. Many people try to get real estate that has too much space. Almost no one needs 3,000 square feet (close to the average) for people or personal reasons, so they have to find the need. That will be the greatest temptation you will face if you want to be within budget.
This is SO TRUE! I recently downsized from a large 2-bedroom apartment with vaulted ceilings and a fireplace. And a HUGE kitchen! It just seemed like every empty space needed to be filled. Art to go over the fireplace. Tall plants to “fill in” an empty corner. Another kitchen gadget? Why not, I have the room! The patio needed a rug and some chairs, never mind that I never went out there. And the bookcase where I kept my cookbooks had plenty of room still! I NEEDED MORE COOKBOOKS! I moved into a tiny one-bedroom apartment, and it’s just the right size. After getting rid of all the excess, it’s roomy and airy and comfortable. I have everything I need and nothing I don’t. (Except for too many cookbooks — I’m working on that!)
Do you mean you need more cookbooks, or to get rid of them?
I agree with this so much. It sounds so simple, right? I love that you use the CVS example, I think it’s important to know that nobody is perfect and slip-ups will happen. But when those are the exception, not the rule, you’re in a good place when it comes to habits.
It’s also important to know yourself. I’d give up a whole lot of other things before I’d even think of giving up my gym membership!
Great advice. Food is also my nemesis. Avoidance is really the best strategy. What has also helped is dropping the false need/want distinction. It was too easy to rationalise all food purchases as needs, a guilt-free indulgence. Now I look at all purchases as wants, but from the perspective of “do I want this more than financial independence?”
Cvs is so expensive. I personally think target is too and I can’t find enough variety at Trader Joe’s. It is different for every area though. I have had a lot of success with Amazon (though it can be dangerous and I am working on deciding if I really need something or not) and Marshall’s for gifts or clothes. My husband and I did all of our Christmas shopping at Marshall’s and found great gifts for kids around $8 each. Even when I impulse buy something there it is usually under $8. I have found target ends up with everything costing about $20 each which adds up quickly. I loved the Uber frugal month challenge and it really helped me cut down on my personal shopping, eat from my pantry/freezer, and someone in the group told me about hoopla for free audiobook rentals so I cut out $30/month of audible fees.
I love this post and have sent a link to several friends and my kids!! Thank you! Now in my 50’s, when I was in my 20’s and building my “life,” I thought that I was really cool, buying subscriptions to magazines – Sunset, Traditional Home, Architectural Digest. I hardly had time to look at them, but over time, I realized that these are mainly marketing tools. Years ago, I stopped renewing and have never looked back. Take that, you sneaky publishers!
On another note, I really like your suggestion about dropping one latte per week, etc. I do not buy coffee out, but a friend of mine has her “daily treat,” to the tune of $80 per month, and then she complains about having “no money” when we have a girls’ weekend, so the rest of us pitch in extra money to cover for her!!
If I ever find myself randomly wandering a store for some reason, I give myself permission to pick up anything I want — but I have to ride it all the way around the store before I can check out. After I’ve had time to load up my cart and cover the entire store, then I look at my cart and ask, “Do I need this?” Most of the time, I put all of it back. Sometimes, I keep an item or two. It’s harder to do with kids, for sure, but when doing this while alone, it’s saved me from buying a bunch of stuff I didn’t need. The goal is to put some cool down time between snatching the item from the shelf to actually putting it on the check out counter. I got this idea from someone else who suffered from the occasional impulse buying until she started doing this.
One habit I used to have was buying a (non-alcoholic) drink of some sort on every car trip I made. Why did I do that? I finally made myself get the habit of taking a bottle of water or tea or something from home by refusing to stop once my trip was started, so I went thirsty a few times. Now it’s second nature to grab a bottle and fill it up before leaving.
Another suggestion for a book about habits–“Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick”, by Wendy Wood.
“Wendy Wood draws on three decades of original research to explain the fascinating science of how we form habits, and offers the key to unlocking our habitual mind in order to make the changes we seek. A potent mix of neuroscience, case studies, and experiments conducted in her lab, Good Habits, Bad Habits is a comprehensive, accessible, and above all deeply practical book that will change the way you think about almost every aspect of your life. By explaining how our brains are wired to respond to rewards, receive cues from our surroundings, and shut down when faced with too much friction, Wood skillfully dissects habit formation, demonstrating how we can take advantage of this knowledge to form better habits. Her clear and incisive work shows why willpower alone is woefully inadequate when we’re working toward building the life we truly want, and offers real hope for those who want to make positive change.”
I create a habit of paying my credit cards on a monthly basis. It starts when I get an email notification from my electric company that the bill is in and their is a payment due. That’s a signal for me to check on my credit card accounts and see what the balances are. After that, that’s when I take action and pay them all off at the same time. I mean I could autopay but I like looking my balances and see if their any mistakes and what I spend on for that month. It’s a good money habit for me to have.
Thank you so much for writing this! I really liked your number 5 summary which was to “make small, incremental changes you can stick to.” That is so true and I know in the past I’ve tried drastic changes all at once not just financially, and in a few months I was back to my old ways. Anytime that I’ve been able to make changes, it started with something small that just snowballed once it got going. Eventually, it just became second nature that I wasn’t missing what I changed anymore.
Great stuff guys!
I enjoy #3 in particular, consistency not perfection. Too often I see couples obsessing over (sometimes fighting over) particular charges in a given month. Or even worse, blaming each other for blowing the budget in a certain category. Every month has its challenges, some are seasonal (plowing) while some are less predictable (new water heater). But if you are trending your data over the long term, and use rolling averages, your spending can be better analyzed by reducing the impact of these anomalies. That way that one visit to Starbucks (or CVS) or whatever may take on a different meaning.
Habits are a long game!