4 Countercultural Financial Habits Worth Adopting

By Zach Buchenau

Last Updated: December 1, 2021

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Of all the things I’ve learned in the world of personal finance, one of the most surprising observations I’ve made is that following mainstream advice almost always leads to financial struggle.

To be clear, when I say mainstream, I’m not talking about the advice that your financial advisor gives you. Rather, I’m talking about the socially accepted norms that the majority of everyday people not only advocate but defend with an almost irrational passion.

On the contrary, the people that choose to adopt countercultural financial habits typically experience a higher level of financial freedom, more savings, and less financial stress.

So what are these countercultural financial habits?

Within this article, I’m going to reveal four countercultural financial habits that, if you’re willing to take the road less traveled, can significantly improve your financial situation.

1. Buy Less Expensive Cars Outright

I think we can all agree that when it comes to building wealth, the more of your income you’re able to invest, the greater your potential to build wealth.

Thus, if you want to improve your wealth-building potential, the two most important things you can do are: increase your income and lower your expenses.

With that in mind, one of the best ways to lower your monthly expenses is to get rid of your car payment. After all, car payments tend to be one of the larger line-items in the average person’s budget. In fact, according to Experian, the average monthly car payment in America is $554 for a new car and $391 for a used car.

For the average person, that’s a significant portion of their monthly cash flow.

Think of it this way, if you were to invest $554 every month for the next 30 years in a mutual fund that averages a 10% annual return, you’d be left with somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.1 million. That’s a lot of money.

Beyond that, cars rapidly depreciate. So financing a car is like paying extra for an investment guaranteed to lose value; not good.

What’s the point?

To put it simply, mainstream culture all but assumes that if you want to buy a car, you have to finance it. However, if you’re willing to take the countercultural approach and save up enough money to purchase a much-less-expensive used car outright, you’ll avoid a big hit to your wealth-building potential.

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2. Avoid Using Credit Cards

Of all the items on this list, I can pretty much guarantee that this one will get the most backlash. Why? Because credit card companies have done a fantastic job of convincing us that they are a necessary and essential part of life.

But, what if credit cards do more harm than good?

Before you storm out of the room in anger, keep an open mind and consider one simple question: if you could travel 10 years back in time and pay cash for all the purchases you’ve made on a credit card between then and now, would you be in a better financial situation?

Here’s the thing, if you never spend money on a credit card, you’ll never have to deal with credit card payments. And if you never have to deal with credit card payments, you’ll never have to deal with the high interest rates that accompany them.

Beyond that, when you don’t use credit cards, it keeps you from spending beyond your means. After all, if you only use cash or a debit card to make purchases, your spending limit is limited to the amount of money in your bank account–assuming you don’t overdraw your checking account.

While avoiding credit cards might fly in the face of mainstream financial culture, you’d be amazed at the positive impact it can have on your financial life.

I would know. Over the last 3 years, I haven’t used a credit card a single time. Before that, however, I used a credit card for every purchase I made. And despite the fact that I was diligent about paying off my balances before they accrued any interest, I amassed nearly $8,000 of credit card debt.


My credit card debt didn’t come from swiping my card at the cash register. Rather, I had opened a couple of credit cards in order to make large purchases that I couldn’t afford to buy outright. (Credit card debt is sneaky like that.)

Looking back, had I just saved up to pay cash for those purchases, I could have avoided quite a bit of financial pain.

To put a fine point on this, I know what it’s like to live with credit cards and without credit cards. And I can tell you from personal experience, life without credit cards is the much easier and less stressful option–despite what mainstream financial culture would have you believe.

3. Save Before You Spend

One of the most important countercultural financial habits you can adopt is the act of saving money before you spend any of it.

This is often referred to as “paying yourself first” and it is how wealthy people handle their money.

Here’s how it works: whenever you get paid–before you spend a dime on anything–move a set percentage of your paycheck into your savings account or investments. Then, live off of the remaining amount of money.

For instance, if you decide you want to save 20% of your income and you bring home $5,000 per month, then the first thing you should do when you get paid is move $1,000 into savings. Then, use the remaining $4,000 to pay for your living expenses and recreational spending.

I know it might seem a little backwards, but saving before you spend is the best way to ensure you reach your financial goals.

4. Live Like You’re Broke

As a society, between social media and widespread access to financing, it’s easier than ever to create the illusion of wealth.

Whether it’s that luxury car that you’re upside down on, the giant house you can barely afford, or the expensive clothes you bought with a credit card, living like you’re wealthy is the way of the world.

Ironically, however, it’s not the way of the wealthy.

In fact, if you want to be wealthy, one of the best things you can do is live like you’re broke.

In other words, rather than financing a luxury car, go buy a car for $5,000 that you can pay for in cash.

Rather than charging your credit card to buy designer clothes for your kids, shop for clothes at a secondhand store.

Instead of buying a house at the top of your budget, purchase something that leaves you with plenty of financial margin.

To put it simply, no matter how much money you make, keep your expenses as low as possible. Then, invest as much of your income as you possibly can.

While the rest of the world is creating the illusion of wealth, you’ll be building actual wealth.

And in the end, that’s a lot more fun.

Bottom Line

In most cases, if you want to improve your financial situation, all you need to do is assess what mainstream financial culture is telling you to do, and then do the opposite.

Whether that means avoiding credit card debt and car loans to maintain plenty of financial margin, or living like you’re broke in order to invest more money, if you want to achieve greatness in your financial life, you’re going to have to break the mold.

Hopefully, these four countercultural habits will help you do just that.

Zach Buchenau

About The Author:

Zach Buchenau is a self-proclaimed personal finance nerd. When he isn't writing about budgeting, getting out of debt, making extra money, and living a frugal life, you can find him building furniture, fly fishing, or developing websites. He is the co-founder of BeTheBudget, and Chipotle's most loyal customer.

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