We all have habits when it comes to handling our money. But are they good money habits? In other words, are your financial habits moving you closer to your ultimate financial goals? If not, it’s probably time for you to change them. And today is the best day to start!
A while back, my wife and I decided to be more intentional with our money, because we didn’t want to muddle through life, living paycheck-to-paycheck. But we knew if we continued to handle our money according to our natural tendencies, that’s exactly what would happen.
It was a harsh reality to face, because we always thought we were good with money. But there is a big difference between “thinking” you’re good with money, and “being” good with money.
We knew that our financial situation would only ever be as good as our financial habits, so we needed to form some new ones; some better ones. And we needed to form them A.S.A.P.
Since the day we started forming better money habits, a crazy thing has happened — our finances have improved significantly! Weird, right?
But forming our new habits was tough at times. In many areas of life, we had to completely change our mindset, and behavior. Though, once we started seeing the good results, we never looked back. And we never will.
So, what are some good money habits that you can implement in your own personal finances?
Here’s what we recommend.
Get Out Of Debt, and Stay That Way
Have you ever calculated your net worth? It’s a pretty simple equation, that goes like this:
Assets – Liabilities = Net Worth
Assets are things like your 401k, cash in the bank, and the equity you have in your house. Even the equity you have in your car — if you have any — is an asset. But liabilities are things like credit card debt and the remaining balance on any loans in your name, (i.e. student loans and mortgage).
So, if you add up the value of your assets, and then subtract your total amount of outstanding debt, what do you get? Is it a negative number? If it’s positive, is it lower than you hoped it would be.
Now, imagine you didn’t have to do any subtraction to calculate your net worth. In other words, you didn’t have any debt, of any kind. The calculation would look more like this:
Assets + Assets + Assets = Net Worth
I’m not a financial genius, but I’m pretty sure addition is the key to wealth, not subtraction.
In fact, if I were a professor, I would put that question on my final exam.
What is the key to wealth?
If you chose addition, you pass. Maybe that’s why I’m not a professor.
Get out of debt, and make it a habit to stay out of debt. Trust me, addition is a lot more fun than subtraction when it comes to money.
Live On Less Than You Make
Living within your means is a pretty straight-forward concept: if you want to have money, just don’t spend it all. So why is this simple concept often so hard to carry out?
The answer is just as simple; impatience and envy.
I’ll admit, at times, it’s hard not to covet all the fancy cars, big homes, and expensive clothes that other people own. And, when you live in an apartment, driving a 10 year old car, and go to work in a $25 pair of slacks that you bought on clearance, it gets even harder.
But paying $500 in car payments every month is worse. Owing money to credit card companies that are charging you 20% interest, is worse. Drowning in mortgage debt, because you were impatient, and bought a house much bigger than necessary, is worse.
If you make patience and contentment your focus, and avoid the temptation to live beyond your means, your finances will always be extremely healthy.
Don’t spend your life trying to keep up with the Jones’. They are in debt up to their eyeballs, and you don’t want that.
Living on less than you make is a badge of honor and humility. Wear it proudly by making it a habit.
Side note: when I say contentment, I am talking about being grateful for the life you are able to live, while spending less than you make. That does not mean you should stop trying to build a better life, career, and income for you and your family. Contentment and laziness are not synonymous. Be grateful in your current circumstances, but continually strive to make them better.
Don’t Fall For Sales
Buying something that’s on sale, does not save you money. It just means that you bought something at a discounted price.
This idea that you are saving money by spending money is what I refer to as “falling for sale trickery,” and most of us are guilty of it. The worst part, is that it usually manifests in the form of frugality. Let me explain.
You have fallen for sale trickery if:
- You have ever purchased something you didn’t need, just because it was on sale.
- You have ever opted to spend more money on an excess of groceries at a wholesale store, than you would have buying the right amount of groceries at a retail store, just because the per-unit price was better.
- If you have ever said something along the lines of, “I saved $30 on a great new pair of shoes today.”
I am all for living frugally, but if you want to improve your finances, you can’t keep thinking you are saving money when you are actually spending it. Using coupons to make purchases, and finding good discounts, to help you stay within your budget is a beautiful thing. Just be sure when you purchase something on sale, it is for the right reason; not because of the sale itself.
Otherwise, you are just spending money frivolously; which is a very bad habit.
Mind Your Bank Account
The success of any financial habit can be measured by one thing — money. So, if you don’t know exactly how much of it you have, everything becomes cloudy.
How much money can you spend? How long will it take you to pay down your debt? How much money can you put into savings this month?
Without a number, these questions have no answer.
Money is not a ‘ballpark it’ kind of game. It is an exact game of dollars and sense. If you don’t know the exact amount of money you have to work with at any one time, you are making the path to your financial goals much more difficult than it has to be.
Money is too hard to earn for you to neglect it once it’s in your possession. Tend to it consistently, and know your numbers. You will thank yourself later for getting in the habit of minding your bank account.
Get A Better Savings Account
You know what’s an insult? A bank account that earns .01% interest annually that someone had the audacity to label as “high-yield.”
Not to mention the fact that for the last few years the U.S. inflation rate has hovered around 2%. Therefore, any money that you have sitting in a bank account that earns less than that, is actually shrinking.
At that rate, if you have $10,000 sitting in a savings account that only earns .01% interest, the value of your money will decrease by almost $200 over the next 12 months.
If you’re putting money into savings each month — and I really hope you are — you should be putting it in a money market account, or a savings account that earns you at least the rate of inflation. There are plenty of options out there, you just have to be aware of them.
Below, are a few links to offers that will provide better returns than a traditional savings account. I will try to keep the list updated as often as possible.
It is time to get in the habit of putting your money into accounts that make it grow, even if it’s just a little. Remember, when it comes to finance, we like addition, not subtraction. So your traditional savings account, just ain’t going to cut it.
Invest For Retirement
Investing in retirement, means you are putting your money to work, so that one day you won’t have to.
Let me put it this way, if you built up $5 million for retirement, and your annual rate of return was 8%, you would be making $400,000(pre-tax) every year on the interest of your investments alone. That’s some pretty sweet cash!
But, investing can be one of the most intimidating aspects of personal finance. So, if you aren’t in the habit, and maybe even a little nervous, here are a couple basic tips to get started.
- Invest in your employer-offered retirement plan. This is the easiest way to invest, because the money is automatically pulled out of your paycheck. You should definitely take advantage of this option if your employer offers a match on any of the money you put in there.
- Invest in a Roth IRA. No matter if your employer offers a Roth IRA or not, you need to be investing in one. The reason for a Roth IRA, is that your money will grow, tax-free. That way, you won’t owe the government any money when you reach retirement age, and decide to start taking this money out… which is great!
So, if you aren’t currently investing any of your money for retirement, it is time to get in the habit.
Run From ‘Affordable Payments’
This one might fit within the ‘staying out of debt’ habit, but I think it is important enough to call out specifically. If you hear someone say the words ‘affordable payments,’ or something similar, like, ‘low monthly payments,’ run the other way.
This is the sneakiest sales tactic to get you into debt, and now that you are aware of it, you will see it everywhere. From car leases, to big homes, to things as small as a new pair of shoes, you are sneakily being sold on debt, disguised as affordable payments.
For something to truly be affordable, it means you must be able to pay for it in full. If you can’t, then don’t buy it. Period.
Start A Gift And Party Fund
Wouldn’t it be awesome if, every year, you had enough money saved up to cover birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, holiday parties, and any other celebration expenses that came your way? Well, this is exactly why you need to get in the habit of putting money into a Gift and Party Fund.
Katie and I originally called this our Christmas Fund, but along the way, we realized something — birthdays happen every year too. And guess what, there will inevitably be a couple other parties and celebrations throughout the year, and we should be saving for those as well.
Every month, you should be stuffing a little money away for these types of events. No longer will you celebrate Christmas in December, but pay for it in January. No longer will you be financially overwhelmed by all the birthday gifts you need to buy. No longer will you sweat at the thought of putting $20 into a pool for a co-worker’s retirement party. You have been preparing for them every month, and you can just pull the money from your Gift and Party Fund.
Save Up An Emergency Fund
Do you know what is going to happen at some point in you life? A surprise emergency expense. And when that moment comes, the last thing you’ll want to be worry about, is how to pay for it.
If you want to improve your financial situation, and set yourself up for success, you need an emergency fund big enough to pay at least 3 months of expenses; preferably 6. No exceptions.
This is the real world, and it is full of things like job loss, medical expenses, and family emergencies. And in most cases, there is nothing you can do to prevent them. But you should prepare for them financially.
Don’t be the person saying, “I never thought it would happen to me.”
Instead, be the person saying, “Thank goodness I was prepared.”
It is ok for an emergency to surprise you emotionally, but there is no reason it should surprise you financially. Go set up another money market account, and start building an emergency fund.
Say No To Yourself
Nobody can sell you something as easily as you can sell it to yourself. You know your wants, your dreams, and your pain points. And you know exactly how to twist them into a convincing argument for why you should say yes.
But, one of the best financial habits you can adopt, is saying ‘no’ to yourself.
“No, I will not take out a loan to buy this car. “
“No, I will not use a credit card to make this purchase.”
“No, I am not going to buy this pair of shoes today.”
But saying no to yourself is one of the hardest habits to develop. So to make it easier, we recommend you start with these 3 guidelines:
- If it involves taking on debt, you say no every time. Every… Time…
- If you want to purchase something online, put it in the shopping cart, and wait one week to buy it. Chances are, you will find something better, or lose interest entirely.
- If you want to purchase something in-store, put it on hold for 24 hours and leave. If you force yourself to take a full day to assess the purchase with a level head, you are much more likely to say no. Plus, having to drive all the way back to the store makes saying yes much more inconvenient than saying no.
If you implement these 3 guidelines, your inner salesperson will lose power. And once you’ve removed that power, you will start to see amazing things happen with your money.
Set Financial Goals
If you don’t set financial goals, then what exactly are you working toward? Additionally, how do you plan on tracking your progress?
Getting in the habit of setting financial goals is one of the most important things you can do in personal finance. And it is one of the key money habits of the wealthy.
But remember, money is not a ‘ballpark it’ kind of game. Setting a goal like, “I want to get rich,” is not a good goal. I am all for you becoming wealthy, but there is no way to measure your success and progress with a goal like that.
Instead, if you set a goal of saving $10 million for retirement before you turn 60, you can work backwards to determine exactly how much money you need to invest every month, and the rate of return you need to consistently achieve. Then, you can track your progress along the way, and make adjustments to ensure you get there.
Seth Godin put it beautifully, when he said, “…the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact — those people have goals.”
If you want to lead, grow, and make an impact in your personal finances, get in the habit of setting goals.
Put Saving Before Spending
As humans, we have a natural tendency to consume what’s available to us. Whether we have a lot of money, or a little, our spending will rise and shrink to meet our supply.
This is why it is important to get in the habit of putting money into savings, before you spend any of it. It might seem backwards, but by restricting your supply of spending money, you are protecting your financial future from the beast of over consumption.
So, if your natural human tendency is to live off of what’s available to you, you might as well make it work to your advantage. Restrict your supply, and live off of what’s left.
Get in the good money habit of saving before you spend.
Plan Your Meals
I am convinced that spending money at restaurants is the sneakiest — and easiest — way to blow through money. Therefore, one of the best money habits you can adopt, is planning and cooking your meals, instead of dining out.
The first month Katie and I started doing this, we decreased the amount of money we were spending on food by over $500. And, it wasn’t like we were indulging in fancy dinners and expensive bottles of wine. We were just averaging a combined $35 per day on lunch and dinner. Which over the course of a month, adds up to $1,050.
Now, we make dinners that are big enough to provide leftovers for lunch the next day, and we plan them out to fit within our budget. It may take a little more time and effort than stopping by Chipotle on our way home from work, but it is well worth the difference of $6,000 every year.
To put this into perspective, an all-inclusive, all-you-can-eat, week long trip to the Bahamas will run you about $6,000. Try not to think about that the next time you are standing in line at Noodles & Company.
Find Extra Ways to Make Money
It seems like everywhere you turn these days, people are talking about their side-hustle, and I absolutely love it!
That kind of, entrepreneurial “I want to get out there and earn more money” attitude, is what pops me out of bed in the morning, and I’m not ashamed to say it.
For you, this might mean starting a business, or getting a second job. Or maybe, it just means finding new ways to make extra money at your current job. Whichever route you take to make a little extra money, it will make a big difference in your finances.
So, get out there and work on your side hustle! It is one of the best money habits you can adopt.
I can’t create a list of good financial habits without bringing up budgeting at least once. This is BeTheBudget after all. So here I go… if you aren’t in the habit of budgeting, it is time to start.
A detailed budget is critical to every good financial habit, because it is the control center for all your financial decisions. It is your plan, your progress tracker, and your success-meter. Without it, you are operating in the financial dark.
If you aren’t on a budget, go check out our post: The 10 Steps Of Budgeting. The 10 Steps Of Budgeting.
It will help you get started, and set you up for massive success.
With a good budget, I am confident that you can achieve every one of your financial goals. So what are you waiting for? Get in the habit of budgeting.
The success of your financial life, really just comes down to one thing: your money habits. Are they good or bad? Are they setting you up for success, or taking you down a bad financial road?
No matter what, there is always room for improvement.
And the good news is, you aren’t stuck with your current financial situation. You have the choice and the power to change your money habits forever.
All you have to do, is decide.