Habits are what makes our lives function. We all have good and bad habits, and at this time of year, it’s time to take stock of some of the bad ones (not judge them, but notice them), and reflect on what we can do to make some improvements in the new year.
Here are 10 good habits that I have found helpful in making my financial life run more smoothly. And they’re the ones you can do without a lot of lift! We all have to start somewhere.
Automate your bill pay.
Why this works: You will save money by avoiding late fees and have extra peace of mind knowing that your bills will always be paid on time and in full. You have too much to remember on a normal basis, and fortunately, we no longer need to try to remember to pay bills.
How to set it up: Make a list of all your monthly bills. Then go down the list, one-by-one, and start to set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account to pay the bills on their corresponding due dates.
How long it takes: Roughly one to two hours max. (The longest part is trying to remember your passwords.)
Invest on autopilot.
Why this works: Your investing grows like crazy when you invest on autopilot. The process is similar to auto bill pay; you start to see results without having to give it much thought.
How to set it up: I’m a big fan of robo-advisors because they keep the fees low and allow you to invest on your own. I personally do all my investing through Betterment. You can set up what dates you want your withdrawals to come out and exactly how much you want to be invested in your IRA (individual retirement account). Nav.it can help you evaluate your options with this article on finding the right investment platform for you.
How long it takes: To create your account is super easy. Altogether, you’re probably looking at 30 minutes from start to finish. (Finish meaning scheduling your automatic withdrawals.) Check out Betterment using this link and get your first six months FREE.
Keep a $500 buffer in your account.
Why this works: If you are a person who values peace of mind and financial security, this habit will rock your world. I’ve always been afraid of having very little in my checking account. I know how quickly budget mishaps come up and used to be guilty of overdrafting from time to time.
Keeping a buffer of $500 in your checking account allows you to never stress again if your utility bills are a bit more than you expected, or your grocery bill was $10 over budget.
How to set it up: Super easy- just start to add an additional $50 here and there to your checking account and consistently training yourself to see your balance without the $500 in there. For example, when I see my checking account today, if I have $1,000 in there, I always recognize that my actual balance is $500.
How long it takes: It depends on how much extra income you can put towards this, but if you can swing $50 per paycheck, you could have your buffer in as little as five months.
Cut up your credit cards
Why this works: The best way to prevent yourself from furthering your credit card debt is to get rid of the source. Your credit card is NOT supposed to be used for security and emergencies. That’s likely what got you in debt in the first place. So cut those babies up! You are embarking on a new journey, and credit card debt doesn’t fit in anymore.
How to set it up: Walk over to the garbage and happily cut those cards up. Then be prepared for a bit of withdrawal over the next few days. It will happen. It’s totally normal, and you are certainly not alone.
How long it takes: Two minutes (and if you’ve got sharp enough scissors, even less time). It will be the most impactful two minutes of your life.
Reframe your mindset: How many hours does this cost?
Why this works: When you start to realize that you make $15/hour and a $30 dinner takes two hours of your life to pay for, you’ll start to make better financial decisions. Now think about a new car. Let’s say you want to spend $20,000 on a car and get a loan at 4 percent for 60 months. Your monthly payment is $368.33. At that same $15/hour- just the monthly car payment will cost your 24 hours of work to pay for. To pay for the entire car + interest accrued from borrowing, you are agreeing to 1,473 hours of work.
How to set it up: Start small. Every little purchase you make, run a quick calculation to see how much of your time that cost you. Nothing formal, just start becoming aware.
How long it takes: Once you train your brain to do this, you’ll (annoyingly) do it for almost everything. It takes about 30 days of doing this consistently to see results.
Online grocery shopping
Why this works: This hack is changing everything. If you find yourself going to the grocery store, aimlessly wandering with your grocery list and walking out with more than you set out to get, then you need to start implementing this. When you shop for groceries online, you can see your balance BEFORE you exchange cash. So if you are ballin’ on a budget, you won’t have to stress going over your budget because you’ll see your shopping cart update and make adjustments to stay within budget as needed.
How to set it up: Super easy. Just go to WalMart.com, and do your online grocery shopping. Then you’ll be given a window where you can pick up your groceries, they bring it directly to your car, and you can be on your merry way within 15 minutes. It’s a beautiful, beautiful world we live in. (Don’t want to leave the house? Instacart will deliver to your door. SO MUCH BEAUTY.)
How long it takes: To order: 10 minutes. To pick up your groceries: maybe 15 minutes if they are running behind. It’s super speedy and really easy.
Why this works: In today’s world, there is no reason to use cable anymore. We have services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube Red, and even Amazon streaming. TV stations even have their own apps that you can watch your favorite shows on. Cable is overpriced, not necessary, and there are much more budget-friendly options today than ever before. Plus, who has time to sit around and watch cable all day? (Save it for the hotel room you’ll inevitably stay in some time this year. Get your fill then.)
How to set it up: Look at your watching habits. What channels do you watch most? Then start to research which, if any, of the services you might need. Don’t forget to go directly to the network’s website. You can likely access your favorite shows for free there too.
How long it takes: Cancelling cable shouldn’t take more than a 30-minute phone call. Do it. Do it today! (Do it right now before you lose your nerve.)
Focus on one debt at a time
Why this works: If you have an extra $100 to put toward your debt, most people will immediately put a little toward every debt. But, hopefully, not after reading this. You will see more progress when you can put that entire $100 towards one debt. You start to get wins more quickly and it makes a huge difference in your strategy.
How to set it up: List all your debts out. Then start paying the minimums on everything and putting the extra $100 towards your smallest debt. This strategy, keys into psychology and gets you some much needed quick wins. (Check out our guide to debt snowball here.)
How long it takes: Organizing the debt information should take 10 minutes.
Budget like a boss
Why this works: Budgeting is planning for your money. If you want to be financially successful, then budgeting is non-negotiable. You absolutely must have a basic plan for how you will spend your dollars AND have a plan for how you will ensure you are successful. Maybe you credit money dates where you check in with yourself weekly, or you hire an money accountability coach. Just find a system that works for you and start creating and living on a budget immediately.
How to set it up: Write down your income. List out all your monthly expenses, their due dates, and minimum monthly payments. Then add up all your expenses, subtract expenses from income. You can also download the Nav.it app to see how you spend and start making some adjustments based on what you learn and what you know you want to do with your money. Let them do the heavy lifting.
If you have money left over after that, decide how you will handle it. (Will you put it towards your smallest debt? Or start building up an Oh Sh*t Fund?) If you don’t have money left over or are in the negative, start to make tough calls and cut some unnecessary expenses out of your life (is it the cable?!) to make your balanced budget.
How long it takes: The first time you budget will take around one hour at the longest. Then the weekly check-ins take around 15 minutes. (Trust me, it’ll make you feel good to know where your money is going.)
Save 10 percent of your income for personal development.
Why this works: The greatest investment is one in yourself. I try to save 10 percent of my income into a savings account for continuing education. If there is a conference I want to attend, it comes from this savings. If there is an online course I’m dying to take, it comes from this account. The worst thing is finding something you are truly interested in learning that can help you grow in your career and life, and not having the money to afford it. So, just like you save for retirement, you should also save for your own growth.
How to set it up: Set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking to your savings to make sure you are consistently saving 10 percent of your income.
How long it takes: Setting up the auto-withdrawal only takes a few minutes. Opening a savings account is super fast (I recommend the high interest savings account through Ally.com).
With these small, but important money habits, you will be living a better financial life in no time.