Habits are defined as, “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up”. Similar words are practice, custom, pattern, routine, and convention.
So I have a confession. I have a habit. As habits go, it’s a pretty tame one. Every morning I go to the same Starbucks in my neighborhood and get the same iced mocha. Every morning, without fail. It gives me a sense of comfort and consistency, a routine in a day that swirls and sways, surprising me with events that are quite “unroutine”.
Habits, good or bad, are what we use to cope with the unroutine world around us. The thing is, habits are learned and therefore they can be unlearned if and when we recognize they’re no longer healthy for us.
Habits around money are many, and they seem to mostly fall into the unhealthy category. What would you guess is one of the top money habits people have? If you guessed spending more than we make, you’d be close. Actually, spending more than what we make is just the outcome of the habit I’d like to discuss.
The habit I’m talking about goes by many names, like “The Ostrich”, so named for when someone puts their head in the sand and hopes there’s enough money in their account to cover their bills. Another version, a bit bolder, is called “The Feeling“, as in “I have a feeling I can’t afford to buy that right now, but I’m going to anyway”.
Both of these habits are rooted in the same thing, an unhealthy habit of avoidance. If I avoid knowing how much money I have every month to spend, I can’t overspend. There is no lack. And, if I put my head in the sand, the problem ceases to even exist!
Money, dealing with it or the lack of it, is very scary to many people. It’s a lot easier to just avoid it like avoiding the dentist. My teeth are fine… the three teeth I have left.
I have found a way to break the habit of avoidance myself. This not-so-magical fix works no matter how much you make, because it turns out people with a lot of money have the same issues as people with less.
We don’t track where our money goes.
I’d like to drop in an unsolicited nod to Doug Peterson here, as he was the person who finally got through my thick head to point out this very simple fix.
The fix? Give Every Dollar A Job™ , every month. It’s that simple.
Note, I didn’t say it is easy, I said it is simple. Breaking habits and making new ones is actually very difficult. It takes time, energy, and commitment. But it’s always possible if it means enough to you.
Back to “Give Every Dollar a Job”. By proactively assigning every dollar you have with a job at the beginning of each month – be it paying the rent or mortgage, buying groceries, dining out, or paying for pedicures – my world of money suddenly became much less scary, much more manageable, and I felt more empowered. And, as I pay bills, go out for dinner, or buy something on Amazon, I log each transaction in You Need a Budget (YNAB), an online money tracker.
My habit of avoidance had led to a vague feeling of unease and a lack of control. Now that I have broken that habit and created and committed to a new one of proactively assigning and tracking every dollar, I feel like I own my money, not the other way around.
If you’d like to learn more, I’m at Starbucks every morning.