time is money
Money Management

3 Steps to Changing Your Financial Habits

Even though you know you could be doing something to save a nice bit of cash each week,  but for some reason or another you just don’t. Maybe you have a hard time getting your act together to pack a lunch each week or somehow you never find the time to look for a cheaper auto insurance plan. Don’t be embarrassed if this is true for you, as almost everyone I know has these little, seemingly easy things that somehow just don’t wind up happening. Want to conquer one of these items on your list? Then try my three step method for making a change in your habits.

Step #1: Figure out what is holding you back.

Pure laziness is not a detailed enough answer, as you can almost always find a good solution to a problem if you have enough information to work with. Take some time and give yourself a thorough question and answer session to identify what’s really holding you back. Note: Be friendly and kind to yourself when asking questions. Don’t go bad cop on yourself, because it’s not really productive.

For example, if you somehow never make the time to pack a lunch, think about all the reasons for not packing a lunch over the past week:

  • Ran out of bread.
  • Ran out of time.
  • Nothing seemed appealing.
  • Just plain forgot.

Or if you continually put off phone calls (my personal Achilles heel), your reasons might look like this:

  • Wanted to make sure I had everything at hand before I called.
  • Forgot until it was too late to make the call.
  • Wanted to wait until a time when I was sure I wouldn’t be disturbed.
  • Figured the lines would be way too busy on a Monday.
  • Figured Friday was too late in the week to call and Monday would be better.
  • My weird anxiety over making phone calls flared up.

Typing it out made me realize that some of my reasons for avoiding phones calls sound a bit ridiculous. I’m willing to share them though, because you probably have some rather silly reasons for not doing things too. I also want you to know that it’s not that big of a deal, as we all have our little quirks and weak spots. The thing is, unless you know the reasons you aren’t doing things, no matter how silly they seem, you won’t be able to make a workable plan to fix things.

Step #2: Make a plan to solve the problems that are keeping you from doing what you want to do.

Chances are good that once you understand and articulate the reasons you are not taking action, you’ll be able to come up with one or more workable solutions right away. For example, some solutions to the not packing a lunch problem could be:

  • Go grocery shopping every Sunday with a list.
  • Pack lunches in the evening as a part of your kitchen clean up duties.
  • Keep fresh and ready to go lunch choices at eye level in your fridge and pantry.
  • Start putting your keys in your lunchbox so that you won’t leave home without it.

For my problem with making phone calls, here are some solutions I’ve come up with and why they work for me.

  • Get everything ready the night before (old bills, checkbook, health insurance card – whatever information I’ll need to make the call as efficient as possible). Keep a pad of paper and pen along with my laptop on hand as I make the call. Breaking the task up like this makes it seem less intimidating. Having things ready to go first thing in the morning eliminates a reason for procrastinating. It also makes me feel more confident that I’ll come across as prepared and pulled together, which is important to me.
  • Make calls first thing in the morning on the day I’ve decided to do them. This might not be the schedule that efficiency experts would recommend, but as somebody who is resistant to making phones calls, I’ve found that I’ll let it slip my mind until after business hours if I don’t do them first thing in the morning.
  • Do my best to schedule calls for when I know I’ll be home alone. Again, do them first thing so that I don’t talk myself into putting it off because “the kids will be home soon” or some other reason. Give myself a pep talk that if the person on the other end of the phone thinks I’m a loser because I don’t have a butler to let the air conditioner repairman in, well, that’s their problem.
  • Plan to do something fun after I get the phone calls done to reward myself for biting the bullet and getting things done. I was resistant to this at first, because it seems like grown folks shouldn’t have to be rewarded for doing grown-up things. Then I decided that if it works, why not? I now usually plan on running fun, outside the house errands after I do my dreaded phone calls.

Step #3: Make the time to make this happen.

Until your new habits are well established, it’s going to take a conscious effort on your part to schedule the time you’ll need to make things happen. Even if it sounds silly to write “Saturday 4 pm: make a grocery list. Sunday 10 am: go to the grocery store” on your calendar, do it. In fact, it’s a good idea to write down a list of all of the things you need to do each day or week to accomplish your goals and cross them off as they are finished. This not only serves as a helpful reminder, it’s also a good way to measure your progress.

I’ve found that it helps to break tasks down into chunks. For example, I have a separate task for gathering documents for a phone call the night before and the actual phone call itself. Now, there isn’t a reason why I couldn’t just lump the two together into one task, but the truth is, most of us only have so much mental energy to go around and it’s psychologically easier to do a task if a lot of the prep work is already out of the way (and easier to do the prep work if you know you can take a break after!) Another example of putting this in action would be cutting up and bagging fruits, veggies and cheese for an entire week’s lunches so all you have to do is grab one of each and put it in your lunch bag each night.

Sometimes you can take advantage of proximity and momentum to get tasks done. That’s why packing your lunch when you’re already in the kitchen putting away dinner works well for most people. That’s also why I make a batch of phone calls at the same time instead of spreading them out during the week. It seems to work best when you lump like tasks with like tasks to take advantage of momentum.

You should also consider when your mental energy is greatest to decide when to do tasks that require a great deal of willpower and/or concentration. Since I hate making phone calls so much and it tires me out, I plan to do those first thing in the morning when I am at my peak. Night owls might be better off waiting until later in the afternoon. It’s also good to accept that doing things that feel difficult or unnatural to you will be exhausting so try to balance it with things that you can do on autopilot immediately following.

Don’t feel like you have to rely on sheer willpower alone to make positive changes. Instead, understand your own personal reasons why the change is difficult, make a plan that incorporates your own personality and lifestyle instead and give yourself the time you’ll need to turn these changes into habits.

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