We have officially completed the first quarter of the year! We’re calling this year, which is Year One of our family’s plan to reach location independence, the Year of Good Habits. Each month, I focus on improving or developing one new habit. Sometimes the habits are directly related to personal finance and sometimes they’re related to general self-improvement. At the end of each month, I have been continuing the last month’s habit (or trying to) and adding a new habit in. (But, just for totally transparency, I would not recommend starting so many new habits in one year for the average person. This is more an experiment for the blog. In real life, I try to add in one or two new habits a year).
In his book Happier, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar talks about creating rituals. He takes an idea from The Power of Full Engagement and recommends that “instead of focusing on self-discipline as a key to change,” we should instead develop rituals. Developing rituals involves “defining very precise behaviors and performing them at very specific times, motivated by deeply held values.” For example, brushing your teeth is a ritual and doesn’t take any special self-discipline to complete. Hygiene is a deeply held value for many of us, so brushing our teeth is something we do each day. Making an activity part of your daily life and making it value based, rather than discipline based, is an excellent way to create a lifelong habit.
July: Track What We Spend
In July, I manually tracked everything that we spent. I was inspired by my dad, who bought a ledger and started to write every purchase down. Tracking is a habit that has always brought us so many financial gains, and we track every expenditure electronically through YNAB and Personal Capital. But manually writing down everything we spend would make us even more aware of each expenditure.
Grade: F. Okay, full transparency. In the midst of my summer travel, I forgot about this habit. I don’t think I wrote down more than three or four expenditures. I started writing down my expenditures in a little green book I was using to track what I was eating, but when I stopped using the little green book, I forgot about tracking what we spend.
Take-aways? I think this would be a great habit for the new budgeter, like my dad, but for veteran budgeters like myself and Mr. ThreeYear, it would need to coincide with a no-spend month, or something equally big, to make it worth adding to our rituals.
August: No Eating Out
After a ridiculously spendy July and August in the area of restaurant eating, we decided to not eat out for at least one month, mid-August through mid-September. If we went to the lake or to run errands, I made sure to pack snacks. I made a point to plan meals for each day and I cooked every single night. Sometimes, cooking was simple–hot dogs for the kids and stir fry for the adults (okay, okay, most of the time the cooking was simple!), but everything was home-cooked.
Grade: A! I was so proud of myself here. We didn’t go out to eat at all during the month, with two exceptions. Mr. ThreeYear asked if he could take the boys on their Mexican food lunch while I was at my graduate class on Saturdays, so they did that twice. We’ve kept up the no eating out habit this month as well, except for two after-swim lesson drive-by meals for dinner. This is a habit I’m going to continue to cultivate this school year. We’re probably not going to be perfect at it, and might go out to eat once or twice a month, but all in all, it’s a great way to save money and not waste food at home.
September: Practicing Gratitude
In September, our family started a new school year and I went back to work. It was a huge transition, and life became busy and chaotic. It was easy to focus on all that needed to be done, how busy we were, or another slightly negative or unpleasant part of life. So I picked gratitude as the habit I most wanted to implement in September. The results were remarkable. Even though I didn’t write down what I was grateful for every single day, the times I did triggered a flood of happiness and got me thinking about what I was grateful for a lot. The simple act of sitting down and noticing the beautiful leaves on the trees changing, the Junior ThreeYears doing something cute, or Mr. ThreeYear’s kindness, made me happier and more contented for days.
Grade: A. I’m giving myself an A because practicing the habit, even just every other day, produced extremely beneficial results. I’m going to keep this habit up as well, because of all the habits I practice, this one produces gobs of contentment and well-being. The act of sitting down with my journal in the mornings and writing down a few quick notes is a beautiful start to the day. I haven’t tried writing before I go to bed, and I may try that, too.
And now, on to October!
October’s Habit: We are now a week and a half into October, and well into the routine of the school year. I drop the boys off at school each weekday morning, and drive fifteen minutes over to the neighboring school district to work. During this commute, I’ve been listening to podcasts, the first time I’ve consistently done so. What a fascinating experience!
Some of my favorites are The Afford Anything Podcast, The Minimalists Podcast, The Slow Home Podcast, and The Mad Fientist Podcast. For the rest of the month, I’m going to focus my listening on podcasts designed to help us save money. We’re in the last quarter of the year, and we’re at the tail end of reaching our big financial goals for the year. Now’s the time for us to buckle down and make as much progress as we can on paying off our apartment in Chile, paying off our Prius, and contributing to my 401K. So I’m going to listen exclusively to podcasts or episodes designed to help us spend less. I download them on my phone the week before so they’ll be ready to go for my drive each day. So if you have any tips on great money-saving podcasts, please let me know!!
I knew I needed to incorporate a habit that was fairly easy to remember and have success at this month, because there is so much going on. I think this is a simple, yet powerful, habit to adopt, that will work subconsciously throughout the days and weeks at helping us achieve our goals.
Hope your October is off to a great start. And make sure to let me know your favorite money-saving podcasts in the comments!!