by Jillian Beirne Davi
Six years ago, I was broke. I was deeply in debt (to the tune of $30,000) and creditors called me nonstop. I felt powerless, hopeless and totally alone. It was one of the darkest times in my life. The worst part was: I thought I was making good money. I was just clueless about how to manage it.
Eventually I decided to take my power back and get into action. (Looking back now, I know that taking action is the best way to cure anxiety. When you’re taking action towards your goal, you feel powerful! When you’re hiding under the covers, anxiety will crawl into bed with you.)
Eventually, every debt was repaid and I went from being an impulsive spender to a devoted saver in about eighteen months – without bankruptcy, credit consolidation, or counseling.
And I've never looked back.
I shared my story with a friend who was struggling with similar issues. Curious, she asked me how I did it.
The truth is, I never really thought about HOW I did it. Without really looking closely, I just figured I got sick of being broke one day and got into action. But when I retraced my steps I found that my success ultimately boiled down to a handful of daily habits that turned my finances around. And anyone can repeat them. The hardest part is remembering to do them consistently.
So here are the five habits I adopted that got me on the road of financial recovery, for good!
- I commit to using all cash every day for a year. Me and the plastic? We had to break up for awhile. I decided that debt equaled slavery and my first order of business was to cut the cards and use all cash instead. I closed many of my store accounts and held on to my oldest card. I kept that account open but did not charge any new purchases on the card. (Note: I used my debit card as a substitute for cash when a card was needed.) At first, I was scared to go all-cash and it felt like my very survival was at stake. But eventually I learned how to live within my paychecks. It got easier over time especially since I also adopted the next habit...
- I checked my balances online every single day. For a long time, I never shared this with anyone because I thought it seemed obsessive. But for some kooky reason, this habit worked! Checking my statements every morning kept me honest about where my money was going and made it less likely to spend impulsively throughout the day. I had a real dollar amount rolling around in my head, not some fuzzy estimate that made it difficult to make good decisions.
- I kept a crispy $100 bill in my wallet as a symbol of my financial future. Okay, this one probably sounds a little nuts. But it worked like gangbusters. See, when I was paying down debt, oftentimes I felt poor. To feel better, I kept this bill as a reminder that in my financial future, my wallet would always be full. Anytime I made a purchase I was reminded of my goal. It helped to keep my motivation high when funds were low. (And, nope! I didn't spend it! I held on to that same bill for almost three years.)
- I put 1% (yes, just 1%) of each paycheck away into a savings account automatically. In the beginning, my savings account was teeny tiny. But it wasn't about the dollar amount at first. It was about getting into the habit of saving regularly. As I began paying down debt and closing accounts, I would take money that was being used to pay down debt and instead put it towards my savings. Eventually the power of momentum took over and I started to save more aggressively over time. Once I completely paid down my debt, I started putting all the money that was going towards credit card payments into savings.
- I rewarded myself on Pay Day. Any time I stuck to my budget for an entire pay period, I treated myself on Pay Day with an “affordable luxury.” Something I really wanted, that was pretty low-cost. I would treat myself to a nice lunch, a manicure, a brand new book, a 10-minute massage, or a bar of expensive chocolate to show myself a little love and appreciation. Over time, I really came to look forward to those little treats, especially in those last few days before Pay Day when my bank account got low. I knew there was a reward at the end so I was able to stick to my plan without dipping into my savings.
These are the five habits that I used on a consistent basis to help turn my finances around for good. The best part is, after six months of sticking to these habits, they became automatic. I no longer had to “will” myself to do these things – they came naturally. Now it feels weird when I’m not in harmony with my finances. It’s become second nature and I have these powerful habits to thank for my success.
Your Turn: What about you? What are some powerful money habits you could adopt that would make dramatic changes over time in your financial life? The beauty is that once they become routine, you've got a strong foundation to make lasting change with your money, for good!