I’m not an impulse buyer. I’m that person who hangs on to something way past its useful date before I’m ready to spend money on its replacement. So, I surprised myself when I purchased a self-help book in December because it was discounted 60%. Who knew when this great deal would come around again? I regretted it as soon as it arrived. Who wants a self-help book when a great page turner would be more fun?! Turns out I actually like the book. And I love that I got it for a great price. I love saving money. Who doesn’t?
The book is about how making small changes to your habits can have big, lasting effects1. Not earth-shattering news but something most of us aren’t very good at. I’m not very far into it but I can already tell that the best good habits are ones you don’t have to think about but do automatically. Like saving money.
When our first child was born, we looked at the college calculators to figure out how much we should be saving every month if we wanted our kid to go to college without debt. Holy cow. We figured out right away we couldn’t save enough for her to go to Harvard. Still, we set aside $50/month. I work in this industry and I’m still amazed at how much that grows.
You know the secret. We set up the automatic investment and forgot about it. Checked the account periodically but otherwise let the money go in and do its thing. There are now tens of thousands of dollars in her account. We can’t pay for Harvard, like the calculators predicted, but there is definitely something to get started with. And we really didn’t notice the $50/month.
The key is human-proofing the habit. If we had been in charge of making a decision each month about whether or not to send the $50 I know there would have been higher priorities. Day care cost a lot, vacations are expensive, we bought a new car, etc. But we took ourselves out of the equation and the money just kept going in. In this case, we removed our own impulses and ended up in a better spot.
You know what comes next. I’m going to recommend that you do the same with your savings goals. Take the decision-making out and human-proof your savings habits. Your future self will thank you when you turn around and the accounts are healthy and happy. But I know this isn’t easy to do. That’s why there are self-help books. And financial advisors.
Small changes can have big effects. Let me know if you have a story of a small change that had a big effect in your life. Or if you need some help human-proofing your savings goals. And thanks to James Clear and his book Atomic Habits for my last great impulse buy and good read.1
Kristin Rodriguez (firstname.lastname@example.org)
1 Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. New York: Penguin Random House, 2018. Print