The 5 Financial Habits that Changed My Life

The 5 Financial Habits that Changed My Life - picture of woman with outstretched arms in field

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I don’t try to hide the fact that we used to be pretty sucky with our finances. Although we never let things get too out of hand, I finally accept the fact that we used to waste most of our income. We bought stuff. We went on trips. If we didn’t have the cash, we would finance anything that we desired. Even furniture. And vacuums. I swear.

We also lived without any sort of budget. Unfortunately, this meant spending without limits until the next payday came along. Since we have relatively high incomes, it never seemed like much of a problem. But, we’re not stupid people. I think we knew deep down that we weren’t reaching our potential. We had our heads stuck in the sand and were caught in the typical middle class trap of going to work, buying stuff, then working more to buy more stuff.

Luckily, getting pregnant with our second child finally made us snap. The new responsibility made us realize that our future was being squandered on outrageous grocery spending, credit card debt repayment, and a plethora of unnecessary purchases. We knew we had to change.

One of the first steps we made toward financial freedom was to create a zero sum budget. Our new budget was merely the beginning of a series of positive changes. In fact, we made a lot of changes within a short time frame. In addition to drastically cutting our spending, we gradually changed many of our destructive habits as well. And as we all know, changing old habits can be a long and painful process. However, I am convinced that the new habits we adopted completely transformed our financial future. Here are the 5 financial habits that changed our lives:

Habit #1

We stopped watching TV. Cutting our cable television bill was awesome for our budget. Doing so freed up an additional $90 per month to use toward debt repayment. We also found ourselves with a lot more time to do productive things. We even started a blog, which ultimately led to the fact that I am now self-employed. Had we continued paying for cable television, I would probably still be watching Real Housewives marathons on Bravo and wishing that I could find a way out of my 9-5 job.

Habit #2

I stopped caring what people thought. I stopped giving into peer pressure. I stopped feeling bad for not buying an extravagant present for every relative’s birthday or for not going to every expensive event I was invited to. I started putting our family first and the wants and needs of everyone else a distant second, third, or even last if needed.

Habit #3

We made savings a priority. Instead of hoping to save something at the end of the month, we started saving first and living off the rest. This way, money that was supposed to be saved wasn’t wasted due to poor planning. Since we became debt free, our savings rate has grown dramatically – to a rate of around 50 %.

Habit #4

We stopped living in denial. Creating and sticking to a budget made us take a hard look at our choices every week and month. It forced us to confront our past mistakes and made us want to do better. Coming to terms with reality helped us transform into the responsible and goal-oriented adults that we are now.

Habit #5

We became proactive. We stopped waiting for opportunities to present themselves. We started chasing them instead. We realized that no one was going to knock on our door and hand us what we wanted. We started working for it

Making huge life changes takes hard work, and improving our lives meant acknowledging our own shortcomings. It sucked, but I’m so glad that we took the steps to start getting closer to our full potential. And it’s not over yet – we’re still trying to improve our lives, financially and otherwise. I hope to never stop learning and growing, and I plan on continuing to implement positive changes until I evolve into the person I was meant to be.

So, how about you? What habits are you trying to change? What changes have you made for the better?



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  1. TV is not just about the cost, like you said. I am trying to cut down on TV shows as well, to have more productive hours during the day, although I like watching a bit before going to bed. I am trying to change my exercise routine, again in hopes to be more energetic and dynamic for the rest of the day.

  2. These are definitely some great cornerstone habits. I especially like #2, not caring what other people think. That alone can be such a tough thing to overcome. My current quest is to be more proactive about my earnings. I rely too much on a paycheck and I’d like to tilt the scales more towards income I control.

    1. Yes! And you will be glad when you do. It’s scary but exciting all at the same time!

    1. I totally agree. Maybe it’s just part of the aging process….but at a certain point I just stopped caring.

  3. I am so inspired by this post, so thank you! I can’t remember: are you debt-free except for your mortgage? If so, I am curious how you decided to save 50% rather than paying down your mortgage? We are also consumer debt free and saving for retirement, college funds for our 2 kids, etc…, but still have our mortgage to pay off plus med school debt to pay off, and are trying to figure out how much to save versus how much to pay down debt…

    1. Hey, Liz!

      Yes, we are debt free aside from our mortgage. We certainly do prepay our mortgage. We pay a small amount over the mortgage each month and we periodically pay a huge lump sum. You don’t have to pick between mortgage prepayment and saving/investing!!! You can do both as long as your expenses are low enough!

      1. Thanks, Holly. Currently we are investing 7% in my husbands work retirement, then 6% in Roth IRA’s, and another 6% for college funds. While doing this, we are also able to pay enough extra on our mortgage that it will be paid off in less than 5 years from now. (My goal is to have it paid off before I turn 36.) After the mortgage is dead, we will then use all that money to kill the med school debt. As a suggestion from you, I just read the book The Automatic Millionaire. It was an AWESOME book, but has left me wondering if I should be investing MORE right now and paying down the non-consumer debt slower…

  4. I actually watch TV while I blog and work on the site, it’s nice background “noise” in my opinion. But anyway that’s a side note haha overall I love your tips in this post and I especially like the fact that you guys became proactive and it has definitely encouraged me to be more proactive about my finances as well.

    1. I can’t accomplish anything with the TV on. It’s a huge distraction…..but everyone is different!

  5. My Wealth Desire says:

    Yes, accepting your shortcomings or mistakes can help you to change your bad habits. For the first place, you know the problems and to work against the routine might be the solution.

  6. I recently banned myself from watching TV in the evenings after work (except Netflix on the iPad sometimes while I’m blogging or doing laundry). We haven’t had cable in years but even with Netflix and HuluPlus I would veg out in front of the TV for hours each night….and then complain because nothing got done around the house! I’ve been so much more productive since my “ban.” I think I’ve only had one night where I was super tired and gave myself a pass to lay on the couch with the dogs.

    1. Hey, everything in moderation!!! =)
      I watch my share of awesome documentaries and of course, Game of Thrones!

  7. These are very important habits, but #2 can be hard to crack when you live in a society full of people trying to keep up with the Joneses. If you can do that one, you can do any on the list!

    1. It can be hard….but I am not much of a conformist anyway. Being different is okay with me.

  8. Interesting how many people also picked up on #2 on the list. That was a biggie for us. It helped when we moved, which put us in a situation where we had to build a new set of friends.

    The thing that struck me most, though, was what brought on the change of mindset — your second pregnancy. It seems everyone has to reach a point like that, a turning point, before the good things start happening.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, William! I think it’s strange that baby #1 didn’t significantly impact our way of thinking! Oh well, better late than never =)

  9. Great post, Holly! I personally need to work on #2 and #5. I’ve always been frugal, always saved and never bought into the “keeping up with the Jones” philosophy. I do admit I’ve never had a formal budget. My budget was buy only what you need and save the rest. It has worked well for us even though we never made much money. Keep up the good work!

    1. If you can manage to save and be frugal without a budget, then I would argue that you don’t need one! We needed one more at the beginning but now our spending/saving is mostly on autopilot. Being thoughtful with our spending decisions is another new “habit” we’ve acquired, and it’s made a world of difference.

  10. #1,2,3 are all such incredible advice for people looking to change. We rant frequently about why young couples should forget about the Joneses, forget about societal norms, and just live life to the fullest (which often means with less debt and less stuff.)

    Great work you guys!

    1. I’m still learning how to do that, Marie! It’s a work in progress!~

    1. You are doing awesome, Michelle! I hope you take the plunge and quit your job soon. I give you my blessing!

  11. Excellent post, Holly! Stopping living in denial was huge for us. We assumed that just b/c we weren’t buying lots of clothes or going on vacations that we weren’t spending irresponsibly. But now that we’ve actually starting budgeting and living within that budget, we’re spending SO much less. Thanks for a great post!

  12. Making savings a priority is a great habit to have. I wish I would started with that mentality when I was younger 🙂

  13. “We realized that no one was going to knock on our door and hand us what we wanted. We started working for it.” I LOVE this Holly and I could not agree more! I think all these tips, but #5 takes the cake for me. You can “want” to do all these things, but without being proactive about it you’ll get nowhere.

    1. Exactly!!!! People always ask me how I seem to stumble on so many opportunities. I don’t stumble on anything….I’m always actively searching them out!

  14. Great list! I’ve never had cable t.v, but cutting out regular over-the-air t.v was good too. I didn’t save money necessarily, but I felt so much more productive with my time. And I think #2 is very important…so many people try to maintain some sort of image or something, having to buy the lastest tech gadgets and the trendiest clothes. Not worth it!

    1. Totally not worth it. Who gives a F%&@ what anyone is wearing. I’m wearing a high school soccer team T-shirt that I scored for 25 cents at a garage sale right now. And guess what, I look badass. I’m starting a new trend- garage sale chic.

  15. I am right on board with these. I changed all of these habits as I was working on getting out of debt. I live a much better life now then when I was dealing with these habits. Nice breakdown.

  16. We’ve also benefitted greatly from not watching TV. Huge time sink; now we just stream our couple of favorite shows and watch when we have a chance.

    1. That’s exactly what we do. Thoughtful television watching, not mindless staring.

  17. I am in my late 40s and I read these posts and wonder how did I let so much of my life coast by without learning about my own finances. My goal is to try and be proactive and not wallow in my past. Lots of stumbles and no clearly defined path to follow but concentrating on debt repayment so that I can begin to save.

  18. Sounds very similar to me. When I was making a good salary I never had a budget because I never had any kind of struggle, but I also never really prepared for the worst or learned to live within some confines. I think one of the hardest and biggest changes (and something I do still struggle with to this day) is not comparing myself to others. When I don’t do this I’m doing great..when I do it’s not pretty.

    1. Yeah, that sucks….especially as a blogger. There are so many amazing blogs out there that it is hard to feel good all the time!

  19. You aren’t watching The Real Housewives anymore? You are missing out! 😉

    Great post Holly! I’m trying to get back on the financial bandwagon in terms of our finances. April was a “spendy” month, and May has turned out to not be what I would have hoped.

    1. I used to watch every single season. I still would if we had cable!

  20. Sounds similar to us. I cut the cable right when we got married, and haven’t missed it since. We also learned the word “no”, which was a tough one. Luckily, by the time we were DINKS, we have ingrained some great habits, which allowed us to focus on debt payoff rather than new car shopping! Not to say we don’t slip up every now and then, but we definitely are in a MUCH better position than what it could be like. You know, “I hope I can make it to the next payday because I really need to get these Amazon items that have been on my wishlist for months!”

    1. I don’t miss cable at all. If it weren’t for the kids, we wouldn’t turn on the tv for weeks at a time! The only thing worth watching right now is Season 3 of Game of Thrones!

  21. What a great list, and awesome job with saving 50%! I’m no longer in denial, but definitely want to work on the rest of the habits you’ve cultivated! The hardest for sure is peer/family pressure (not so much extravagant presents, but spending time since a lot are out of town and guilt trips occur – definitely working on letting the guilt trips not affect me as much).

    1. I hear ya. People can expect a lot. Luckily, I’ve found that people are generally receptive when you tell them you can’t afford something.

    2. anna,
      speaking from experience here – between spouse and i, we have 15 siblings and 4 parents. only 2 siblings and their families live in the same state as we do. i can’t tell you how many times we spent our $ and vacation time going to “mandatory” get togethers. 30 years later, we finally figured it out. we can simply politely say “no”. sure wish we had learned this lesson decades ago. hell, we’d be rich by now if we had and we would have seen more of the world. just say “no” and let them live with it.

  22. I have always been a saver, so nothing really changed when I graduated college and entered the work force. My fiance has been a saver as well, but getting her to realize that knowing where to stick savings is equally important took a little time. She is still coming around. I would say this journey is worth taking for all, however. Well, at least anyone who has to earn their way up and out of the typical middle class lifestyle.

  23. I am still a work in progress! Believe it or not, at 66 years old, I am still changing. I probably will until I die. I am still working on patience. I started 2 years ago and I find I constantly fall backwards. I guess I always will!

  24. These are all great, but I especially love #2. It’s just so expensive keeping up with what everyone else wants out of you… and a lot of the time, they never care as much as you think they will.

  25. I love this post!! Especially #2 and 4. People get themselves into such much trouble worrying about what others think. Guess what? They actually aren’t thinking about you because they are so worried about what YOU (and others) think about them. Vicious cycle and I’m glad you guys broke free from it. It’s your life to live, so spend on what makes you happy and save on what doesn’t.

  26. Great advice! We are working on our spending habits, and trying to figure more ways to make money. I have realized I don’t want to spend all my time just working and working forever and ever. At some point when I’m young, I us to be financially independent. Of course, this will require us to work for the next two decades. But if we can save, invest, develop side hustles, develop passive income, we can do it.

  27. Kyle @ Debt Free Diaries says:

    I was also a TV junkie. After cutting out our cable and Netflix subscription, I noticed a ton of free time that could be used. Now I get bored at home and prefer to leave the house to find something productive with my time!

  28. These steps are pretty much a plan for success for almost anyone. We’ve done all of the above except cutting cable, but my husband is a sports fan (college) and we can’t get the games any other way at this point.

    We’ve found it helpful to re-prioritize or rework budgets, goals and strategies fairly frequently to keep up with our changing finances.

  29. I’m also happy to have cut off my dependence on cable television. When we want to watch new movies or catch up on shows, we rent DVDs from the library. I’m saving money and time because I’m much more selective now of how I spend my time. I ask myself, would I rather spend an hour watching reruns or go take a walk. My wallet and waistline have both benefited. 🙂

  30. Well said and like I mentioned in my post today we all have our own stepping stones towards debt freedom but we have to create them You both came up with various ways that helped you along including the budget like we did. We were in the same boat as you but realized we weren’t reaching our potential. We might not get invited to all the posh parties and getwaways but that doesn’t bother us, we stopped caring what others thought as well.

  31. Hmmm..can trying to change my husband’s spending habits count?

  32. I started being proud of how I save money, and feeling more ok with talking about money, which still is tabu for many people.

  33. Well said Holly, waiting around for things to happen will get you nowhere. You need to be proactive and take life by the horns. I would say this is 90% of the reason why I’ve been able to get where I am today. Great tips.

  34. Denial used to run very deep at out house, and that was the big problem. You have to acknowledge a problem before you can fix it. I think we’ve gone through all those steps besides cutting the TV, although we are doing a test run with Roku right now, so there is hope. If only they could put ESPN on some sort of a la carte plan, we’d be set.

  35. Very interesting habits, especially #3 seems like a nice one to try and “steal” from you 🙂

    Regarding the TV, again it makes complete sense. We have managed to reduce TV time by 99%, but we still pay cable and still get sucked in every now and then, basically wasting time. Probably it’s time to say goodbye to our monthly TV subscription.

  36. Number 4 applies to us, especially. We started tracking expenses on a monthly basis, which has helped us a lot. Before that, I would MAKE a monthly budget…but I would never actually tally our spending to see how closely we came to our budget. Since I never did a budget vs. actual comparison, having a budget didn’t help control spending at all!

    We’ll also be getting rid of our cable once our contract expires. I find myself too tempted to waste time watching reality TV…I could be doing so much more!

  37. Although all habits you discussed are worth cultivating ,I’ve always diligently followed the third one, which is making savings a priority in my life. Out of every pay check that I receive, I set aside close to 40-50% as the income that will be based.

  38. These are really good habits and everyone should follow these. Since we minimized using the television and started to reduce electricity consumptions s well, we noticed a big drop in our utility bills. It’s quite amazing.

  39. Number #2 is the best. When you finally let yourself stop thinking you need to catch up or beat everyone else at having the most material possessions, its like a giant weight has been lifted from you. You realize there are so many better places and things to do with your money.

  40. I jumped over to your “zero sum budget” article after reading this one. We use a very similar method, only we stub dollars for irregular expenses, like quarterly income tax pre-payments that our city requires. We take the total amount due for the year, divide it by 12, and set that money aside in another account each and every month. It isn’t “savings,” because it will be spent, but it is purposeful “restriction” of those dollars until they are needed.

    1. I think that sounds like an awesome plan. Hey, whatever works, right?

  41. Great points, Holly! I especially like your habit of not watching TV anymore. Just like you, I used to watch a lot of TV too. But I’ve since stopped. As a result, I was able to use the time to start my online business/blog.

    It’s amazing how a couple of hours each day can help your productivity when you’re not sitting in front of a glowing tube!

    Personally, I’ve also started another habit that changed my life: reading and learning about personal finances. Most of us don’t learn this stuff while in school, so it’s no wonder we’re so unprepared when we enter adult life. However, that’s not an excuse anymore. We each have a choice: we can accept our shortcomings and learn from them, or we can go on living in denial.

    Frankly, I’ll rather face the truth now then when I’m penniless in retirement!

  42. I have to say the biggest thing we changed was the TV. We cut the cable a few years ago and it really helped with the wanting. I have no idea what new gadgets or gimmicks are out there. Hell, I hardly even know what is happening in the news.

    We stopped caring about the Jones and we make each other a priority. The best thing is we talk to each other and communicate about things that are important.

    We also started making finding a great deal on used items that we really need a game and it’s been a GREAT game and we’re doing great at it.

    Our new challenge has been going “green.” Something I used to think was expensive but I’m finding that going green is actually cheaper and fun. Grocery shopping in the great outdoors is a blast! And the people watching is phenomenal entertainment!!!

  43. Renee Simone says:

    Love this post…very motivating!!

  44. I haven’t gotten the guts to completely get rid of my TV at home, but I’ve cut back a lot. We have he TV on in the background a lot at work, so I get my fix there. It’s amazing how much more time I have for other things now though!

  45. Getting rid of the TV was one of the best things we ever did, and making a habit of staying off our mobile phones unless we need them for a specific purpose! Thank you for the great content

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