Ninja, over at Punch Debt in the Face, wrote an article last week about being addicted to savings that got me thinking. Or, thinking harder, I suppose. The attitude that he talks about towards savings is one that I’ve noticed in myself and others who have gone the way of the Frugaler. He calls it an addiction. I think it’s something a little more sneaky. Something that creeps up on you and then grabs hold and won’t let go. Something many will call “Habit”.
Views vary on how we pick up habits, but, by definition, a habit is something that you do over and over without much thought. An unconscious task that you repeat. It’s no coincidence that many addictions are also referred to as habits. Smoking is sometimes referred to as a bad habit. A pot of coffee a day is sometimes referred to as a bad habit. But, a savings habit is a good habit. One that many will struggle to establish. Drug habits, smoking habits, and coffee habits are all habits that are easy to pick up because they cause a pleasure response in you body. A savings habit is a bit harder to pick up. But, as Ninja will attest, it can be done.
How? Repetition. Do something repeatedly, for a long enough time period, and it becomes a habit. Being a successful Frugaler is a product of habit. We start off forcing ourselves to turn off lights as we leave a room, shop for good deals before buying something, save a certain amount out of every paycheck, and set aside a certain amount each month for charitable giving. And, before we know it, those things that we started off forcing ourselves to do become habits and we do them automatically, without having to think about doing them. If there’s one thing anyone with a bad habit will tell you, habits are hard to break.
I know that I’ve felt it. I often spend a month or more deciding on whether to buy something or not. Especially if it’s on that fringe where it may or may not be necessary. I’ve spent weeks bidding on items on eBay, determined to get an item at a specific price point. Something that I could have paid a few dollars more for and had weeks earlier. Like the junkie looking for his/her next fix, I’ve got a saving habit that I can’t quit. The more I do it, the harder it is to spend any money at all.
Of course, like anything that’s good for you, there is a line where it becomes slightly less good for you, and then can become downright bad too. Saving is good. Pushing your savings to a point where you’re taking it to extremes is less good. And becoming a downright miser is bad. Setting savings goals is a good way to limit the extremity of your saving.
A Frugality habit will change you. As your savings tasks become habit, it becomes easier and easier, and eventually, you hardly notice it. What are your savings habits? How did you establish them?