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?
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Money Beagle says
Starting a good habit is the hardest part of making that change in behavior. The longer you stick with it, the more automatic it becomes. There are elements in my financial life that were hard to get going with, yet now they’re automatic.
A habit is formed after doing it for 21 straight days. On day 22 it is a habit. This is true to create or break a habit.
shanendoah@the dog ate my wallet says
I’ll dispute the 21 days thing. I’ve been trying to break my spending habit and replace it with a savings habit for 2.5 years now. I have certainly gone 21 days without spending on the little things that trip me up (lunch out, a chai tea from the kiosk, etc) and yet, it’s something I still struggle with, as my allowance balance can attest.
So now I set myself goals to help me kick the old habit and strengthen the new.
Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog says
Great points shane. I feel like Im much more frugal than I used to be on a day-to-day basis, but I can be prone to unnecessary splurges, which Im trying to cut out. My savings habits are all automatic – I remove X amount a few times a month.
I think that breaking a habit is harder than a good one. Or, at least, when I think about how easy it is to break a habit of exercise, eating well, etc., it seems far harder than it is to break a habit like smoking, spending, diet coke.
I wonder if the 21 days to make a habit is an average? Maybe it is different for everyone depending on our mental makeup.
Marie at FamilyMoneyValues says
I can attest to the fact that a lifetime of frugality makes it difficult to fritter away your money!
Jen @ Master the Art of Saving says
I get a pleasure response when I save money, I notice it the most when I transfer money to our savings accounts. It’s definitely become a good habit and comes so naturally now. I think it took longer to make saving a habit than it did for any other my habits (mostly bad ones).
I assume that many of you have read the book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. In there he discusses what he believes is required to make something into a habit. In summary, he suggests that to make something into a habit requires you to make paradigm shift in your thoughts and beliefs. I by into this. For example, to become more frugal, it has to become part of your belief system, not just something you feel that you need to do. Think about how many people fail at their New Year’s resolutions. Why do you think that is? It’s not easy, but if the change in belief doesn’t occur, then it’s easy to revert to old habits or not commit to a new habit.