What does good health, a strong marriage, and a thriving spiritual life all have in common? Practicing good, consistent habits.
And building savings for a comfortable retirement requires consistently practicing good money habits as well.
The other day I read something that was very simple and logical, but for some reason it struck me as profound. One of those “well, of course! … but I never thought of it that way” kind of moments.
The book was called The 12 Week Year and the author, Brian Moran, said this:
“The greatest predictor of your future is your daily actions.”
That means that even though I can’t predict the future, my best chances of having a comfortable retirement lie in the small, daily choices I make with my money.
It would be nice to win the lottery, or make a killing in the stock market, or receive a surprise inheritance from a distant rich uncle. But it does me no good to daydream my way to wealth. My best bet is investing my efforts in those purposeful and consistent actions that I can control.
Every time I’m faced with a financial choice, I can choose to either add money to my future or deduct money from my future – which can eventually lead to a retirement filled with travel and comfort or one buried in debt and stress. It starts with the small, intentional choices I take today.
So in an inspirational burst of motivation I wrote out a list of intentional choices I try to make to save a little here, a little there. Sometimes a pebble, sometimes a rock, occasionally a small boulder – insignificant when looked at individually – but they all can create a mountain when gathered together.
Here are 50 good money habits that can help you save more money.
Would you rather print out this list for later? Grab the free PDF of 50 good money habits!
50 Good Money Habits To Practice
In no particular order …
- Eat at home. This is a big one for me, because I’m not in love with cooking. Or grocery shopping. Or doing dishes. But it’s one of those small boulders that makes a big difference in the bottom line.
- Eat leftovers. This will really stretch your grocery bill. Just don’t forget about that tuna casserole in the back of the fridge, because it will change color.
- Use pasta or rice in your meals. I rarely (actually, never) make a meal with a piece of meat as the entree. Mostly because (*ahem*) my husband likes his secondsies and thirdsies and our meat bill would triple. Cut up the meat and mix it up with pasta or rice and voila! A filling meal without the high cost.
- Stop buying Fivebucks. Whoops, did I say Fivebucks? I meant Starbucks. Even buying a Keurig and cappuccino pods are cheaper in the long run.
- Pack your lunch. Or in my case, my kid’s. Except have them do it. This will literally save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.
- Use up food that expires the soonest first. Okay, admittedly I still struggle with this but I’m getting better. Anybody else out there guilty of throwing out black bananas? Or dead avocados? Yeah, I thought so. Good money habits minimize waste, so be mindful of what you’re using when.
- Compare per-unit cost, not total cost. Sometimes cheaper doesn’t mean a better deal.
- Buy old(er) bread. Walmart has a special shelf for all the bread that’s destined for bread heaven unless someone rescues it. I’ve made it a personal cause to take that bread home and give it a purpose, darnit! It’s like a symbiotic relationship – the bread gets a new home and I save a few bucks.
- Stock up on meats when they go on sale. I always shed a little tear when buying meat. It’s a love/hate relationship. Love the taste, hate the price. So, I practice good money habits and try to capitalize on the savings when I can.
- Grocery shop online. This is one I’ve recently implemented, and I love it! One, I know my bill before I pay. Two, I only get what I need and eliminate impulsive buying. Three, I save time. Four, I hate grocery shopping. I guess I still need to run in to grab my bread off the rescue shelf, but at least I reduce my time in the store.
- Use Amazon’s Subscribe & Save. Write a list of all the household items you purchase on a regular basis and how much you pay for them. Then look up those same items on Amazon and see if you’ll save by subscribing to their delivery. Many times you will. We get dog food, dishwasher detergent, toilet paper, and other goodies cheaper through Amazon – and it’s delivered right to my door for free! Thanks, Amazon, for helping me stick to my good money habits!
- Skip desserts, appetizers and alcohol at restaurants. These things will *double* your bill – at least. I know, because my husband just loves him some good mozzarella sticks with a pint of beer. Kills me.
- Buy generic or store brand. Most store brand items are just as acceptable as brand name ones, but lower in price. Here’s a trick – never buy a brand name item and you’ll never know what you’re missing! You’re welcome.
- Eat before you go grocery shopping. I have personal experience with this. Believe me, any good money habits will fly out the window and the food will win. Eat Before You Go – a public service announcement for the reduction of family grocery bills.
- Give up alcohol. Or drink less. Or make your own. I saw that wince. But trust me, the sacrifice is worth the rewards – more money, better health, fewer apologies… My husband actually took up brewing his own and has gotten very good at it over the last 10 years. With as much beer as he drinks, he’s made back all the investment he’s put in plentyfold.
- Don’t gamble. That includes the lottery. Back in the day, I was a blackjack dealer on the Vegas strip. (Believe me, it sounds more impressive than it really is.) I saw so many people lose so much money, including myself (getting cash tips at the end of a long shift in a casino can be a losing combination). The odds are always in the casino’s favor – and the lottery’s. As Nike doesn’t say, just DON’T do it. You’ll never maximize the results of good money habits as long as you continue to gamble.
- Give your kids a modest allowance. And then make them buy their own extras (games, cell phone cases, that 13th pair of shorts, etc…). They’ll get more choosy real quick.
- Make your teens get a job. We told our kids that we would match whatever they saved for their first car. This was motivation to start making their own money. It worked great for our oldest, then Grammy blew up that agreement by gifting each of them enough to buy a sparkling new one. But we still make them get a job.
- Shop second-hand clothing stores. When I was building a wardrobe for teaching, I was able to find everything I needed at Goodwill and on eBay. Lots of good finds – the key is having the patience (and the time) to find what you really want. (Another bonus: developing good money habits also strengthens your ability to delay gratification!)
- Buy used whenever you can. Craig is my friend. Or whoever started Craigslist. Thank you Craig! You’ve helped me save a ton of money on furniture!
- Get free whenever you can. My son just moved into his first apartment and his TV was on the floor. So I opened up my handy dandy NextDoor app and found a sweet entertainment center for free. Yes, free. Some people just want their stuff gone, and I’m happy to help.
- Put your favorite stores’ apps on your phone. I have saved anywhere from 10-40% on an item because I did a quick coupon search while standing in line. Every little bit helps!
- Turn garage sale-ing into a hobby. It’s like treasure hunting for frugal people. Keep a running “wish list” so you don’t start buying things you’re just going to sell at your next garage sale. My husband has found great deals on luggage and tools, among other things.
- Re-gift unwanted items. Depending on the person and the occasion, you could get away with new or used. My mom doesn’t care if she unwraps something from me that I no longer use – if it’s useful for her then she’s all good! My mother-in-law, on the other hand, may give me a polite but unenthusiastic “thank you” without making eye contact. Use discretion.
- Make your own gifts. Okay, so this one takes that “crafty” gene to work well. But it could be as simple as a framed photo you took, or writing a funny poem. I once gave my Dad an old hymn that I typed out and framed. It was on his office wall for years. Sure miss you, Dad.
- Sell stuff you don’t want anymore. Easy-peasy way to make a few extra bucks. Your trash is another’s treasure. And your home is better for it!
- Return stuff that doesn’t work or doesn’t fit. My husband has literally returned washed clothing. I, being a rule-follower to a fault, was dumbfounded. You can’t do that! But he did. And he got his money back. So I started making him do it for me.
- Comparison shop. This is one I have fought valiantly to drill into my kids’ heads (and my husband’s). Don’t buy something without looking for it cheaper somewhere else. You will almost always save money.
- Get books & movies from the library. Something to keep in mind when you’re paying $24.99 for that hardback: books don’t hold their value. Kind of like driving a new car off the lot. It could be in *like new* condition when you’re trying to sell it, but you may not even get half of what you paid. Besides, how many times is a book really useful and not just taking up space on your shelves? Yeah, you know I’m right. Go to the library. It’s good for you.
- Sign up for surveys. There are a lot of options out there, some legit, some not so much. I use Pinecone Research and score a $5 Amazon gift card for every 2-3 surveys I complete. Makes my heart smile.
- Skip the theater, wait until you can watch at home. This is hard for me because I *love* going to the movies. Especially those theaters with the cushy reclining chairs and that magic button that calls a waiter to your seat so you can order a glass of water. *Love it.* But, when I compare $50 for tickets to $2.99 for streaming a movie on Amazon, I feel like my soul cries a little. I think that’s called conviction.
- Squeeze out a little less shampoo. Or detergent. Or toothpaste. But maybe not the deodorant. Stretch those purchases as far as they can go, baby! Using a little less means spending a little less. Here’s a tip: write the date you start using the item on the container, then challenge yourself to make it last as long as possible. It’s a fun game.
- Rearrange instead of replace. Is that framed picture over your desk getting old to look at? Hang it on the empty, boring wall in the living room! Keep stock of what items you already have to decorate your house with, and rearrange when you feel like mixing things up. Then add the money you saved to your vacation fund. Win-win!
- Give old containers a new purpose. Need a place to keep your receipts? Use a shoebox! Looking for something to hold all those colored pencils and markers? Rinse out that empty peanut butter jar! How about a “catch-all” container for little things you don’t know what to do with but can’t seem to throw away? An old coffee can could do the trick. Personally, I love those sturdy plastic, zippered bags that new bedding comes in. I can stuff a lot of linens in those suckers and it keeps my closet from getting unruly!
- Do your own pet grooming. My daughter has a little itty bitty long-haired chihuahua that costs us fifty bucks (yes, 5-0) for a bath, cut and nail trim. He comes out soft and fluffy and smelling like baby powder, which lasts … oh … about half a day. We decided to pay $30 for a grooming trimmer and a good pair of scissors. Guess what? The dog could not care less.
- Cancel that gym membership. Whether you’re a faithful gym goer or you pay a monthly fee for something you never use (like moi), it’s cheaper to run around your neighborhood, buy used weights, and dance to Latin music at home.
- Cancel the newspaper. Get your news online. Besides, you’ll find so many more spins than in just one paper. Also, most magazines can be found at the library. Or your local doctor’s office.
- Download a gas app on your phone. Auto gasoline, silly. Find the cheapest cost per gallon and save a couple bucks every time you fill up.
- Keep a change jar. Remember #33? Rinse out an empty pickle jar and start filling it with all your spare change. You’d be surprised how quickly it adds up.
- Skip the room and pitch a tent. When you have a family of five or more, one hotel room can get crowded (and smelly) pretty quick. Besides, it’s hard to find something less than ten Hamiltons that makes you feel better about being on vacation than worse. Opt for the great outdoors instead and go camping! It’s cheap, it’s fun, and all that open air is good for your health (and your nose).
- Skip the plane and drive a car. Flying goes from “it’s not so bad” for one ticket to “dang, that’s a mortgage payment” for five. So we’ve taken a lot of road trips. Pack up a cooler and grocery shop along the way and you save even more. (Hint: earbuds for all are a good investment.)
- Shop out of season. It can be hard to pay money for something you may not be able to use for another year. That’s when you build delayed gratification – an important skill for building wealth. Just imagine how proud you’ll be of yourself next year when you put on that cute jacket you only paid $12 for! This habit works great for holiday decorations too!
- Choose your hobbies carefully. I get it. Skiing in the winter, golfing in the fall, sailing in the spring or scuba diving in the summer – all of those sound absolutely delightful and adventurous. They’re also expensive hobbies to maintain. For some fun and recreation, perhaps consider hiking, fishing, or biking. And if you’re a homebody like me, reading and blogging are great hobbies for little to no money.
- Bank online. Stop paying for all those checks. Stop using all those stamps. Just stop it. Free yourself and bank online.
- Reduce your utility bills. I was able to cut $1000 from our monthly expenses, which included lowering our cable & internet bill and switching to Ting for our cell phone bill. My husband is our family’s energy-efficient lightbulb representative, which is *super* helpful when you have three kids that love to turn on every light in the house. And never turn them off. (*Cue eye twitch*)
- Put money into a college fund. Even if it’s only $100 a month (like me). Your kids will be grateful for whatever you can contribute to their college tab.
- Find a lower rate for your consumer debt. True confession: I am a recovering terrible, horrible, no good, very bad credit card user. Ever since Citibank gave me my first credit card at 17 years old I have struggled with breaking my habit of using them. As a *serious* consequence I have spent thousands of dollars in interest over my lifetime. I’m still digging my way out but I’m smart enough now to transfer my balances to the best 0% offer I can find, and paying off as much as I can before I have to transfer again. I. Hate. Interest.
- Pay more than the minimum. Sometimes this is hard because our budget is t-i-g-h-t. But the more I can pay, the sooner it’s all paid off. That new MacBook fund will just have to grow a little slower.
- Refinance if it makes sense. When we moved into the house we live in now we got a 5/1 ARM. That expired 2 years ago and we really started feeling the pinch of a higher interest rate. So I shopped around for a low-fee refinance loan and was able to shave off $350 from our monthly bill. That’s a pretty big boulder.
- Stick to a budget. The mother of all good money habits. It sort of encompasses all of the above, because doing the previous 49 will help you with this last one. It’s easy to make one but tougher to stick to it. Try building some (or all) of the habits above and you’ll be a budget boss in no time!
Don’t forget to print out this list of 50 good money habits for later! Get your free PDF here:
Even Small, Simple Money Habits Make A Big Difference
Your retirement fund isn’t just in your 401K, pension plan, or social security. It’s also in the day-to-day choices you make to stretch your hard-earned dollars farther so you have more left over to save. Those little but good money habits will make all the difference in the long run.
Even the smallest change in degree on your financial journey will, if done consistently over time, make a big difference in your destination. Achieving any goal, especially a big one, will require some discomfort – so a resistance to immediate gratification could be the most helpful habit you develop (that could be #51!).
Challenge yourself to start building good money habits. Chart your progress to stay motivated. Keep your vision in front of you. Every little step can either get you closer or farther from your goal, so choose wisely.
Let me know if any of these habits are already helping you save more, and share any that aren’t on my list so others can benefit too!
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