Right before sitting down to write this, I checked my online bank account. That may not scream “major effort,” but for me, that’s pretty huge. I used to be number-shy and relied mostly on my intuition to keep my finances balanced.
Turns out, intuition doesn’t prevent overdraft fees.
Checking in regularly with my finances is what I like to refer to as one of my “helium” habits — ones that lift me toward my goals. Those are in direct opposition to my “sandbag” habits — the kind that weigh me down and slow any progress toward my long-term aims.
Creating financial helium habits has become particularly important as I look toward becoming a future homeowner and lay out my best plan to get there.
Yes, a down payment may be far off, but when saving is a habit, it doesn’t feel much like a dreaded task. Just more like brushing my teeth or drinking water. In fact, those helium habits are what keep me sane when faced with the long road ahead.
If you’re in the same situation (or looking to save up for any long-term goal), here are some tips to create habits that will boost your bank account each month:
1. Make spending tangible
Ask: How much does this cost in … burritos? Coffee? Dining room sets?
Keep yourself on target by assigning a different metric of cost to items. This is something I started experimenting with in college. Whenever I wanted to spend on something outside of my needs list, I calculated how many burritos it cost.
For instance, a new shirt might cost me seven burritos. It sounds a little silly, but it kept me aware of the impact of each impulsive expense and actually dissuaded me from making an impulsive purchase more often than not.
2. Give in to your saving impulses
Some days, I just feel like saving. Those days usually start with sunshine and a little too much caffeine. But though they’re on the rare side, I always act on these saving impulses.
Whenever you have a saving impulse, give way to it! Transfer money over to your savings account. Update your spreadsheets. Whatever it is you’re compelled to do to gain a bit more financial stability, just do it.
Your account will be happier (and bulkier) because of it.
3. Conversely, “feel the burn” on spendy days
Of course, we all have those days when we overspend. Or those days when we walk out to an unexpected flat tire on our car. Or a tree fell on our scooter (true-ish story).
As you begin to make saving a habit, keep this in mind: The only predictable part of a savings plan is that there’s bound to be some unpredictability.
If you do face an unintended impulse buy or unexpected expense, try to take a moment to truly take in the details. Feel the discomfort of the upset (and yes, it will likely be uncomfortable for a quick minute), but also understand that it doesn’t have to detract from everything you’ve accomplished.
It’s all too easy to let one wayward purchase domino to another, but it doesn’t have to be like that! Acknowledging the spending pain and reflecting on what it means for your finances gives you a solid footing to move forward.
4. Have zero-spending days
Just recently, I went the entire day without spending one single cent. While I’d like to attribute this magical no-spending day to my incredible willpower, I have to give credit to something else: my forgetful brain. I left my wallet at home, which meant I had no money to buy anything.
It was a powerful reminder, not just because I felt slightly undercaffeinated without my afternoon coffee, but because it prompted me to notice all the times I experienced the urge to spend. Which, if I’m being honest, was all the time.
Sometimes the best way to save is to simply take the option to spend out of your hands. Leaving sans wallet can get you in the habit of saving when you’re out and about rather than spending.
5. Match your splurge spending
I love coffee. So. Much. Asking me to go without a shot of espresso in the morning is like asking me to give away my new puppy to the nearest stranger. I’ve also finally come to peace with the fact that this coffee addiction results in 99% of my splurge spending.
Instead of trying to save more by cutting out the daily caffeine entirely, I’ve created a price-matching system.
Every time I buy a cup of coffee, I match the cost with an equal amount funneled directly into my savings account. It’s an “If this, then that …” deal — and I hold myself to it.
Socking away money for long-term goals isn’t always easy, but saving doesn’t have to be an ice pack to your burning homeowner ambitions.
An awareness of your spending habits followed by strategic saving methods is a winning combo that will help you reach your financial goals (and build the habits that’ll get you there).