Habits. Everyone has them. Some habits are good, and other habits are, well, not so good. For instance, good money management is a terrific habit and overspending is such a bad habit for most folks that they won't even talk about it. However, as part of my never-ending quest to build stellar money habits into my daily repertoire, I cast myself in the role of guinea pig for the science project I like to call "my money". And this round of experimentation showed me some bad habits I needed to break in favor of building some better ones.
Step one in my quest was researching everything I could about habit building. In my research, I came across an article that reiterated the long-standing conventional wisdom that it typically takes the average human being between 21 to 28 days to build a new habit. For the sake of my experiment, I figured: Why not just go ahead and make it a full 30-days? So, I did.
I don't need to go into the plethora of reasons that fast food is bad for your body -- and mine -- however, I was less concerned with what these fatty indulgences and sweet treats were doing to my waistline as much as what they were doing to my wallet.
My family of five was dining out at local fast food spots two times a week, to the tune of about $27 to $30 each visit, an average of $57 per week.
I nixed the dining out for 30-days. Instead of fast food on busy nights, I prepared our meals in advance. I found that paying $60 twice a week for the "convenience" of fast food, suddenly dropped to $10 each meal -- and the food was better for us too.
30-Day Cost Difference: $160
Girl's Night Out
I was whooping it up with my gal pals a few times a month, and would typically rack up a $40 to $60 bar tab when I did. Instead of going out, we fashionable frugalista's had girls nights in for 30 days. We rolled our own sushi, we brought our own adult beverages, we watched movies, and howled at the moon. Thorough it all, we saved money and still wound up having a great time.
30-Day Cost Difference: $160
Not Buying Off the List
No doubt you've been there: a victim to the dreaded impulse buy. For me, my impulsive buy demon came in the form of my offspring (of which I have three) asking me for a treat at the register every time I ventured to the market. I figured, at $0.74 to $1.00 (again, times three) a pop, these tiny indulgences couldn't possibly blow my budget.
However, what I wasn't thinking about were the other goodies the kids would load in the basket en mass, and how often I have to go to the store for fresh produce and bread (about three times a week) only to leave with a cart full of add-ons. When I said "no" on a regular basis to my impulse buying demons, my savings were nothing short of extraordinary.
30-Day Cost Difference: $196
Paying for the ATM (And Other Bank Fees)
I am a big fan of the envelope budgeting system. However, living my cash only lifestyle was hurting me when I was away from my bank.
I make at least four cash withdrawals per week. On average, I make two of those at an ATM that isn't owned by my bank (due to location constraints). The surcharge from that bank is $1.25, and the surcharge from my bank is $3.25.
In addition, my bank started charging a fee any time my checking account dipped below the $5,000 mark. This came out to an additional $7.00 a month, plus a $5.00 "maintenance" fee for my savings account.
Enough was enough. It was time for me to switch banks. I went with USAA. They rebate me all ATM fees charged by other banks, and do not charge me to use other bank's ATM's. They also don't tack on checking account or savings account fees. I can deal with that.
30-Day Cost Difference: $66
Over just 30 days, making just a few tiny changes to my lifestyle, and building better habits in the process, I was able to pocket $582 in cold, hard cash.
It pays to pay attention to where your money is going, because it gives you a unique opportunity to correct the course by giving up your old, bad habits in favor of more financially savvy ones. At least, it did for me.
More from this contributor:
5 Ways to Give Your Credit a Facelift
How I saved $18,000 a year (and my sanity) by living frugally