By Mohna Shah, Master Financial Education Volunteer
We typically discuss resolutions in January because it signifies a new beginning to us. We fervently generate a list of several lofty and unspecific goals – save money, lose weight, quit smoking, start volunteering . . . and most of those ideas have perished before the end of the month.
While glancing through some back issues of a cooking magazine, I noticed that they started a Healthy Habits section so readers could focus on one change a month. Since it takes at least 18 days to change behavior, this approach seems much more sensible, even in the context of financial planning.
I can’t say I’ve incorporated the magazine’s recommendations for nutrition, but by applying it to my finances, I did experience an improvement in my health. I picked the beginning of the next month, which happened to be November 1st, and decided I would only eat out (dine-in, take-out, or delivery) three times a week. By selecting a frequency and not a dollar amount, I didn’t have to refrain from dessert or select a less interesting entrée at a fabulous restaurant.
But I did have to think about what going out to eat is worth if I’m going to use 1 of my 3 chances. Dashing out to pick up a mediocre sandwich during work or ordering cardboard pizza as a quick, no-thought dinner stopped immediately. I still celebrate birthdays and have a nice date night with my husband, but I appreciate the food much more.
When December rolled around, I decided to use only public transportation (train or bus) or my own two feet to get around the city that month. No cabs, no rental cars. Miracle of miracles, this Southern gal learned to enjoy walking through the city, taking in the architecture and holiday lights. And – without giving it much thought – I was still limiting myself to eating out 3 times a week. My motivation for these self-imposed directives had been to save money (each one’s value being at least $100 a month), but I was also eating better and walking more.
Almost a year later, these practices are still ingrained in me. There have been a few exceptions – renting a car to visit family and eating out four times in one weekend when my in-laws visited. But my overall habits have changed, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I’ve also had some success with non-financial goals — flossing more often, studying a foreign language — when focusing on one objective per month.
So don’t wait until January when it’s cold and dreary and you’re searching for inspiration. Pick this Monday or September 1st and make a small change. There are big rewards to be had.