Habit 1: Quit the Comparisons
One of the most frustrating parts of social media is that it’s not always real life. Most of what you see on Facebook and Instagram is enhanced. It’s a public display of our best self. We usually put our best foot forward on social media and the pictures we post. Some people even go to the extreme, perfecting every detail. They take fifty different shots before posting the one, perfect, “candid” beach photo.
You scroll through your feed and see a picture of your coworker’s brand-new car with the caption #blessed. This sudden urge to keep up overwhelms you. But comparing yourself to the proverbial Joneses is a dead end. You have to remember that the Joneses may actually be broke! What you are seeing isn’t always the real story.
When you get caught up in social media comparisons, you’re comparing yourself to make-believe. And when you compare yourself to make-believe, your real life will never feel good enough.
Even though social media is probably the easiest place to compare, we can’t forget about comparisons in real life and real time. Regardless of what stage of life you’re in, it can seem impossible to avoid the comparison trap altogether. No matter what we do, where we go, or what we buy, someone is always there doing more, going further, and buying better. From jobs and houses to clothes and cars to schools and strollers (yes, people, even strollers)—the list goes on and on.
Habit 2: Steer Clear of Debt
Debt is owing anything to anyone for any reason. It’s that simple. Credit cards? Debt. A car loan? Debt. A student loan? Debt. That’s all debt.
In order to live the life you want to live and love it, debt can’t be part of your plan. You might be shaking your head at me right now. You might believe that debt is a tool to get where you want to go. With it, you can go on vacation, buy the clothes you like, and drive the car you want. And you can do all of this without having the money to pay for it in the moment and without having to wait a long time to save.
And in that sense, it’s true. Debt allows you to have whatever you want immediately. But you have to realize the long-term implications of choosing to finance your present with your future. Debt steals the very thing that helps you win with money—your income. When you have debt, you don’t get to decide what you do with your money. Your lenders decide that for you. You can’t choose to take your money and save it, invest it, spend it, or even give it away. You lose the ability to make choices about your money when you have debt.
There isn’t just a financial toll to having debt; there is an emotional toll as well. When you owe someone money—whether it is the bank, a credit card company, or a family member—it changes the way you live. It changes the reason you go to work. It creates such a burden for you that sometimes it seems hard to breathe. And while you may be tired and weary of the debt lifestyle, you’re not sure how to do it any other way.
Habit 3: Make a Plan for Your Money
One thing we’re supposed to learn as we transition into adulthood is that with freedom comes responsibility. In fact, every freedom is balanced by an equal amount of responsibility. You can’t drive a car without following the road signs. You can’t fill a pantry without having a job that pays for those groceries. You can’t be physically fit without committing to a consistent workout schedule.
Somewhere along the way, many of us have convinced ourselves that it’s okay to do whatever makes us happy in the moment without considering the impact our decisions will have on our futures. When people live like this, they upset the balance that exists between freedom and responsibility. Our unwillingness to grow up in some areas, like how we use money, will only force us to live life on someone else’s terms and not our own. Being an adult isn’t all fun and games. If you’ve been an adult for longer than twenty minutes, you know this well.
Freedom doesn’t exist outside of responsibility. If we want to live life on our own terms, then we have to acknowledge there are certain boundaries we need to determine for ourselves—and then we must live within those guidelines. If we want to take control of our money instead of having our money take control of us, then we have to learn to live within a budget.
Habit 4: Talk About Money (Even When It’s Hard)
If you’ve been married for more than two minutes, you know that one spouse is probably more of a spender than a saver (and vice-versa). One may love to do budgets, while the other likes making money decisions on the fly. One may have a long-term focus, while the other wants to just live in the moment.
That’s normal. Being a natural spender or natural saver is not right or wrong. There’s no “right” way to be. These are simply different bents when it comes to people and how they handle their money—part of what makes you who you are. As you grow in your understanding of money and create a plan for yourself, you will eventually find a balance between the two.
There are two more types we can add to the mix: the planner and the partier. The planner loves doing the budget. This person tends to be more organized, loves details, likes feeling in control, and tends to get stressed out if he or she doesn’t have a plan for everything. The partier tends to be more big-picture minded and may see budgets as restricting or confining. Generally speaking, as long as partiers have the money to take care of the basics and have a little fun, they’re happy.
Habit 5: Save Like You Mean It
You never know when life is going to happen to you. The washer will go out, the hot water heater will break, or the unexpected medical bill will come. Choosing to save for these moments won’t prevent them from happening, but the habit will give you confidence and options when they do.
Saving money is something we know we should do, like going to the dentist every six months, visiting the doctor annually, exercising, and eating right. But like with those things, we sometimes fudge when it comes to actually doing them. It’s easy to talk ourselves into saving next month. The only problem is that “next month” never comes. It just keeps getting pushed out another month.
Saving—even a small amount—will give you peace of mind. The habit will give you a sense that you’re doing small things now that will give you a big benefit when you need to (legitimately) dip into it. The disciplined practice of taking money from your paycheck and putting it away for the future is hard sometimes, but you’ll be surprised how quickly your savings can grow if you’re consistent. Like the Bible says, “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it” (Proverbs 13:11 esv).
Habit 6: Think Before You Spend
Lifestyle choices are a big reason so many people struggle with money. Far too many people want to live a life they can’t afford. They drive cars they can’t pay for, wear clothes they charged on a credit card, and eat out more often than they should. They chase after a dream of happiness that they see on TV, in their coworkers’ lives, or on their long-lost college roommate’s Facebook feed. And, when they don’t have the actual cash on hand for the things they want, they rack up a pile of debt trying to finance their way to happiness. The problem is, none of these things ever leads to the joy and fulfillment we expect.
Too many people confuse fun with happiness. You can buy fun, like a great vacation or a night out on the town with friends, but you can’t buy happiness. Happy is the feeling of hanging out with your spouse, a special weekend getaway with your best friend, or the first time your child grabs onto your finger with her tiny hand. Those are the moments that move us forward, the ones we remember forever—and none of them are for sale.
When it comes to spending money, there is a difference between needs and wants. Food, shelter, utilities, clothes, and transportation are needs. You need food to survive, a safe place to live, clean clothes to wear, and the means to get to and from work. Those are considered your basic needs. If you have these things, even when times are tough, you’ll live on to fight another day.
Online streaming services, cable, fantasy football leagues, and a Halloween costume for your dog are all wants. You’d be surprised just how blurred the lines get between needs and wants, even if you stick to just the necessities listed above. There can be a lot of wants hidden in those needs.
Habit 7: Give a Little . . . Until You Can Give a Lot
Generosity isn’t a simple act of giving or a grand event. Generosity is a lifestyle that changes hearts and minds as it blesses everyone involved.
The habit of giving is the exclamation mark when it comes to our money. Improving your bank account isn’t the primary purpose of good money habits. While that’s important, it isn’t where your journey with money should end. As you bring your money into alignment with your values, you begin to see how what you have to give—your time, money, and abilities—can become instruments of grace that can impact the trajectory of others’ lives forever.
Having good money habits in place will help you find peace of mind. You will get to live life on your terms instead of the bank’s. You’ll build wealth and buy the things that are important to you. You’ll get out of debt once and for all. You’ll communicate with your spouse, kids, and others at a deeper level. But as wonderful as those things are, they aren’t the end goal. Ultimately, you want to win with money so you can become an outrageous giver!
Giving can be a difficult topic for people to understand because they don’t know why or how they should give—but once you’ve answered those questions for yourself, there will be no turning back.