What is a habit? According to Wikipedia, a habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. They also add that old habits are hard to break, and new habits are hard to form because behavioral patterns are imprinted on our neural pathways. Before your eyes glaze over at the thought of neurology, let’s take a look to determine if we have any habits. If we do, are they causing problems? Quitting bad habits can be a sure way to save money, and it can also improve your quality of life.
Good vs Bad Habits
As an adult, we likely have habits that are so common that we don’t put much thought into them. If you get up an hour early to exercise every morning, or always put money into your savings account as soon as you get paid, those are great habits.
If you can’t get through a day without cigarettes, a stop at the local bar, or buying a lottery ticket, it might be a good idea to examine those behaviors or potential “bad” habits to see if they are derailing your long term goals.
Financial Impact of Bad Habits
Some common statistics about habits:
- Americans spend about $44 billion on tobacco products each year. If you pay $5/pack and smoke two packs a day, that’s $3650 per year!
- Americans spend about $50 billion on alcohol annually, and the cost of a DUI in the US is around $10,000 in fines, court costs, and mandatory classes.
- The soda industry in the US brings in around $76 billion each year, and obesity related health costs topped $147 billion dollars in 2008.
- Excessive alcohol consumption (more than 4 drinks for women and 5 for men per occasion) cost the US economy $226.5 billion in 2006. 72% of that was in loss of workplace productivity. 11% was in health care costs.
Health Impacts of Bad Habits
If all those zeros spent on unnecessary things isn’t enough to convince you, let’s take a look at health impacts of our bad habits. According to the Centers for Disease Control:
- On average, smokers die 14 years younger than non-smokers
- 393,600 people die each year in the US from smoking related illnesses
- 49,400 deaths in the US are caused annually from secondhand smoke
How Do We Determine if a Habit is Bad?
Ultimately, it depends on your goals and where you are in the journey toward those goals. Is your habit affecting your health in a negative way? Is your habit affecting your finances in a negative way? Is your habit causing problems in your personal relationships? Does your habit interfere with your ability to be productive at work?
If you answered yes to one or more of those questions, that probably means you have a bad habit. If you want to change, it might take some work and sacrifice, but you can do it.
How Do I Quit a Bad Habit?
I think many people fail at changing their habits because they look at the big picture, can’t imagine how to get there, and just give up. The first step is to set some goals. What do you want to achieve in the next month, six months, or a year. Start small. If your goal is to have some money in savings so you don’t feel broke all the time, aim to save $50 at first and see what you can go to find the extra money.
Next look at all of your outgoing expenses. Track everything you spend. See how much your habits are costing you. If you are spending $100 a week on cigarettes, this is a great place to start cutting back.
Maybe you don’t smoke or drink, but you still are hemorrhaging money each month. Maybe it is your habit to stop by the drive thru for coffee and a square egg sandwich every morning. The $5 this costs might not seem like much until you add it all up to find you are spending $150 a month on breakfast sandwiches. Could you buy a bag of English muffins for $1, a carton of eggs for $2, and pack of cheese for $2 to get a similar result for about $.67 per serving? Small change adds up.
Plan a budget based on your income minus necessary expenses like rent and utilities. If there is anything left, you need to decide if you want to use this for saving or investing in your goals or if you want to continue to fund your habits.
I Can’t Stop My Habit
If you want to quit your bad habit and you physically can’t, you might need to look for help. I would first tell my friends and family that you want to quit. Most likely, they want you to be healthy and will support your decision to stop smoking, drinking, or whatever the habit is. Positive encouragement goes a long way. If you know others are expecting good things from you, you are less likely to let them down. On the other hand, if you have friends who don’t support you and want to join in your habit, it might be time to distance yourself from those negative influences. If that doesn’t work, you may need to visit your doctor or seek professional guidance with a habit that has become an addiction. It isn’t weak to ask for help.
Life is short. We have limited time to make the best possible use of our resources. If you are letting a bad habit dictate how you spend your money or, worse, your health or relationships, it is time to take a hard look the path you are on. Obviously, saving money is a great reason to quit a bad habit, but sometimes, you can get much more out of changing your behavior. If your habits don’t support your values, financially or otherwise, make steps today to change. Otherwise, you might end up a statistic
This is an extract from the eBook – The A-Z Of Saving Money which you can now pickup here for the reduced price of $4.99. If you liked this section for the letter Q, you can get 25 more great ways to save money.