Whenever you commit to developing a new, healthy habit, it’s usually with an end game in mind—to take back control over something in your life.
For example, in order to get healthier, you might join an early morning run club. To stop procrastinating, you could start forcing yourself to adhere to a stricter schedule. To spend more time with your family, you may make a promise to shut down your computer at 6 P.M. each night.
All of those habits have something in common: They may be difficult to do in the beginning, but with discipline and practice, they can become almost second nature.
The same idea can be applied to your finances.
Smart financial habits are the ones that stick with you over time and get you to a place where you feel financially fearless—when you start to feel amazing, rather than anxious, about your money.
But there’s no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to money habits. So while you may be able to skip a daily latte to curb spending, your caffeine junkie friend may take a different tack.
To help prove that point, we asked people across the U.S. to share their own financially fearless habits—those small things they do on a regular basis to help them keep making progress on their money.
1. Set a ‘Saveday’ Reminder
“It’s one thing to make a goal to save; it’s another to actually do it. Constantly reminding yourself to do helps. So I set an alarm on my smartphone for every payday that says: ‘Payday–Saveday’, along with a short memo that states: ‘Don’t forget to put $20 in your savings account.’ If you and a spouse followed through on this every payday, think of how much you could save by the end of the year!”
—Tiffany Kitty Irene, 29, creative director, Atlanta
2. Live by a 24-Hour Buy Rule
“In our home, when we’re tempted to make a big impulse purchase, we wait 24 hours before pulling the trigger. If we still want it the next day, we might go get it. But more often than not, we wake up the next day glad we didn’t get caught up in the moment.
This helped [my family] avoid blowing a ton of money while on vacation once. We were sitting on the beach when we were approached by a woman who invited us to listen to a 90-minute presentation—in return for a two-night stay in a beachfront hotel and a $75 gas card.
What started as a get-to-know-you breakfast and tour of the resort turned into pressure to buy into a timeshare program. Our out was simple: We have a 24-hour rule—if we were required to sign today, there would be no deal.
The warm and friendly atmosphere turned cold. When we got back home, we were relieved that we weren’t charmed into making a deal.”
—Judy Crockett, 55, retail management consultant, Manistee, Mich.
3. Call for Better Credit Card Rates
“I use my credit cards for everything, but I manage them wisely. If I have to carry a balance for a period of time, and I’m paying interest, I call the customer service line every 60 to 90 days to request an interest rate reduction. And it usually works if I’ve been making on-time payments.
I also ask for a credit line increase to make my balance less than a third of my limit—this alone has helped boost my credit score.”
—Dinesh Gauba, 39, entrepreneur, Pleasanton, Calif.
4. Don’t Leave Tax Prep Till the Last Minute
“Don’t procrastinate on tax prepping. You’d be amazed at how much you could save by maximizing your deductions for tax season—but it requires advance planning.
As a student who has always held a job, I’ve found the best way to save money is by keeping all of my financial paperwork organized and easy to track, such as making sure I have all of my W2s and 1098-Es securely stored.
I’ve been in situations where my taxes have been complicated to figure out, and if it weren’t for the fact that I had everything organized, the situation could have gotten messy—and expensive.
I also save all of my receipts for books and school supplies—those expenses can add up, getting you valuable tax credits. Keep these receipts easy to find, so you’ll be ready once tax season rolls around.”
—Claudia Amand, 22, public relations manager, Chapel Hill, N.C.
5. Try Fixing It Before Ditching It
“It’s amazing what happens when you ask yourself if you really need whatever item it is you’re about to purchase. More often than not, you don’t.
When my 2006 Toshiba laptop gave up the ghost, rather than buy a new computer for close to $1,000, I got a new hard drive. The price: $75—and it’s still going strong!
What also helps me is not bothering to keep up with the Joneses, or paying attention to what’s trendy. My very un-trendy Toshiba laptop is doing the job just fine, thank you very much.”
—Jim Dailakis, 44, actor and comedian, Queens, N.Y.
6. Give Yourself a Cash Allowance
“Whether my salary has been $20,000 or six figures, I’ve always given myself a cash allowance. Nothing helps me save more than the desire to keep as much of that money as I can in my wallet.
I do the same for my daughters, who are seven and nine. They each get $7 per week for chores. It’s their money to spend as they wish. The allowance helps them [learn about money] in many ways—they earn it, save it, spend it, count it and organize it.”
—Tara Goodfellow, 38, owner of a career coaching firm, Charlotte, N.C.
7. Spread Your (Account) Wealth
“I’m not impulsive by any means, but I’ve noticed that when I look at one of my accounts and see the balance is not what I’d like it to be, I’m more likely to rethink purchases. And that’s also why I spread my money across several checking and savings accounts.
Although collectively I may have enough for the item I want to buy, I’m less likely to go through the multiple steps it would take to pull the money together from all of my accounts to purchase it. I’ve learned to trick myself into saving this way.
Plus, if any one account is ever compromised electronically, I will still have funds available from other sources.”
—Carrie Aulenbacher, 36, social media coordinator, Erie, Penn.
8. Let the Little Things Add Up
“I used to babysit for my neighbors’ children when I was a stay-at-home mom. Since my expenses at that time were low, I was able to save all the dollar bills I made—at one point I had over 400 single-dollar bills!
I really enjoyed the challenge of watching the wad of cash grow. It was addictive, and inspired me to keep saving.
Now, each time I break a dollar, I drop the change in a jar. It takes patience, but I’ve managed to save over $300 just in silver coins.”
—Lisa Zaccagnini, 49, life coach, Beacon Falls, Conn.
9. Track Your Transactions
“The number one thing that makes me feel in control of my finances? Tracking my expenses. I use an app that helps me see exactly what I’m spending my money on, and lets me enter my monthly income, so I can see how balanced my money flow is.
If I didn’t track my spending, I’d be tempted to eat out more, buy more coffee, and spend more shopping online. However, since I have to hold myself accountable by entering every single expense, I’m less likely to splurge on stuff I don’t need.”
—Erin Konrad, 28, content developer, Los Angeles
10. Take Time to Clean House
“I used to go to the store and pick up extra bottles of cleaning supplies because I assumed we were out, but we had plenty—the closet just wasn’t organized enough for me to find them.
This made me realize that I needed to do a major deep clean in my house. I found tons of T-shirts that I rarely wore, so I put them in my pajama drawer to sleep in—and now I know to stop buying T-shirts, because I won’t wear them.
My biggest recent find was a stash of jewelry that I’d forgotten about, so I’m having different gemstones put into a ring that I will actually wear. Finding everything that you have—and don’t use—will really help you see where your money goes.”
—Holly Wolf, 53, marketing professional, Philadelphia