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Change Anything: Changing Spending Habits

Craig V

In this month’s Change Anything column, Craig V. shares the specific strategies he used to change spending habits.

My wife and I were in financial distress. We had $10,000 in credit card debt, lived month-to-month, and didn’t have any savings because every penny we earned went toward our large mortgage or to pay child support from my previous marriage. We were frustrated, out of control, and just plain stuck.

We had a budget, but we constantly adjusted it to meet our wants and rationalized purchases we couldn’t afford. For example, we bought a new car without considering whether or not we could afford it. After a few months we realized our “fun car” was a burden—the payments were too high and we rarely drove it.

That was our turning point. We realized our seemingly small purchases added up. We committed to make the changes necessary to get our lives under control. Within a few months, we saved thousands of dollars by making the following changes.

Source 1: Love What You Hate—One of our greatest challenges was changing the way we thought about money. We realized spending money crowded our life rather than enhancing it. My wife went on a no shopping spree and realized not spending money was actually rewarding. She learned to love what she hated. I now repeat inspirational phrases such as “a penny saved is a penny earned” to remind myself that I am much happier when I save. When we eliminate expenses, I think of it as getting a raise because it means we have more money in the bank. Changing the way we think made all the difference.

Source 2: Do What You Can’t—We wanted to change our habits, but we honestly didn’t know how. Luckily, my coworker shared Total Money Makeover with us and we found a place to start. We built on this knowledge by visiting the public library and checking out books and movies (for free) that helped us learn how to save. This gave us an opportunity to spend quality time together. In fact, we enjoyed the library so much that we canceled our cable subscription and rented movies from the library.

With our new knowledge, we created a new budget and identified expenses we could eliminate. One of our most liberating changes was selling the “fun car” and riding the bus to work. Because my company pays for public transportation, we saved thousands of dollars by making this one change.

I also went through Crucial Conversations Training and learned how to effectively talk to my wife about finances. We are now comfortable holding each other accountable and talking about our finances honestly and respectfully.

Sources 3 & 4: Turn Accomplices into Friends—We realized that we enabled each other’s bad habits by allowing the other person to alter the budget. We learned to hold each other accountable for spending money and now talk before spending $50 or more.

We also meet regularly with coworkers and friends who are interested in financial fitness. We encourage each other, follow up on commitments, and share ideas for saving money. This support has helped us change our behavior and stick to our financial plans.

Source 5: Invert the Economy—To change our behavior, we reversed our thinking by focusing on the long-term rewards instead of short-term gratification. We are motivated to stick to our budget and say “no” to spending because we now understand the importance of retirement. In addition to maxing out Roth IRA accounts for retirement, we established escrow accounts for new cars, vacations, and other large purchases. We also established an emergency fund and saved six months of salary in case we lose our jobs.

We also reward ourselves by going on a weekly date. This rewards us in the short term for things that often don’t pay off for months or years.

Source 6: Control Your Space—In order to take control of our spending, we had to control our environment. We realized that in addition to our mortgage payment, we spent a lot of money on home improvement projects. We also realized these expenses were often unnecessary so we sold our house and bought a town home. We removed the temptation for home improvement and reduced our mortgage payments.

We realized we would need additional income to pay our current bills so I took another job umpiring baseball games. Not only is this something I love, but it also helps me avoid spending because I have less free time and therefore opportunity to spend impulsively.

We also maintain control by tracking our purchases in a spreadsheet that we review regularly. It helps us identify exactly where our money is going and where we can cut back.

We are now debt free, save 15 percent of our earnings for retirement, and make extra payments on our mortgage. I pay all of my child support bills as well as save for vacations, cars, and other large purchases. This life-altering change has improved our relationship and given us freedom and hope.

Editor’s Note: Similar stories of inspiring change will be featured in our upcoming book about personal change due to be released Spring 2011. If you have an inspiring story of personal change, please send it to and include “Change Anything Story” in the subject line of your e-mail.

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