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The Simple Dollar

Bad financial habits are hard to break

The key to sticking with good financial habits – and not sliding back into bad ones – is to find a way to hold yourself accountable, Hamm writes.

By Guest blogger / September 18, 2013

A woman uses her mobile phone in front of sale signs in the window of a clothes store at a shopping mall in central Sydney.

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Old routines are hard to break.

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The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two. Our busy lives are crazy enough without having to compare five hundred mutual funds – we just want simple ways to manage our finances and save a little money.

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It took me almost five years of alternating between “good” and “bad” behavior to finally curb my bad media buying habits, particularly books.

See, the problem is that I’m an avid reader and I also view reading as a very worthwhile and valuable hobby. That belief is really easily transposed onto the desire to buy books and have them around, because a bookshelf full of books is just a wonderful thing that I love to see.

To me, even now, a bookshelf with books on it shouts out with the possibility of all of those books and the stories and ideas contained within. A book to me is like a pair of magic glasses that lets me see the world in a new way; a bookshelf is like a collection of those glasses. 

The catch is that I really don’t have to own a book to experience that joy of seeing a new world. I can get that feeling from the library.

I would remind myself of that and I’d get into a nice routine of using the library to fuel my reading habit. I’d stop by there every few weeks, check out some books, and then repeat the cycle.

Then I’d find myself at home some evening without a new book to read, or I’d go out somewhere and stop at a bookstore or, even more tempting, I’d be at home browsing a website that included a link to Amazon.

And I’d buy a book. Or two.

Before long, I’d start backsliding into a routine of simply buying the books I’d want. I’d blow through my monthly budget for entertainment in a week or so, then wonder where it all went.

Eventually, I’d resolve myself to getting that habit into check. I’d work to establish a better routine… and then, after a while, I’d backslide.

The key to solving this routine of backsliding is to find a way to hold yourself accountable. You can be accountable to yourself. You can be accountable to others. Ideally, there’s some of both involved.

The more accountable you are, the easier it is to see the signs that you might be ready to backslide, even if you haven’t actually done it yet.

For example, I would often find myself browsing on Amazon if I was on the path to backsliding with my book-buying habit. I’d just click around from book to book, looking for interesting stuff.

It would only take a click or two more to send a box to my doorstep.

I began to recognize this, so I took some active steps to make that more difficult. I removed my credit card information from Amazon. I also used a tool similar to Focal Filter to block myself from book-buying sites for periods of time.

For me, at least, the longer I’ve gone without backsliding, the stronger other patterns become in my life, erasing the old ones and making it much harder to backslide. When that new pattern is a cheaper one that doesn’t reduce my happiness or quality of living, then it’s a huge win.

The post Backslider appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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