5 Secrets To Sustaining Good Financial Habits

Two dentist visits ago I had a cavity. It wasn’t my first cavity, and it probably won’t be my last. This one didn’t come as a big surprise because it was around the time when I was eating on the run, eating late at night, and not going through my usual brushing/flossing routine. The extra appointment for a filling (and the extra costs) reinforced my commitment to taking better care of myself going forward.

Why all this talk about oral hygiene? Because it sort of reminded me of my own financial turnaround. When we go through a particularly troubling time, and wounds are fresh, it’s easy to remember how things felt before we turned them around. Just like I brushed and flossed like crazy in those weeks immediately following my cavity, most of us can easily make sacrifices when we first go through a financial turnaround.

But over time your dedication to new habits gets tested. You get sick. There is an emergency. You simply lose interest. And slowly your resolve to do better fades. Old, bad habits reemerge. The intensity you had immediately following the negative experience flames out.  So how does one keep up that intensity? Here’s a few ideas.

1. Write down your goals (be specific). It isn’t enough to say, “I will avoid getting a cavity at my next dentist visit.” Be more specific. I will brush and floss my teeth after each meal and before bedtime. Similarly, setting a goal of “Saving some money for vacation” is not sufficient. I will save $1,000 in the next twelve months for vacation is much more tangible.

2. Find an accountability partner. Some people argue against telling others when starting out a new challenge. I’ve never understood why. Share your goal with a trusted friend, or your spouse, so they can help remind you of your goals when you start to slip a little.  If your best friend knows you are trying to pay off $5,000 in credit card debt they are less likely to invite you shopping, but might opt for a dinner and a DVD at their place.

3. Keep your goals close. When you feel yourself starting to slip, whether it is on a new nutrition plan, or an improved financial plan, make it easy to refer back to your original goals. Consider typing them in a small font, cutting out the list and laminating it for your wallet or purse. I did something similar by putting a wallet-size picture of my kids in front of my debit card. It was a visual reminder of why I was making this turnaround, and I saw it every time I wanted to spend money.

4. Remember progress, not perfection.  Many people miss their goal for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps the goal was unrealistic, or something unforeseen came up and caused you miss your target. Instead of being discouraged and giving up, celebrate the progress you did make!  If your goal was to pay off $5,000 of credit card debt, and you only paid off $4,000, that still leaves you with $4,000 less debt.  Don’t feel sorry for yourself and run out to charge your cards right back up to $5,000 again.

5. Surround yourself with people with a similar goal.  This is the reason I started Frugal Dad. It was my hope that it would attract people like me with shared dreams of financial freedom. I draw a lot of inspiration from readers who share their stories in the comments, and in private via email. It’s nice to have those daily reminders to keep us on track.


  1. Great, simple ideas going on here– steps that can be taken for many of life’s other desirable habits. “Remember progress, not perfection” is brilliant!

  2. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself, go out and charge your cards right back up to $5,000 again.”

    I’m assuming you mean “DON’T go out charge your cards right back up to $5,000 again”

    But with that said, I really like your analogy about flossing and brushing vigorously and often, and it’s true in nearly every part of someone’s life. I see it in my faith. You’re on fire for a while and then your candle is all but snuffed out.

    I need to do something proactively each day to keep myself regimented, great insights.


  3. @Jon: That sentence was a little shaky wasn’t it? Of course I would never advocate running your cards back up. I think I’ll clean it up a bit to reduce confusion. Thanks!

  4. #2 is my sticking point.
    I think I need to hire a personal coach!
    I have a friend who has similar goals and ideas as I do, so I may approach him.

  5. Great post. We find that the goals are crucial no matter what aspect of life. If you have a meaning and a purpose, you have something to continue driving towards. Just a reminder to continue creating goals and shoot for the moon. Thanks for the post.