Tiny Habits in Budgeting

Budgeting is a long game.

Do dramatic, extreme measures work for awhile? They can. But if you want your money to really work for you, it’s more than an extreme measure here and there. You have to change the way you think about money and apply it with consistency. You have to make it stick.

Instead of relying on sheer grit and will power, I always like to suggest creating some tiny habits that build the budget into your life.

I got this “Tiny Habits” concept from BJ Fogg, a behavioral scientist at Stanford, who has researched this for years. It is fascinating. But he says, to make real, lasting changes, we have to build tiny habits, on top of behaviors that are already part of our lives. One tiny change at a time. If you want to floss, you would say, after I put the cap on the toothpaste, I will floss a tooth. Just that. Focus on that first little change becoming a habit.

For YNAB, maybe it’s after I get the receipt from the cashier, I will pull my phone out. So then you are holding the receipt—and your phone—and you’ll record that transaction and built that habit.

Or maybe you want to build the habit of a Saturday morning budget review. So you say, after I get my coffee, I will sit down at the computer.

You aren’t committing to spending an hour reviewing the budget. You are just saying I will sit at the computer, with the assumption that it will trigger a good behavior.

You only have to do it a few times before that tiny, little trigger, becomes a reliable trigger that happens every time. And you will be shocked at how a tiny little thing that you do differently can kick start positive habits, and ultimately, change.

I do this with all sorts of things; saying thank you to people for certain things. Doing certain stuff with my kids, as far as being a dad and trying to praise them or correct them in a way that’s more effective. Any time I run into a good idea, I just think how can I implement this? What kind of an automatic behavior can I attach to it, and what tiny thing could I use to lead me down the path toward that positive behavior?

So think about that and think about what kind of habits you want to build around your new financial life. You might only have a little bit of resolve right now, and that’s OK—that is all you need to find some automatic triggers to attach to new tiny habits, to lead you toward positive change.