The secret sauce. Everyone seems to be talking about having the “secret sauce.”
There’s a special sauce to make a killer burger, a sauce for fish and chips I’ve just discovered in Canada, and apparently, a sauce for building your business. But what about the secret sauce to help you achieve your goals?
Know what it is? Habit.
Yup, habit is the secret sauce to achieving your goals. Whatever the goal may be.
This is something I’m learning. Again. When I was 21, I served a mission for my church. It was a completely life-changing experience. Our mission president rarely spoke of mission rules, just Habits of Excellence. That phrase has been so stuck in my mind that I find myself thinking about it at very specific moments in my life. But at times, I get out of the habit. Ironic, huh?
So here I am re-learning to establish my own personal Habits of Excellence. In fact, I’ve been reading “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg. And might I say, it is such an eye-opening read. The science behind habits, habit formation and habit replacement therapy in individuals and entire groups is incredible. Seriously a great read, if you love non-fiction. (And I do. Since I was a teen I’d prefer the personal development section over the novels. Weird, I know.) Definitely one I recommend. You’ll never look Febreze, Alcoholics Anonymous or Tony Dungy in the same way.
Focus on habits: they shape your goals. And your future.
[Tweet “Habit is the secret sauce to achieving your goals. http://wp.me/p4vEYZ-cX via @womanenriched “]
Now, this isn’t a book review post. This is just a quick insight to the direction we are headed at WomanEnriched. Goals are the big picture. Habits are the daily grind that get us there. They are the mundane, little things we do without even thinking about that are often boring, but keep us moving one small step closer to the goal.
But Duhigg mentions another important element that I hadn’t considered before: Belief.
You have to believe you can have a successful business before you get there. You have to see that healthy body you are working to achieve before you make it happen in the gym. You have to imagine the beautiful, clean, organized home you want to live in to make it a reality. Belief is a major component to creating good habits.
In essence, the three steps are: 1. Establish a goal. 2. Make it a habit (the secret sauce); 3. Believe it is possible. Then getcherbutttowork.
This is where I’ve stumbled. I have a great goal, I know what I want to accomplish, but I haven’t quite believed it was possible. Know this feeling? Have you dared to dream, but haven’t taken a step in that direction because it doesn’t quite seem possible? I completely understand. This summer I have found myself getting into some nice, comfy habits I thought I had conquered. Habits of buying a few little extras while we grocery shop. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but we are working to get out of debt right now and have some solid goals in place. Habits like, “I’ll do the cleaning later…” and then it piles up on me. And my big nemesis, the habit of “Just one little, medium sized soda. With refills.” It makes me so mad! I start by rationalizing that, “I’ll just drink a little soda while I’m out with friends. And in a couple weeks I’m back to my 2-a-day habit.
Habits: they make or break you.
Tell me, what is one habit you are working on (either creating or eliminating) in your daily routine?
My daughter and I just traveled to visit family, go to a wedding and spend some time with loved ones; Dad stayed home and worked. I had a budget and stayed within the boundaries, but I’ve been thinking about the purchases I made while I was there. And, especially while we are working to get out of debt, I’m having all this…buyer’s remorse. No, shopping guilt. Or a combo of the two. I can’t seem to put words on it, but I hate this feeling.
You know that feeling, don’t you?
I knew we were going to spend some money. But this feeling is not going away. It wasn’t a splurge, I double checked my purchase question filter and talked to my husband before doing anything big, but I’m having a hard time justifying spending a little money while we are making small sacrifices that are adding up to big steps in our debt-free journey.
In doing the research, I discovered that it’s both. Better termed, cognitive dissonance. Which, in regular words is simply. “Look, I planned on doing this in my mind. But I had to make a choice to do something against that previous decision. And, I’m really not okay with that. But I had to. But I shouldn’t have.” And so on. I think you know what I’m talking about.
It’s shopper’s guilt because I feel like I shouldn’t be spending any extra money on anything while we are getting out of debt. Period. And it’s buyer’s remorse because travel adds up fast. Big ticket items cause that remorse. But both are necessary sometimes.
Retailers know we have this cognitive dissonance, too. (Side note: don’t you just feel smarter using this term in a sentence? Me too.) In fact, the Wall Street Journal had an article years ago about this very topic and what retailers are doing to combat this feeling. Consider this from 2009:
“It used to be about keeping up with the Joneses, and now it’s about outsaving the Joneses,” says Alexis Maybank, the co-founder of Gilt Groupe, which organizes online, by-invitation-only 36-hour sales of high-end merchandise from labels such as Burberry and Matthew Williamson. “We need to encourage people to get excited about fashion.” (The double entendre in her company’s name dates from an era—2007—when the guilt that went with shopping was far less disruptive.)
And the retailers know we are not spending as much time in the stores as we used to, so they are happy to come to you. Online. Open just for you. Anytime of the day. No matter if you’re dressed for the day or not. Any whim- can be yours. Just a click away. Guess what? They’ll even deliver it right to your door.
There’s also another phenomenon with Americans who buy, experience the guilt and return things promptly. It’s called shopping bulimia. How’s that for a disgusting visual image? The Today Show explains it: “Shopping bulimia is when people are overwhelmed by the desire to buy something in order to feel better, but once the initial happy buzz of buying wears off, they realize they can’t afford their spree, so they quickly return their purchases.”
That buzz is real. How do you fight this? Determine these three criteria before making a purchase:
1. Ask yourself several questions, like: Is this what I need? Will this help our family? If I go home and think about, will I want it enough to come back tomorrow to buy?
Clearly, your questions will be different from mine, but set your questions now before you ever walk in the store or look online.
2. Look long-term. Will this be an item that you can use next week? Next month? Next year? Set a timeline for how long you will need the item to justify the purchase.
3. Let yourself live a little. It’s okay to have something you enjoy. Just because. And, it it brings you a little happiness, even better. Just make sure that this is a little something, instead of shopping to fill a hole in your heart or soul.
I’m going to be working on this issue. I plan to report back on what I’m learning. The real question is: How do you deal with this?
Look, the word budget is not a fun one. It sounds almost…miserable. Sure, you think you are pretty smart with your money. You try to stay away from the splurges and plan for the big expenses, right? I get it. I was exactly right where you are. It’s only been a few months that we have been on Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and I can see how I was “nickel and dime-ing” us down a financial drain. Yikes. All the little mistakes I was making with our money was creating big problems. I don’t want you to go through that. Avoid these 11, no there’s 12, no, Avoid these 13 Mistakes and you will be making tremendous strides in your financial future.
1. Not having a budget.
I know, I know. The budget. It sounds constricting. It sounds like the super child locks that are so effective you can’t seem to get back in the door. Or cupboard. Or life. But the thing I’ve found is, the budget doesn’t constrict you, it actually lets you breathe financially. Here’s what I mean. I know before I leave that house that I’m only spending money on the things I’ve decided beforehand. No nonsense. It takes all the decision making frustration away. So, when I walk by the end of the aisle with a killer discount, I simply have to ask myself, “Is this what our family NEEDS, TODAY?” (When words are capitalized, they’re even more powerful in my mind. Like the booming voice you hear as the Super Hero stands triumphant with his cape billowing in the breeze. Promise.) Also, the sense of control you feel at the store is really incredible. You have buying power, rather than having the sales power you. Seriously. Set your budget and feel the freedom.
2. Not writing down what I’m spending.
Now this was originally listed as 1-A because it is part of number one, but is so important that it is listed separately. It’s a biggie. We had our budget set up, but we didn’t always write down what we were spending as we put the change back in the envelope. (And yes, we are using Dave Ramsey’s Cash Envelope system. Whoa. That is eye-opening!) Sometimes we would just put the receipt back in the envelope. Other times we were too busy and there were 5 people behind us at the grocery store- so we just thought, “We’ll get to it at home.” Whoops. If you don’t hold yourself accountable right then, you’ll miss it. And a $20 purchase doesn’t seem like that big of deal on the numbers, but if you do that once and your sweetheart does that another time…you can see where this is headed. Commit to writing everything down and watch how much more cash you have at the end of the month.
3. Spending money for something small. Right now.
I used to think, “Hmmm, this extra little something will really make today special.” Now, looking back I can see that it was me trying to enjoy something pretty, sparkly and just plain new and using the celebration/moment/memory as an excuse. That is ridiculous. You can add a couple of little things, but what makes life special is what YOU do. You make the moments. A thing is just a thing. (How’s that for profound?) If you want to make a moment special, put YOU into the moment. Write someone a note, take time to really listen, give of yourself to a family member.
4. Buying something today. Hello, Impulse!
Can you see a list of excuses here? I didn’t realize how I could easily rationalize a purchase- just because. I would think, “We’ve done really well this week, hon. Let’s go get that ________ (new movie, toy, TV sound system…even once I said tablecloth. Really, a tablecloth? Believe me, I know how lame that sounds,) and using that item as a reward. Take the time to think ahead and you will see how your money will really last.
A lot of times, it’s not your fault. The stores are set up to entice, to tease you to buy one more thing, add one more refreshment, surprise your sweetheart with this or that for your happiness. Fight the impulses and watch your own power increase!
5. Giving too much.
This one may sound a little crazy. I love giving gifts. I love surprising friends with a little something. A gift-giver I will probably always be. But not at the expense of paying for a small gift on a credit card at a love 12% (and up) interest. Now, I think “Is there another way I could show my love/appreciation/respect-for-that-trick-you-do-with-your-nostril in another way?” Usually, there is a great alternative that doesn’t cost much. And it’s much more personal. Bonus!
This has been another major behavior change for me, but I’m learning. I can see how by doing all of these little things, our family is turning the tide on the financial wave. It is getting exciting, too!
6. Not thinking long term.
A down payment for a home, a healthy retirement plan, an investment portfolio…these were all just hopes for us. We knew we wanted them for our future but hadn’t taken any action to get them done. Do you know someone who lives like that? They have a killer dream but are doing absolutely nothing to get there! What is that? We are taking the steps necessary to make our long term plan look just as good, if not better than the short term. That’s inspiring! I can’t believe the amount of stress that is eliminated when we open our perspective and get our plan in order. You can do it, too. I know you can.
7. Thinking only of myself.
This one is especially tricky for military wives. Deployment time, anyone? Wow. It has been months since your sweetheart has been home and several weeks since you’ve been able to speak, he/she won’t mind if you buy this amazing ____ (In my case it was somewhere along the lines on: KitchenAid Mixer, Quilting supplies, specialized car seat, make up set, powerful electronic gadget that I’m not even sure how to use yet…) You know, practical things.
Another one that catches me is Amazon. I love to buy books. I catch myself still finding a book online and getting ready to “Buy with One-Click,” then stopping myself and thinking, “Whoa, girl! Whoa…” (Have I always talked to myself like I’m a horse?) I can always talk myself into making said purchase with a couple of comments like, “At this discount price- I’d be crazy NOT to get it!” Now that just makes my husband laugh. Good thing he’s got a sense of humor about it, too. Can I get an AMEN?
I know you know exactly what I’m talking about here, too. I was using shopping as a mechanism for coping with the loneliness. I don’t want to do that again. Facing the loneliness head on is much braver. Honest. And completely empowering. Let’s think long term. Let’s think of the family. Let’s think of the best choice overall.
8. Trusting credit cards.
I don’t know how I just believed that the credit card was my safety net. Do you? They are marketed as the only way to get this, or this, or live large. Really, it is genius. I don’t need to get more sky miles, rebates and cash back when I’m paying an additional 12% interest. How did I miss this phenomena? When my husband was away on deployment, I thought that having a credit card was the only way that I could take care of my little girl while he was away. It was the fear guiding decisions, not wisdom. Just realizing that has been powerful.
Do you know what I trust now? Our savings. Our cash. Our plan and power to choose how to spend the money.
9. Misaligning my priorities.
This one goes along with the others. I could easily put a quick trip to somewhere on the same level as paying off that debt. I never had an established list of priorities on which payments or bills to pay first. So many people just pay the bills as they come, rather than have a strategy. Fighting off debt is like chess. You’ve got to have a strategy of exactly what you are going to do to conquer your opponent. (And between us, I am not a chess queen. Cheese queen? Perhaps, but not a chess queen.) Here’s an example. I had one small student loan of $1500, thank you Sallie Mae, and the monthly payment was $49. Do you know how many months I was paying on that teeny loan by paying exactly what the company was asking of me? What foolishness! And I did it for months, because I didn’t have my priority set to pay off the loan, but just keep making payments. No more, Señorita!
10. Thinking it was easier on all of us just to go out to dinner. Just tonight.
Oh, this one is one that still has me struggling. On those days when we have had a lot of activities, suddenly it’s 5pm and I have no idea what I’m going to feed our family. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who has experienced this sort of panic.) I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at my husband and said, “Let’s just go out. It will be so much easier.” Going out to eat seems like a quick fix, but think about it: how long does it take to get to a restaurant? Your kid will be starving by that time, is that really how you want to start a night out? Plus, you may have to wait to be seated, and order, then wait for the food to be prepared. It can take the entire evening. You are not just losing the money, you are losing an evening of real family time.
Is a restaurant meal worth that?
11. “Oh, it’s a quick run into the grocery store. I don’t need a list, I’ll just pick up a few things.”
Wow. I don’t know how many times I’ve run into the store for milk or bread and come out with…well, let’s just say, much more than milk and bread. Again, this means a real change in behavior is in order. I’ve got to have a list and keep it running to know exactly what we are missing, when we’ll be running to the store and pick up a few things.
Those places are like labyrinths designed to make us walk to the very back of the store to pick up the milk. They want us in the store as long as possible so we are enticed with all the goodies and savings, specials and deals available. Have your list. Stay focused. Save your cash for the good stuff.
12. No plan for holidays, birthdays, small celebrations and surprises.
Growing up I used to to hear about women who were doing their holiday shopping all through the year. I used to think, “They are crazy! How can they think that about gifts for the following YEAR?” I may never be a savvy shopper like that, but this is the first year of my life that we have a savings account set up just for Christmas/the entire holiday season. *Fist pump!* Do you know how refreshing that feels? We put just a little away each month and will not have to spend nearly “Half a paycheck” or more to celebrate the holiday season. I plan to report on how this has helped the holiday season run smoothly for our family.
13. Not thinking at all.
This one beautifully sums up all the rest. I have just learned to think more. Think about where the money is going, not just what is going on in my life and hope that the money lasts for us. Just training my brain to consider each purchase has helped me see the power we have in our small, daily purchases and choices. Budgeting really isn’t about restriction, as much as it is about thinking ahead. Thinking as you make a purchase. THINKING. We can get so caught up in our daily actions, that we are missing what we are buying. Take time to think. Realize what you are buying. Think it through.
Avoiding these budgeting mistakes will get you so much closer to financial success. And guess what? You absolutely deserve it! I want that for you!
Tell me now, what is one budgeting mistake that you have overcome? Did I miss one? I’d love to hear your insights.