5 Bad Financial Habits I Finally Broke During The Last Year Of My 20s

I’m about to tell you something that is wild and a little scary: We have less than three months left of this decade. The whole decade! I’m especially in my feelings about the impending decade, because when my birthday in December comes around, I’ll personally be starting the beginning of a new era, too: my thirties.

Given my birthday’s proximity to the New Year, each year I’m reminded of my own aging right around the time that people are setting New Year’s resolutions. Last year, as I turned 29, I realized I had one year left in my twenties to get right — on a few levels. That included investing in therapy and thinking critically about what I wanted the next 10 years of my career to look like. But perhaps the largest area I needed to set straight was my finances.

After taking a critical look at my various accounts, I committed to changing these five habits before I turned 30 so I could start my new decade ready to conquer anything:

1. Obsessively checking my bank account.

Don’t get me wrong: I still find it important to do a daily check-in to make sure no fraudulent charges have landed on my account and to stay on the lookout for bank fees. But for most of my twenties, I have checked my online banking platform 6-10 times per day. Even worse is that I’ve historically checked my retirement accounts multiple times a week. Note to my younger self: if dividends accrued that fast, we’d all be Beyoncé. The problem with this practice for me was that it allowed my finances to hold so much space in my mind. Signing in to my online banking portal 8 times a day wasn’t fostering a healthy relationship with money — it was creating a scarcity mindset around it. Today, I limit myself to one login per day (maybe two).

2. Using my monthly budget as catharsis — but not as a tool for informing my spending.

I have kept a budget spreadsheet for years — Virgo moon here, hello! — updating it after every purchase for a real-time calculation of the amount I have left in any given monthly category. Keeping a budget is crucial for good financial health, but for me, the practice was more about catharsis — “phew, I spent way too much on drinks last night, but now it’s in my budget; I have repented and can move on.” I wasn’t looking critically at the way I was spending money, which meant that I just kept spending. Instead, I should have been balancing out that high drink spend with a few more nights spent in.

3. Not setting up automatic deposits for investment.

I hemmed and hawed over whether to set up automatic deposits for years, mostly because I was overspending each month (see point 2), and therefore needed that investment money to pay off my monthly credit card bills. But two things eventually convinced me to set up auto-deposits. I realized how easy it was to set up recurring deposits in Ellevest, the investment platform I use and love, and I read enough articles stressing the importance of investing early and often. I imagined my future self vacationing in Italy annually, and the best way I could find to ensure that future was to set aside money each and every month to be invested in my retirement fund.

4. Not creating a travel-specific savings bucket.

I, like many people who are lucky enough have had the opportunity to do so, love to travel. I’ve also historically had a debilitating case of FOMO. I can’t bear the thought of missing Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or a chance to take a gals’ trip to Santa Fe. I recognize that to have the financial bandwidth to say “yes” to trips like these without falling into financial ruin is a huge privilege — one not everyone has. Still, I had a habit of booking flights without thinking about where that flight would land in my budget. And even though I was traveling often, I still wasn’t putting money aside in a travel fund to draw from each time I booked a ticket. It wasn’t until this “turning 30” challenge that I realized I was doing myself a disservice. I finally created a separate savings account for travel. Under this new system, I no longer have to raid my other budget categories to pay for a plane ticket.

5. Not setting aside small amounts of savings.

For a long time, I thought that my savings goals should be really high. Aim for the stars, right? But those sky-high savings goals were keeping me from saving much at all. Like, if I couldn’t save hundreds a month, I shouldn’t bother. Um, no, girl. When I read about the 52 Week Challenge, I realized I needed to commit to it for 2019. The idea behind the 52 Week Challenge is that participants put an amount of money each week into savings, starting with $1 on Week 1, $2 on Week 2, and so on. I did mine a bit differently: I wrote numbers 1 through 52 in my planner and each week set aside and crossed off a number in the planner. That gave me the flexibility to put in $52 on a week when I was feeling flush, and $1 on a week I was feeling broke. And now, as we near the end of the year, I’m on track to have saved $1,378 for the year in addition to what I put aside for retirement and regular savings. 

So, what have I learned from breaking these bad habits?

After almost a year of working on breaking these bad habits, my biggest takeaway is this: awareness and intentionality are the keys to financial wellbeing. Practicing awareness of where my money is being spent, and committing to re-prioritizing where I spend moving forward, will define my finances into my thirties and beyond.

Kate is a marketer, writer, and side-hustler who lives in Denver, CO, and Germany. Follow her on Instagram at @kate_mose_mill.

Image via Unsplash

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