Your financial health, just like your physical health, is built on dozens of small, daily decisions that eventually form habits. And while eating better and exercising more are well-known habits that will get you fit, sometimes the money habits that lead to financial health are much less obvious — though both topics can inspire plenty of debate.
While every person’s financial situation is different, there are still habits that will nearly always have a positive impact on your money. These are the 30 essential money habits you can follow each day, week or month to get control over your money and build wealth instead letting your finances control you.
1. Spend Less Than You Earn
This habit is Money 101. It’s always going to be true that you’ll never get ahead financially if you always have more money going out than coming in. The great news is there are two ways you can work on this habit: Focus both on growing your income and controlling your spending to live within your means.
2. Pay Yourself First
When people say “pay yourself first,” they mean you should take your savings out of your paycheck as soon as it hits your checking account to make sure you save something before you spend it all on bills and other expenses. The key to saving successfully is to save first, save a lot — 10 to 20 percent is often recommended — and save often.
3. Maintain an Emergency Fund
Virtually every personal finance expert agrees that an emergency fund is central to financial health. Building and maintaining an emergency fund can help you avoid debt and give you a reserve to draw from, which can also help you keep your financial goals on track even through life’s setbacks.
Start small by saving at least one month’s worth of expenses and then work your way up to saving a larger emergency fund, such as a year’s worth. Having several months’ worth of expense money saved up can protect you against financial concerns when crises like job loss or medical emergencies come up.
4. Budget for ‘Extra’ Expenses
In addition to basic living expenses and bills, you should also budget for other purchases you’re in the habit of making. Whether it’s buying a coffee twice a week, eating out on the weekends or buying gifts for friends and family, these seemingly little expenses can add up and suck your budget dry if you don’t plan for them.
Write down everything you’ve spent money on in the past month — go back farther if you can remember or look up transaction records and receipts — and categorize each expense. Rank each category by how important it is to you. Add the top three priorities as line items in your budget, such as $100 a month for date nights or $20 a month to buy supplies for your hobby. For everything else, work on dropping those spending habits or finding cheaper alternatives like brewing your coffee at home.
5. Save for the Unexpected
Extra costs can come up frequently, and whether or not they’re true emergencies, they can still set you back. Maybe your tooth filling falls out, your pet decides to eat half a rug and needs emergency medical care, you get a flat tire or your kid wants to start playing a sport. Your finances will get hit twice as hard by these unexpected expenses if you don’t have extra money saved to cover them.
Having a “buffer fund” can create a little bit of wiggle room in your accounts so you can pay for these costs without going into debt or pulling money from your emergency fund. Try socking away $1,000 for each member of your household, for example — including pets.
6. Get and Stay Insured
In addition to a buffer fund, you should also consider insurance. Insurance is an important protection that can stand between you and bankruptcy due to a major emergency. Start with the must-have: health insurance. Medical debt is one of the most common causes of financial hardship, out-of-control debt and bankruptcy, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Half of all overdue debt listed on credit reports is medical debt, affecting 43 million Americans, reports the CFPB.
Other forms of insurance also can help protect you against major expenses. Car insurance is not only a good idea but also is required by law in nearly every state. If you’re the breadwinner with kids, you should probably get a hefty term life insurance policy and you might also consider getting disability insurance. Stay current on all policies so coverage will never lapse when you and your family need it most.
Other types of insurance that you might also benefit from having could include:
- Homeowners’ insurance or renters’ insurance
- Pet insurance
- Guaranteed auto protection insurance
- Dental insurance
7. Set Financial Goals
To know what daily money habits to focus on and prioritize your money management the right way, you have to know what you’re trying to accomplish. Review your finances. Look specifically for the biggest drains on your money, such as overdraft fees or high-interest debt, and also spend some time thinking about what you’d like your finances to look like in the future. Then, identify specific steps required to achieve your short- and long-term money goals.
8. Review Your Progress Regularly
Set aside time each week to check on your financial goals. Did you make progress? Were there any setbacks? Track how you’re doing and celebrate your wins — not by splurging though — to keep yourself motivated and on course.
9. Track Your Money
You can’t put your money where it matters if you don’t know where it’s going. Figure out a system to keep track of your financial transactions. Whether you prefer using pen and paper to reconcile your bank accounts the old-fashioned way or using finance-tracking apps like Mint or LearnVest, you need to have a clear picture of what is happening with your money. Tracking your spending can help you quickly identify problem areas that you can improve on and see the progress you’re making.
10. Check Financial Accounts Often
As part of keeping track of your money, you should check on all financial accounts on a regular basis. You should review spending accounts, like credit cards and checking accounts, daily in terms of checking balances and tracking expenses. Review bills such as loans when making monthly payments and updating your budget to make sure you avoid overdraft or late fees.
Savings accounts should get a once-over weekly or monthly to keep them on track. Retirement accounts and investments can be reviewed less frequently, such as monthly, quarterly or biannually.
11. Carry Only the Money or Cards You Need
If your wallet is so full that you can hardly close it, consider limiting what you choose to carry to the bare necessities: one debit card, enough cash to cover a meal or ride home, and one form of identification (but not your Social Security card). You can’t spend money you don’t have with you, so leave credit cards and extra cash at home to resist the temptation to spend. Leaving credit cards at home can also limit your vulnerability to identity theft should your wallet ever be lost or stolen. Plus, charging all purchases to the same debit card and linked account will make it simpler to track your spending.
12. Pay Bills on Time
Not only will paying bills on time save you money on late fees and penalties but it is also key to financial peace and health. If making payments on time is a struggle for you, review each bill you pay on a monthly basis and write down the due date. Set reminders on your calendar, alerts on your phone or sign up for reminder emails if they’re offered so that you never miss a payment.
13. Automate Your Money
Another way to avoid late payments is to automate your transactions. For payments, set up automatic transfers through your bank’s online bill pay service to send money out to pay bills at least three days ahead of the due dates.
Automation is also great for the “paying yourself first” habit. If you have a retirement account through work, set up automatic contributions. If you get regular paychecks in fixed amounts, set up automatic transfers to move money from your checking account to a savings account or retirement fund right after payday. Monitor these automatic transfers so that you never overdraft an account.
14. Prioritize Paying Down Debt
Interest and debt will hold you back financially. It’s nearly impossible to get ahead and create a financially secure future when you’re always paying off yesterday’s purchases. Budget for paying down debt and consider temporarily cutting back on something, such as dining out, so that you can put more money toward getting out of debt. Pay more than the minimum due on your monthly bills when possible.
Some financial experts recommend paying off high-interest debt first whereas others suggest starting with the smallest balance first. Assess your debt and pick the method that works best for you.
15. Avoid New Debt
High-interest debt like credit cards or payday loans can be extremely difficult to pay off, especially if you’re already in debt. Get spending habits under control and avoid new debt. Try leaving your credit card at home or cancel it altogether if doing so won’t hurt your efforts to improve your credit score. Having an emergency fund can help you avoid new debt by covering costs with savings instead of putting them on credit cards.
If you are considering going into debt, make sure it’s because the debt will help you work toward important goals like owning a home or getting a degree. And, of course, try to only take on short-term, low-interest loans or credit if possible.
16. Build Your Credit
It can be easy to get complacent about your credit score and forget to pay attention to your credit report — until you try to get a home loan or turn in a rental application and are reminded of how important they are. Check your credit reports yearly and get any issues resolved if there are errors on your them. Make sure you’re managing your credit well by paying off bills on time and keeping balances low. These habits can help you avoid high-interest costs as well as build your credit.
17. Invest in Yourself
“Invest in as much of yourself as you can,” said investing titan Warren Buffett. “You are your own biggest asset by far.”
The best place you can put your money is into improving your value and net worth. From daily habits like eating well and getting enough sleep to big life steps like finishing school or switching careers, you should adopt the mindset to always be seeking to grow and achieve goals that have long-term benefits.
18. Look for New Earning Opportunities
As much as controlling spending and saving are essential habits, earning more money can be just as important. Look for ways to increase your income. It could be something small, like babysitting once a week or walking your neighbor’s dog along with yours.
Find a way to make some money with a hobby, such as by selling crafts online or busking on the weekends. You might even consider getting a second job.
If your time is too limited for these options, look for ways to increase your pay at your day job. Find out what would be required to earn a raise and then go for it. Acquire new skills and education that can increase your earning potential.
19. Grow and Invest Your Money
In addition to looking for ways to earn money, financially savvy people also look for ways to grow the money they have. That can be as simple as finding a high-yield savings account for an emergency fund or as challenging as learning to manage a portfolio of investments. Compound interest is a powerful force, and if you get it to work for you, it can be your secret weapon to financial independence.
20. Save for Retirement
Saving early and frequently is one of the secrets to retiring with financial security. Don’t put today’s wants ahead of tomorrow’s needs. Set up a retirement account and start adding to it each month.
Figure out how much you need to save before you retire and make a concrete plan to do it. Learn more about financial planning and investing to grow your money and keep up with inflation.
21. Get Your 401(k) Employer Match
Along with saving for retirement, make contributions to employer-sponsored retirement accounts, especially if your employer will match your contributions. Employer contributions are free money, and all you have to do is set a little money aside for retirement, which is what you should be doing anyway.
22. Learn to Want (and Buy) Less
Resist the urge to buy this product and pay for that service to be happy, attractive, fun or anything else that marketing campaigns are designed to make you think. Practice mindfulness through diligent budgeting and possibly through habits that can help you improve how you feel, such as meditation and gratitude journaling, so that you remember to appreciate what you have. Make sure that you’re the one deciding what your money should be spent on, not marketers or your peers.
23. Do It Yourself
Convenience is attractive but it also can be expensive. Some services are worth paying for so that you can free up your time — or avoid incurring more costs by botching the job — but you can save yourself potentially thousands by getting in the habit of tackling many projects, chores and problems yourself. Simple things like preparing meals at home, doing your own laundry instead of sending it out, and buying a manicure kit to maintain your own nails can add up to big savings.
24. Shop With a Plan
Shopping mindlessly leads to overspending and indulging in impulse buys. Planning ahead, especially when grocery shopping, can help you stick to buying what you actually need and avoid wasting money. Make a shopping list, stick to it and try to get in and out of the store as fast as possible.
Keep a running list of household items you’re running low on and consolidate errands into one shopping trip. Waiting to go to the grocery store, pharmacy and post office in the same trip, for example, can save you time and gas money.
25. Compare Costs on Everything
To spend money wisely, you need to be able to decide if what you are getting is a good enough value to justify the cost. Get in the habit of comparing prices of products as well as comparing prices against their value to you. Some personal finance experts suggest you start by comparing your hourly wage to the cost of the item you want to buy. For example, is that pair of shoes really worth three hours of pay? Then compare the cost of the thing you want to other things you could use the money for, such as paying off high-interest debt.
Lastly, compare the actual item to others like it. Is there a less-expensive alternative that offers the same product or service at a lower cost? If you spend a little more, can you get a better version that would last twice as long? Weighing these options can help you buy less junk, cut down on waste and lead you to choices that offer real value and higher quality.
26. Use Coupons and Ask for Discounts
Look for coupons, deals and discounts. Whenever you make plans to spend, whether it’s heading out to the bar with friends or signing up for a new internet service, check for deals and look for ways to spend less. Maybe the bar has a happy hour and you can save money by getting together earlier. The cable and internet company could be offering a special deal for new customers. Even your credit card issuer might give you a rate discount if you ask.
Only look for deals once you’ve already decided your purchase is a smart one. Don’t use discounts and coupons to justify frivolous spending.
27. Learn From Financial Setbacks
Almost as important as knowing the right things to do is knowing how to get back on track when things go wrong. Almost everyone faces financial setbacks at some point, including some major nail-biters. But even small choices, such as stopping at the drive-thru instead of waiting to eat at home, can get you offtrack. Once you start slipping, you might fall into a pattern of overspending.
Practicing the habit of facing setbacks head-on and maintaining your financial discipline even in tough times can help you prepare for bigger money crises that could come your way. And since hindsight’s 20/20, look back on past financial missteps so that you can identify what went wrong and how you can prevent those problems in the future.
28. Correct Bad Habits
As you set and practice new, financially healthy habits, you can’t let yourself off the hook for those few bad habits that will inevitably stick around. As Warren Buffett put it, “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”
Maybe you avoid problems when they come up instead of quickly resolving them or you too easily justify overspending when you’re out with friends. Chances are you have a handful of habits that are tripping you up again and again, and these bad habits can potentially do more damage than good habits can fix.
Whatever the issue, don’t let yourself sabotage your efforts to build wealth. Along with building positive habits, work to get past your financial weaknesses and be honest with yourself if you’re spending to fulfill an emotional desire instead of meeting a true need.
29. Educate Yourself on Finances
If you’re serious about building financial health and wealth, then you need to educate yourself. After all, you can’t make the best financial choices if you have no idea what your options are and how each decision will impact your life and money down the road. Start small by reading some personal finance books and spending a few minutes each day reading personal finance articles (just like you are right now).
When researching options to make a decision, dive deep into the pros and cons of your choices. Whether you’re shopping for a car loan or the right mortgage or are trying to find the right financial planner or investment vehicles, you’ll be able to make decisions wisely and confidently when you have learned as much as you can about the topic.
30. Give Back
There are a lot of ways to get rich, but giving back is the surest and fastest way to feel rich. One study by a pair of Yale and Havard Business School graduate students found that the psychological effect of giving back is so powerful that it can actually diminish a person’s desire to overspend or engage in other poor money habits stemming from a compulsion to assert or display wealth.