Every single day, we have dozens of little things we do almost on auto-pilot. We take a shower, sweep the floors, drive to work, bathe the baby, check facebook, put the car keys in our right jacket pocket, etc. These things happen every single day, without thinking. These are our habits.
When we look at our habits in isolation, they never look all that important. It’s just what we do. But over time our habits have a tremendous impact on our well-being. They also have a tremendous impact on how our kids view the world.
The impact of changing one habit
Let’s look at this from a financial perspective first. All of us have habits that involve spending money regularly. Personally, I used to stop at Dunkin’ Donuts every morning for a coffee and a breakfast sandwich. It was just part of my morning routine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this habit, but at some point I decided that I would rather have the habit of making a breakfast at home. By changing my routine in this small way, I was able to free up about $5 per morning, or about $100 per month. Then, rather than give myself the stressful task each month of deciding what to do with that money, I set up a monthly automatic $100 transaction between my checking account and my IRA. This was another new habit. Simply by changing one small habit and creating another one, I went from spending $100 per month on breakfast to saving $100 per month for retirement. And I never really had to think about it again, because it just became part of what I did every day.
Our kids learn from our habits
In addition, our kids spend a lot of their formative years learning about life by watching us. Whether they like it or not, they’ll probably turn out to be more similar to us than not, and that means that they’ll pick up a lot of the habits they see us practicing. Given this truth, what kind of example do we want to set? If we show our love by buying them a new toy every week, that’s what they’ll think is normal. If instead we show them love by playing with them while at the same time saving that toy money for a bigger purpose, that’s what they’ll think is normal. If we can demonstrate financial responsibility in our daily lives, our children will be much more likely to take on this quality as well.
So it turns out that those things we do every day without thinking are actually pretty important. The trick then is to understand our goals and then determine what habits we want to form to help us get there. In a subsequent post, we’ll talk about ways to start taking small steps towards forming better habits.