Last week, I ordered a chick pea and kale wrap for dinner. I know, I know. A bit rabbit-ish. Then came the option of fries or salad. Isn’t that one a bit obvious? Who would order the healthiest thing on the menu and then pair it with a basket of fries? But man, the fries looked good. Oh well. Salad it was. And just a glass of ice water to drink.

To the outsider, the dinner looks a bit Spartan — pretty bland fare to say the least. Who would pass up the bacon poutine for a dinner like that? Did I lose a bet? Was I being punished for something?

No. It’s a habit.

How to build a healthy food habit

If I can shift my mind from what looks tasty to what my body needs, some surprising things happen. My cravings want more kale, more chick peas and more Brussels Sprouts. OK, kidding on that last one. But you get the idea. It’s all about forcing a new habit until that new habit forces you into good. It’s just 30 days of adjustment and the new stuff actually becomes tasty! Why a glass of water? Because after a few weeks of just water, anything else is too sweet. And after all, something like 60% of our body is water. So, we need more of it! If 60% of our body were Diet Coke, then we would need to replace the Diet Coke that we lose with sweat. See my point? The exception, I’d say, is a good glass of Malbec. But I was headed to the gym that night and needed the water, so the wine would have to wait.

My habit keeps me fit

Working out is similar. A few days without running, and the first km is painful. Not painful like a session with an amateur acupuncturist — more like the “why am I here?”, and “I wonder if my bed is still as cozy as it was when I left it?” kinds of pain. But many of my rough-starting runs turn out to be my favourite ones. If I can push past that first kilometer, my stride smooths out, thoughts wander, and the kilometers glide by. If I log a few weeks of 3 runs a week, I can’t do without them. Take a couple of weeks off and the open road just does not call me. Even if it did, I wouldn’t pick up. My energy levels drop, and sleep becomes evasive. It’s just as tough to get the running habit restarted.

Personal finance is driven by habits too, and they work the same way as the eating and running ones. Take a trip to a mall and try to return empty handed. That’s what I thought. Get into the pattern of spending within a budget and we tend to spend right up to that budget. With Canadian consumer debt at 170% of incomes, it looks like we have even gone a wee bit past our budgets. Once you’re seduced by the smell and gloss of a new car it’s hard to consider a pre-owned one. If you get used to heading out for lunch each day, the bother of a little Sunday night prep will seem too onerous.

Use the force of habit to build wealth

But start to develop your positive financial habits and they will create a powerful addiction. Forget budgeting. Build a simple net worth sheet and track your progress monthly until you get the hang of it, then switch to quarterly. (You can download a free net worth sheet to start from the Utensils Page.) Use it to Log what you own and what you owe and focus on the difference between the two. Is your financial value rising or falling? Are you making progress toward financial independence, or just gathering more things that depreciate?

With a focus on building net worth vs tracking to a budget, your decision-making process will change. Bringing a lunch could save $8 a day. That isn’t a lot on its own, but it adds up fast! That little daily savings tallies to $168 a month. Sounds pretty good right? Invest that in your TFSA for 10 years at 7% and you would have nearly $30,000. Peel out another $8 a day on the coffee and a saturated fat-laden, cholesterol-boosting muffin and you free up another $168 a month for a total of $60,000 extra in your TFSA. It’ll be some of the easiest money you ever make, and it’ll be healthier for you too. Such a fantastic start. Once you’ve got that down, you can find a few more do-betters and your wealth will accelerate!

Focus on net worth

Once you focus on net worth and get the ball rolling, more good financial habits will follow. There are dozens of them that are easy to implement with low sacrifice. Over time your wealth will accumulate, and you’ll free yourself up for some new options. Maybe you’ll travel the world while your money grows! Or perhaps start that small business you’ve been dreaming of since your 20’s. Or if you’re the giving type, you could make a big, lasting gift to your favourite charity.

There’s no time like the present! Let me know how you’re doing with applying the force of habits in your diet, fitness, and financial worlds in the comments section below. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Cashflow Cookbook is all about increasing financial literacy and building financial independence with minimal sacrifice. Share if you enjoyed this.

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