For some people, changing spending habits can be as difficult as adjusting to the loss of a limb. In 1960, surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz believed that it took an amputee 21 days to get used to having a missing limb. So it is with forming habits. More recent studies indicate it could take anywhere from a few minutes to several months, depending on the new habits to be formed and how complex they are.
That's why creating new spending habits after years of spending and saving the same way would likely fall into the latter category, requiring several months to change. It's understandable that changing your spending habits will take a lot of discipline and repetition, but the reward you'll receive at the finish line is well worth the struggle. To see your savings balance and retirement funds steadily rise from year to year is literally worth gold.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2011 was a year of heavy spending. The average spending per consumer rose 3.3% following a decline in 2010. There was an 8% rise in transportation and a 5.4% increase in spending on food and cash contributions, which included support for college students, alimony, child support and charity donations. Health care spending rose by 4.9% while clothes and entertainment spending also increased. Changing spending habits won't be easy, but with a bit of discipline and by changing your outlook about the money you make, you can make the change in 2013.
It is said that perception is everything. The key to changing your money habits is to change your perception about the money you make. Think about the funds you bring in every week and start looking at money from a bird's-eye view. Look at the overall picture. What do you ultimately want to accomplish with your money? Set your goals high and further into the future. Don't think so much about day-to-day expenses. The key is to look at what you ultimately want to accomplish. Do you want a comfortable retirement? Do you want to one day own real estate or maybe start your own business? Whether it's saving for your children's college education or a Disney vacation, think long term. What will help to get you there are your day-to-day spending habits. If you change the way you buy groceries, clothes, household appliances and gifts, you'll change the outcome of your future savings.
Map it Out
Begin by writing down all the assets and liabilities you currently have. List everything from property, cash in the bank, retirement funds, jewelry, credit card bills, school loans, medical bills and anything else you can think of. Brainstorm through your finances and jot down on a piece of paper all your assets and liabilities. Add each of the two columns up and then subtract liabilities from assets. The result is your net worth.
If the number comes up negative, you've got some work to do. Start working to cut down your debt right away. Analyze what you are spending each month by keeping track of your shopping. Maybe you can cut down a bit on clothes shopping or dining out. Borrow some good books to read from the library instead of buying them. Negotiate with utility companies on trimming down fees. Call your cable company and downgrade to a basic cable package if you find that you really don't watch all the channels on your TV. Pack your own lunches to take to work, which can save you hundreds of dollars a year. If you are in the market for a new vehicle, go for a fuel-efficient car. Changing your spending in this way will add up to thousands of dollars over the years.
The Bottom Line
The key is to know what you have and where you're going. If you know where you current funds are being spent, you will know where you can cut back in order to achieve your long-term goals. Grab a piece of paper and start writing everything down. The only way you will be able to change your spending habits in 2013 is to be proactive. Make 2013 the year you finally get down to business and get your finances together.