Habits – they’re what make up our lives. Consistent, automatic actions and choices that help things run smoothly and protect our mind’s processing power. Today let’s talk a little bit about the money habits that we’re carrying around and when it might be time to change them.

College Habits

Like many people, my wife and I built most of our money habits while we were in college – it’s usually the first major opportunity people have to manage their own money and time – and we carried them over into married life. A lot of these habits were positive, like avoiding debt, prioritizing saving, and getting creative at slashing expenses. Following the garbage can incident, we realized that we’d reached a point where we didn’t have to live like college students anymore.

Was it bad that we kept our college money habits? No, not really. They served us well for a time, but we realized that we needed to up our game a little as we grew more adept at managing money.  We had an opportunity to decide which habits we wanted to keep, which ones to quit, and which ones to change.

Sometimes, the college money habits we keep are not so beneficial to our success.  In college, it can be really easy to ignore the numbers and borrow enough to keep afloat. But we can do that after college too.

It’s also pretty easy to stop living like a college student on graduation day, or when you land your first “real job.” It’s like “dude, this is the biggest paycheck I’ve ever had! I can afford anything!” But that’s not always the best time to stop living like a student. Just like we discovered, it’s possible to stop living like a student too late, but it’s also possible to stop living like a student too early.

Financial Graduation Day

Luckily, there does come a time when you can stop living like a college student – I call it Financial Graduation Day!

You’re a full-fledged financial graduate when:

  • You have paid off all your student loan debt
  • You have paid off all other debt, except your home (cars, credit cards, etc.)
  • You have a fully-funded security fund (3-6 months of expenses)
  • You have a consistent cash-flow plan to manage expenses, save, and invest
  • You have a track record of being cash-flow positive
  • You have a firm cushion in the bank

If that’s you, congratulations! Here’s a cap and gown, move that tassel over, you’ve done it! Your income is completely yours. Now you get to decide what you want to do with it.

If you still have some student loans hanging around or haven’t developed your cash-flow plan yet, I encourage you to stick with it! Study hard, learn what it takes to achieve that goal, and implement small, measurable steps to get there. Work towards financial graduation day like you worked toward academic graduation. Just like you wouldn’t sign up for every class you need to graduate in one term, don’t feel like you have to tackle all of the financial coursework in one month. Just like school, it takes consistency, not just intensity to master the material.

Striking the Balance

If you’re still working towards financial graduation day, I’ve got your back. Financial success is about being disciplined enough to stick to your plan, and flexible enough to adjust as life unfolds. It can be tough, but life is like college in another way too – there needs to be room for some fun.

I don’t believe that going all out, guns blazing, succeed or die is always the best way to achieve a goal – it usually just ends with stress and frustration. I think mapping out a plan, and moving steadily toward your goal with rest stops along the way gives you a better chance of sticking with it.

Spending every waking moment stressing over an exam is miserable, and so is spending every moment freaked out about finances.

Sometimes, you need a little pizza break.

Celebrate the financial progress you have made! Reward yourself with a little extra fun when you “pass a class”. It doesn’t have to be a trip to the Bahamas (yet), but maybe just take the night off, hang out with your family or friends, order takeout, and play a game. Or start saving for that new bag you want, and buy it when you “ace a test” by reaching another financial milestone.

Here are just a few of the things you can celebrate:

  • Creating a cash-flow outline and sticking with it for three months
  • When you are cash-flow positive for six months in a row
  • When you save your first $1,000 in cash for emergencies
  • When you’ve listed your debts smallest to largest and paid off the smallest one
  • Each time you pay off another debt
  • When you reach debt freedom
  • When you get your will done or adjust your insurance coverages
  • When you save your full security fund
  • When you open or contribute to your retirement investment account
  • When you hit your target bank account cushion number

Take a little time and enjoy the benefits of being responsible with money – that’s what it’s for!

Even if it takes a while to financially graduate, celebrating the small victories can help you stay motivated and on track.

So what if you haven’t paid off $40K of debt in six months? That kind of thing just sells advertising on hotshot blogs – it’s not always real life. It’s like that old joke – “What do you call a medical student with a C average? Doctor.

You still reach financial graduation, no matter what course you take to get there.

Go For It!

Changing your money habits doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to involve completely changing everything you’ve ever believed about your life and your money. It doesn’t have to be tedious, penny-pinching busy work.

Changing your money habits can be as simple as thinking, “what if I did this one thing differently?” It can mean evaluating just one aspect of how you behave with money, and re-aligning it with what you truly value. It can mean making bite-size goals and celebrating along the way. It can mean steadily working on the big-picture, moving incrementally closer to victory each month.

Like college and the habits we develop there, I encourage you to begin this year with fresh(man) eyes. Take this week to examine your money habits and see where you want to be the next time you have trouble writing the date again. There are many paths to financial graduation, and you get to chart the course that fits you the best. It’s a choose your own adventure where all the endings are glorious when you achieve your goals.

Financial Graduation Day is approaching – Go Get It! What milestones have you reached? Which money habits do you want to change this year? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!

Until Next Time,
Do Brave Deeds and Endure!
– Ben

If you’re fired up about making progress towards financial graduation day but don’t know where to start, I invite you to take a look at Personalized Financial Coaching. I’ll be your cool curriculum advisor as you choose your courses and ace your financial exams. We’ll hit the books together as we dive deep into what your ultimate life looks like, destroy your debts, break the curve on saving, and have more fun than a Greek Life convention doing it. Click the button below to get started. It’s a class you won’t want to drop!

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