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Knowledge versus Behavior


When I was an undergraduate, I remember taking a workshop on conservation education. Basically, the purpose was to teach people about conservation of natural resources: its importance, how to practice it, and how to spread it to others. One thing I remember learning in the workshop was in regard to recycling. Research has shown that you can teach people all about the impact that recycling can make and, after education, these people will express that they highly value recycling. BUT, if you actually observe these people, do their recycling habits (or lack thereof) actually change?

The answer is NO….usually.

Basically, studies have found that unless recycling is made EASY, that most people will continue to simply trash things. If, however, there is a recycling bin placed directly next to a trash bin, then they will indeed opt to recycle. But if the recycling bin is across campus they won’t make the effort to recycle their bottled water or old newspaper. They’ll simply chuck it in the trash. It’s easier.

I give this little anecdote to demonstrate that changing someone’s knowledge (by teaching them something new) does NOT equate to a change in behavior. The behavior is harder to modify. It has to be made easy.

Unfortunately, I have succumbed to the knowledge versus behavior problem this past month. Since starting blogging, I have learned quite a bit about my spending habits. I have worked diligently to change them. For the most part I have succeeded. But in the month of September??? Not so much.

I’ve already told you all about how I went way over budget with our grocery purchases. Why is this?

Well, I leaned back on grocery shopping like the crutch it’s always been. I have historically used grocery shopping as an easy “outing” with the girls. I feel like I’m being productive by buying things that we “need” and, at the same time, I’m getting the girls out of the house for a bit and using the time to serve as a distraction or you could even call it entertainment. I prefer to go to parks and have been making more park trips in the mornings, but its still dreadfully hot in the afternoons here in Tucson and the afternoons drag on and on and on.

The problem, of course, is that this means we end up buying all types of things that we don’t really need or things we could make do without. Then we wind up at the end of the month and I realize our grocery budget is beyond shot – it’s been blown out of the water!

So this broken record is probably getting a little old at this point, but something’s gotta change. I’ll brace myself for your groans and eye-rolls but here I go…..

…I’m going back to the envelope system.

Oh, the envelope system. My much loathed system of paying for goods.

Here’s what I’m going to change for the month of October: instead of actual paper envelopes for all my different spending categories, I’m going to focus solely on groceries and eating out. My other categories, including entertainment ($20 budgeted), personal maintenance ($30 budgeted), and other ($150 budgeted) have not been as big of a problem – I’ve never gone over in entertainment or personal maintenance since I started blogging!! And in the past it made me feel uncomfortable to carry so much cash. BUT, my wallet actually has 2 separate money tabs. I’m going to designate one as being for groceries and the other for eating out. This way I won’t be carrying paper envelopes, I’ll always have my money with me (instead of accidentally leaving an envelope at home), and I’ll be limiting my cash-on-hand to only 2 categories instead of 5.

Oh yes, this is happening. A modified envelope system is back! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Pssst:  I’m spending the weekend hanging with my family who is in town visiting! I’ll be back Monday with a full budget update from the month of September.

PS: Thanks to the reader whom, in my old money envelope posts, had given me this idea by saying that she simply used a regular wallet and labeled the tabs for different categories.



  • Reply Jenna |

    Great post. The knowledge v. action issue is real and good on you for recognizing the problem and implementing an intervention that you knows works for you. Good luck making it work for this month.

  • Reply Jennifer |

    If not knowing what to do to fill your afternoons is truly the issue than instead of focusing on revamping your envelope system you need to figure out what to do with your girls. I remember well my first few years of being a mother. Those afternoons can be long. Check out your public library or neighboring cities’ libraries for children’s programming or maybe they have a children’s “play and read” area? Call churches that are near by and see if they have drop in mom and children play days. A morning at a indoor play place at a fast food restaurant ? Sometimes just a change of scenery does the trick…join a playgroup so you can see other adults and play with different toys. Stop by your neighborhood public school and make friends with the school secretary and ask her if she knows of any moms who have kids your kids’ ages who might be looking for social time. I have heard of schools with “extra” space letting parents use a room for play/drop ins. Our school has a resource person/social worker who runs this kind of programming. Just because your girls are not in school yet does not mean there are not ways the school could benefit you.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Wow, so many great ideas! I’ve never heard of schools letting parents use extra space for socialization. I should look into this!

  • Reply Bertine |

    Have you thought about finding something that can be an outing that is indoors and free or low-cost. I have a membership to the zoo, which I use a ton in the winter (in Minnesota) because there isn’t anywhere else that I can get out of the house and let my daughter run around. It is something like $100 a year but I find it totally worth it.

    • Reply Ashley |

      That’s a good point. I’ve always avoided memberships (to the children’s museum, zoo, etc) because I worry that we won’t use it enough to make it worthwhile, but if we make that into our regular outing (in lieu of the grocery store!!) then it could be worth the cost.

  • Reply Theresa |

    I have been using cash for our grocery money for over 5 years now. I really like it. Between Costco (I don’t like putting it on our AMEX) the Aldi- where cash is easier as well and the farmers marker where cash is the only thing accepted it has worked out. I do a lot of little trips and it keeps from cluttering up our checking account and my husband likes that there is one large withdrawal at the beginning of the pay period. Good luck!

  • Reply Sue |

    Good luck Ashley!!! The only two areas we ever go over within our budget is eating out and groceries and the groceries is because we have to throw so much fresh food away because we have eaten out so much & it went bad!!! 🙁 REALLY going to work on this aspect of our budget – new month, new attitude!!

  • Reply Susan |

    I am getting ready to re-vamp our entire budget and my goal is to pay cash for everything. Even debit cards can get things way out of whack. Good for you,
    Ashley and I think the modified envelope system might work. I’ll watch for your updates with this because this is what I might do.

    I am so close to getting credit cards paid off with just a couple of small ones left that I will be able to pay out of regular money once the bigger payments are gone. We have declared that we will NEVER let things get out of control like this again. Even though we do have a “good reason” (family crisis, medical bills, similar), we have still been horrified at our debt predicament. I am absolutely sure that the way to go is cash for everything and that will even eliminate the possible identity theft/loss caused by all of the cyber security breaches.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Reply Ashley |

      Its so exciting to get the credit cards paid off – a big milestone! I’ll certainly keep you updated with how the modified envelope system works for us this month!

  • Reply Candice |

    I understand this struggle. I was not able to successfully win the grocery/eating out game until September 15th when I started a diet. I let my friends know I was dieting and not to invite me out and I started planning my meals which drastically reduced cost. My paycheck on September 25th was the first paycheck where there weren’t a million adjustments to compensate for my overspending in the food category. Having witnessed how much I have saved (easily $200 for a single two week pay period) I will NEVER not have a food budget.

    Could you simplify it even further by combing dining-out and groceries into a “Food” category?

  • Reply Cecilia@thesingledollar |

    This is, as a matter of fact, *exactly* what I do these days — credit card for everything but groceries/food, which is the area where I’m historically most likely to just randomly throw things in the cart. I get out my food budget for the month in cash at the beginning, and that’s it. It’s actually working really well — keeping me very, very aware of how I can save $.50 or $2.00 here or there by buying a cheaper version of the same thing, or making me ask myself do I really need (x, y, or z.) Good luck with it!

  • Reply TENN |

    Another idea regarding a zoo/museum membership is to suggest it as a gift from the grandparents to the girls. I have given one to my nieces/nephew the last few years.

  • Reply Linda |

    We started here with four bloggers, and now it only seems to be Ashley contributing to this site with meaningful content. Does anyone else feel as I do? I want to thank Ashley for that and all the work she puts into this. I do think the owners of this site need to vet blog contributors a little better in the future!

So, what do you think ?