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How to Form Habits and Be More Disciplined


Some of you might see this headline and think, that’s rich! Elizabeth shouldn’t be preaching on this topic. But, as I’ve mentioned recently, I have turned my financial life and my personal life around in a lot of ways. I’d like to share how I got here and what’s working for me.

The Budget Calendar

I mentioned I use the exact same method as Our Debt Free Family. I use a Budget Calendar! When I was truly free-falling with money, this is what got me out of the hole. I used to borrow money while I had a full-time job from my sisters who are in college, and this method helped me figure out what I had to spend without dipping into what I owed for rent or my car payment. The concept is straightforward:

  1. Write your pay dates and amounts on the calendar (you can leave these out if you prefer, but I like seeing the whole picture)
  2. Write every single bill payment due date and amount on the calendar
  3. Add things you know you will need to spend money on – your mother-in-law’s birthday, kid’s field trip

I take the total income for a pay period and subtract what I need to spend money on. What’s left is what I can spend, technically.

The struggle, of course, is that I have a LOT leftover and I need to be more judicious about how that money is spent.

Automatic Investing

Saving is a serious challenge for me. This one is pretty simple – I use automatic payroll deductions to save money for retirement. I also automatically deduct a small amount to my fun investment account. I usually end up contributing more on my own each money. It’s the only way I’ve been able to throw money at my RRSP and I intend to increase that amount substantially on my next check. I want to live off of less money and automatically deduct more to savings.

Mindfulness and Fitness

Health is tied to financial prosperity for me. They all seem to go off the rails at once for me. When I am planning meals and going to bed on time, I am not spending money wastefully with my friends downtown. So what have I done to create habits in this area? I think finance and overall well-being are intrinsically entwined for me, and I bet they are for many of you as well. I’m feeling so great in all areas of my life right now, and I’d love to share what’s working for me:

  • The Calm App helped me start meditating. I have been a premium member since I had panic attacks traveling for work last year. It helps me fall asleep when I can’t breathe. The emergency calm and body scan sessions are 5/5.
  • I won’t renew Calm this year. I learned to seriously meditate on my own over time, and I don’t need or enjoy guided meditation any longer. At night, when I have monkey brain (moving thought to thought like a monkey swinging from branch to branch), I like to focus on the sensation of breathing out of my nose. I take a HUGE breath in, then let it out and feel my body sink into my mattress (the best feeling on earth). Then I focus on the feeling of my breath coming out of my nose on to my upper lip, or the vibration of my nostrils, and I just keep breathing slowly. When my mind wanders, I go easy on myself and let it go. I redirect my thought to my breath and I fall asleep in minutes. It took me almost a year to learn this and IT HAS CHANGED MY LIFE. I am sleeping like a baby for 7-8 hours a night, every night. No more night terrors. No more panic attacks at 3am.
  • Move every day. I’ve been going to the gym and running regularly, but it was next to impossible for me to form these habits with my insane work schedule. So, finally, I started being gentle on myself and accepting 10 000 steps a day instead of a “workout” when days get out of hand. I am friends with serious athletes and “just walking” felt like a failure at times. But walking is so healthy for us! I am now very happy to get those steps in on relaxing walks, knowing I will still sleep better. I used to think “well, if I can’t make it to the gym I might as well just sit on the couch.” Not anymore. Move every day, somehow.
  • Stretching. I stretch all the time. If my muscles hurt, I throw on a yoga video and skip a workout. I sleep like a baby and my body feels good. You guys, have you heard of Yoga with Adriene?? She is amazing! Most of her content is free and it’s not very technical (great for beginners). But as someone who has practiced yoga pretty seriously, I still find her videos challenging in all the right ways! She is funny and offers a lot of modifications for people at different flexibility levels.

Organization is Key

I schedule social time, fitness, and work. I’m thriving right now by hacking my work schedule. I’ve started throwing gym sessions and coffee with friends in my calendar as work “meetings”…and no one knows. If they do, they don’t care. I should have done this years ago. I just leave the office at lunch and go to a 30-minute high-intensity interval training class. This is coming from a woman who struggles to find time to pee at work! If it’s in my calendar, no one questions it, so I just leave. Boom!

Here are some tools I use for scheduling bills, finance, and work:

  • Evernote. I use this to track things I find and hold notes. I am fading away from this though, as my iPhone has native apps that do most of this
  • Reminders! I hold the Siri button on my phone or Apple Watch and say “remind me to take the chicken out today at 4pm” or “remind me to check the grocery store flyers on Saturday at 9am”. I might see a deal for something and set a reminder for it, too. Reminders are amazing!
  • My paper agenda. For work, I find this the best way to track my tasks. I like to take notes in meetings and plan my work on paper. My career is highly technical and detailed, and I retain information when I write it down.
  • The spending spreadsheet that’s working so well for me. I can’t wait to share my insights from this in my next post, which will undoubtedly stir some opinions. January was the spendiest month I’ve ever had. I’m glad to be back in the world of moderation!

Do you have any tips for habit forming? What’s working for you?

Last-Minute Travel for a Funeral


Last-Minute Travel for a Funeral

My husband’s grandma passed away this week. She was a stern-but-loving mom and school teacher who always wanted to see pictures of our kids and who was always ready to talk about the latest Giants or 49ers game. She lived a great life. The last few months have been rough, though. She was ninety, dealing with cancer for the second time, and slowly losing herself to dementia. We all hated to see her suffering, and she was ready to go.

But now that she’s gone, we’re hurting. She was the last of our grandparents to pass away, and it’s the end of an era. Her funeral is in two weeks in another state, and it’s important to us that at least my husband goes.

Thanks to our budget, we didn’t question for a minute if we could afford this last-minute travel. We’ll use some of my earnings from side hustles and not put so much extra towards our loans this month. In the past, I would have just hoped we had enough, taken the trip, and then worried the whole month. But now I know we have the money and just which categories it will come from. Having a plan gives me so much peace of mind.

What we did question was how to best use that money. Fortunately he will be able to stay at his sister’s and share cars and meals with family there. But we wondered the most cost-efficient way for him to travel there.

First, should he drive the 13 hours one-way or fly?

Driving would be less expensive, but it would require him to go through some snowy, unpredictable mountain passes in a small Mazda (yikes). Plus, we’d need to shut down the business for at least one day. The math on that option was bad, so flying it is.

Second, should he use points or cash to buy his plane tickets?

We have a Southwest VISA Card for the business. We’ve been using the Rapid Rewards we earn to fly and visit our families (so many relatives, so many miles apart). I thought for sure he should use those points to travel there. It’s free, so why not? But then we learned about the formula for Cents Per Mile (CPM).

CPM helps you calculate the minimum value you’re willing to put on a flight. The equation is Cost of flight in cash / Cost of the same flight in miles or points = Cents Per Mile (CPM)

– If he flies with Southwest, he could get a $650 round trip ticket using points: $650/44,000=$0.01 CPM

– But if he flies with another airline, he could pay cash and get there for about $250 round trip: $250/44,000=$0.006 CPM, or less than a cent

If we only considered Southwest, points would be better. But taking into account other, cheaper airlines, we’re going to pay cash and save the Southwest points for the future.

Planning last-minute travel is always stressful, especially if you’re grieving. Preparing for this trip, though, has helped us see yet another way that budgeting improves your life. Yes, we’re still sloppy budgeters. Yes, we could be better. But at least we know we have the money for him to go and be a part of this meaningful, once-in-a-lifetime family event.

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