Money & Food Behavior Change
There are three key steps to changing your money and food habits: Track, Trend, & Change. To make and sustain real change, you have to be willing to put some work into it, be honest with yourself, and commit to a new approach to money and food. This is not an easy process and can often be alarming and shocking to many. Most of us don’t have any clue where our money goes and what goes into our mouths. We are really good at lying to ourselves, justifying our behavior and habits, and burying our faces into the sand to avoid seeing what is actually happening. To free ourselves from this drift state, we need to face our bad habits head-on through the process of Track, Trend, Change.
The first step in changing our money and food habits is to track our current state. This can be done via apps on our phones such as Lose It, Mint, or any other that tracks what you eat and how you spend. If you don’t like technology, there is still something called paper and pen/pencil that you can use. In fact, there is something very real about writing instead of typing it that can make it really hit home.
Some keys to tracking include being honest, no judging, consistency, and time.
If you are going to take the time to do it, be honest with yourself. There is no point in doing it if you are going to lie as you do it. It is what it is, so just enter it and move one. As you enter each item, write or enter what it is, when you bought or ate it, and how you felt before and after you did it. How you feel right before and right after matters a lot!
You need to be kind and don’t judge yourself. The tracking phase should be viewed simply as a data-gathering phase and not a time to beat yourself up. Get the data so that you can make changes later. If you judge yourself now, you will just quit.
The tracking has to be done every day and for every penny spent, and calorie consumed. If you take purchases, meals, or days off, the data will be flawed and won’t allow for effective change to be made. Consistency is key to change, so NO DAYS OFF!
I would suggest that you track for at least two weeks, but one or two months would be better. The more data you have to look for trends, the more trends you will find and changes you can make. Every month comes with its own surprises (holidays, emergencies, etc…), and tracking over a longer span of time allows you to account for those in your data.
After you have tracked you money or food for one to two months, it is time to look for trends.
When looking at your money data, look at when, where, and why you spend.
When you spend matters. Maybe you notice that most of your spending occurs at lunch or right after work while scrolling on Amazon. Or maybe you find that most of your spending occurs after your long days at work when your willpower is spent, and you also happen to drive right by your favorite store or restaurant. When you spend, there are always patterns, so look at the data and pull as many when’s out as possible.
Where you spend is another trend to look for. Are you consistently going to the same coffee shop just because you drive by it every day? Does all of your spending happen online via phone Apps? Look closely. We all have our favorites. Find them so we can attack them later.
Then there is the why. Why we spend is harder to do trend than the others. Our feelings are complex and often hard to express or notice. I mentioned earlier that you should track your emotions right before and after you spend or eat. This is where that comes in handy. Do you eat or spend when you are happy, sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc… Knowing what triggers you to spend or eat will help you figure out how to create barriers to spending and eating when you need them.
The same approach holds true for looking and your food trends.
When do you eat? I used to eat when watching sports. Even if I wasn’t even hungry, I ate because that’s what I did when watching sports. I also used to eat every time I got in the car to drive my kids to sports, which is a lot! It was a mindless habit that started somewhere and just became the norm. Like many, I also ate when I was bored, stressed, or tired. It seems like I was eating all of the time. Hunger wasn’t driving my consumption. It was a habit. I learned that by tracking and finding my trends.
Where you eat is also important. As I mentioned above, the car became a place to eat for me, and so did my couch. There are places we associate with food, so we will eat regardless of our need to eat when we are in those places. Take a close look at your trends and see where you are eating. See if you can change your mindset and habits around those locations or avoid spending time there.
The why is again the hardest to confront. We are supposed to eat for survival, but we don’t anymore. Food is so abundant and easy to access that we have mentally moved past function and survival. For many, food has become emotional, and that is hard to change. This is why I encourage people to be mindful of their emotions when they eat to create other strategies to deal with those emotions rather than eating. If you don’t track and trend your emotions, you may never be able to change the why of your eating.
After you have tracked and trended your habits, now you are ready to make changes. The data tells you where you need to start. Here are two approaches that may help you start making changes to your habits today.
The 80/20 Approach
Look for the area where you can make the biggest impact first. If 80% of your bad eating occurs at the local coffee shop in the morning, start making your own coffee or take a new route to work. If 80% of your spending occurs on your Amazon App, delete the App from your phone. The 80/20 approach can be difficult because these habits may be the most ingrained and hard to change, but if you can make those changes, it is a lot of bang for your buck.
The Snowball Approach
Another approach is to look for the low-hanging fruit. Some of these smaller changes can result in easy wins that help you build momentum towards bigger impact changes, like a snowball rolling along, collecting more snow, and getting bigger. An example of this would be to cancel one unused subscription to save some money or quitting that nightly bowl of ice cream by brushing your teeth right after dinner to create a barrier between you and that late-night treat. After you make a small change like that, you will feel motivated to move on to the next. Each small win adds on to the next, and over time those wins compound into huge change.
It does not matter which approach you take. The point is that once you track the data and find the trends, you need to look for areas to make changes and get started!
What area do you want to work on? Money? Food? Another one? It doesn’t really matter what it is. The easiest way to start making changes is to start tracking now. If you are not willing to track it, you are not that committed to changing it. Get some paper and a pen and start writing!
If you have another method for changing money and food habits, please leave your suggestions in the comments below.