9 Small Money Habits with The Biggest Impact

The eight money habits below are kid-tested (by me... not actual children) to have a profound impact on the way you manage your dollars and cents. 

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I'm like Captain Ahab in search of his white whale; always on the prowl for the tips, money habits, or money tech that changes lives and makes it easier to stay out of debt, save, and live my life without overwhelming money stress.

I can't speak to what works for everyone, but the eight money habits below are kid-tested (by me… not actual children) to have a profound impact on the way you manage your dollars and cents.  I've also listed the time it takes to do each one. While an afternoon spent negotiating bills may not seem like a quick money fix, when calculating the year-long effects implementing these habits has, it's clearly very well worth the effort.

Nine Small Money Habits That Make the Biggest Difference


Commit to Writing Things Down


  • Bad money habit: Not knowing where any of your money goes ever. You put your credit card statements in the trash.

  • Good money habit: Reviewing your card statements at the end of each month.

  • Better money habit: Taking two minutes each day to write down your spending and saving expenses. Do this for one month.


Time Required: 2 minutes each day x 30 days = 60 minutes.

No one loves apps more than I do, but there's science behind writing things down. Not only does it help us to brainstorm better, but we remember more when we put pen to paper. This year, develop a habit of writing down your finances on a sheet of paper, even if it's just a few financial goals.



My “Separate Bill Pay Account” Hack


  • Bad money habit:  Being late to pay your bills.

  • Good money habit: Manually paying all your bill on time.

  • Better money habit: Automating your bill payments out of a separate bill pay account each month.



Time required: 4 hours (you can knock this out in one weekend!)

I gave this piece of money advice in this great article by Natalie Bacon. The other women featured in the round up gave really profound, meaningful advice. I missed the boat and went with something more tactical, but I'm going to continue to evangelize this tip because it has truly made the biggest difference of all the things I've done in managing my own finances.

I know in the name of streamlining things people usually only like to have 1 checking account, but if you're prone to overspending (like I am) keeping your cash for bills separate from what's okay to spend can be a game changer. (You can also use this as an opportunity to sign up for a bank account offering a cash bonus. Ca-Ching!) It can take a minute to set up this whole process, but if you break it out into 20-minute chunks it gets easier.

  • Open a separate bank account (if you don't already have one). 
  • Tally up how much all of your bills cost each month.
  • Figure out how much you need from each paycheck to go into separate bill pay account to ensure all these bills get paid in full.


Get a FREE separate checking account that rewards you for your purchases. The Rewards Checking account from Radius Bank offers 1% cash back on purchases, plus 0 fees and free ATMs. It only takes 3 minutes and $100 to open. Click here to learn more.



Start Leveraging Apps (If You Haven't Already)


  • Bad money habit: Not saving any money each month.

  • Good money habit: Saving $100 each month.

  • Better money habit: Saving more by using automatic saving apps.


Time Required: 5 minutes

Flipping over couch cushions and looking for extra change is so 1993. I've even tried keeping change in a jar in my house, but that jar has sat neglected for a few years now that my cash usage has dwindled to nothing. The truth is, even though I'd like to be better about keeping cash on hand, mostly I deal in digital currency (Venmo, Paypal and Debit Cards). 

So, what about all of that “extra change” from my purchases? Enter in new apps that help you save seamlessly by mimicking this “couch cushion” effect. Most of them function in the same way: by analyzing your checking account and removing super small amounts you wouldn't miss. Apps like Qapital allow you to set rules like rounding up to the nearest dollar or saving a dollar a week. Here's how I quickly saved $1000 by using these apps and any extra “found” money.

Additional resources:


Qapital is $3 per month, but they're giving folks who sign up via my link a $5 bonus for downloading the app and linking their checking account. Click here to sign up.


Commit to Learning About How You Really Feel About Money


  • Bad money habit: Keeping your finances on autopilot.

  • Good money habit: Tracking your spending.

  • Better money habit: Spending five minutes each day for one week learning about your money mentality.


Time required: 5 minutes for 7 days, so 35 minutes for one week.

I'll admit it – this one isn't so much of a “money habit” as it is a commitment to really learning about your money habits. How do you feel about money? What in your past has influenced the way you feel about your finances? There really is no better time to discover your deep-rooted connections and attitudes toward money.

Best of all, I've written a series dedicating to discovering those answers. You can find them below.

Additional Resources:


Learn more about how you spend your money by using an automated expense tracking app to see where your money really goes. My favorite is Trim. Download the FREE Trim app. Trim automatically analyzes your expenses to see where you can save, but it also tracks your budget to see where your money goes as well. Click here to download.


Make a Mantra to “Live Lean”


  • Bad money habit:  Living beyond your means.

  • Good money habit: Staying on budget, but you give away stuff instead of selling it.

  • Better money habit: Periodically selling unused items for extra cash.


Time Required: 2 seconds to set the mantra, 20 minutes each week ongoing maintenance.

I like to live minimally, and I credit my days as an actor for why I live lean in terms of “stuff” I have around the house. When you're a “working” actor, you move around so much to take jobs across the country that it doesn't make sense to have a lot, so you get used to living with very little. (You're also freaking poor, but that's another story for another day. )

Even still, I obsessively like to cull my belongings so that only the truly purposeful items: the ones being loved, used and valued consistently stay in my home and creative space.

I know I'm different from most in my views on this, but I also believe that modern consumers just keep too much “stuff” around. I like to consume, don't get me wrong, but I'm happier with fewer, more high quality things.

And while getting rid of your stuff is an opportunity to live more meaningfully, it's also an opportunity to make a little extra cash. Whether it's a holiday gift you didn't like, or a dress you bought and wore once, there are many ways to repurpose your unwanted belongings into an extra $25 or $40.. That “extra” cash can go a long way to debt payoff (as seen in my $8k in 90-days challenge) or toward funding a savings goal.

Additional Resources:


Consider this: Everything in your home used to be money. Why not take the time you save not shopping to earn extra from your old items as well. Click here to order a thredUP closet cleanout , or click here to learn more about consigning high-dollar designer items with TheRealReal.



An Annual Audit of Your Expenses


  • Bad money habit: Never negotiating your utilities.

  • Good money habit: Negotiating discounts on new services.

  • Better money habit: Periodically calling and asking for discounts on existing services.


Time required: 1 hour for the audit, 2-3 hours if you want to call to negotiate expenses

Here's how to do an audit for your own expenses, and there is no better time than the start of a fresh year to make this happen. I recently switched cell phone providers and nabbed $40/month in savings. That's $480 back into my budget in 2017 for a half hour of work (and yes, I actually went into the store. Some things you just can't outsource with an app, unfortunately.) 



You can call and negotiate bills on your own, but you can also use companies like BillCutters to do the work for you. They'll negotiate lower payments on your behalf and only take a percentage of what they manage to save for you. Then take the extra and immediately put it toward my debt payoff goal each month. Click here to try it out!


Cut Back…For Real this Time


  • Bad money habit: Buying things you cannot afford or putting new purchases on a credit card…and then not paying it off every month. 

  • Good money habit: Paying off your balance in full each month.

  • Better money habit: Trying to live frugally a few times each year in order to reset your spending habits.


Time Required: The time it takes to not give into temptation.

I know, I know. This isn't very fun, but after the decadence of the holiday season, it feels like everyone is in “cut back” mode come January. Shoppers spent an average of $967.13 this recent holiday season (source: National Retail Federation), which means January is the perfect time to find ways to save money and start paying off holiday bills.

Additional Resources:


Brainstorm Ways to Make More Money


Bad money habit:

Good money habit:

Better money habit:

Time Required: 15 minutes

I'm not asking you to start a side hustle right now. As a new money habit for the year, try thinking of additional ways  to make your little money tree grow. Set 15 minutes on a time, grab a pen and a piece of paper, and for those fifteen minutes ONLY WRITE DOWN ways you can earn more. No distractions, no stopping. It's surprisingly effective.


Automate your savings


  • Bad money habit: trying to “remember” to put money in a savings account

  • Good money habit: calendar reminder to put $100 in a savings account each month

  • Better money habit: automatically transferring $100 out of your account to savings each month + using a money-saving app like Qapital or Acorns to save even more money automatically


The power of automating your savings is profound. Make it easy on yourself by scheduling an automatic transfer so your savings can grow without any additional brain power or worry from you!


Take the first step by opening up a high-yield savings account so you have a place to stash your savings that earns as much as it possibly can. I like to recommend CIT Bank (this is where I keep my savings, too!)  thanks to its higher-than-average interest rate (25x the national average) and no-fee structure. All it takes is $100 to open. Click here to learn more.


*this post originally appeared in January 2017. It has been updated in January 2019.

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9 Small Money Habits with The Biggest Impact
    • DNN
    • February 2, 2019

    I’ve become so frugal nowadays that I went to Walmart today to put $8 on a prepaid card so I wouldn’t spend the money on nonsense. L 😛 L

    • Tom Esthber
    • January 25, 2019

    Already been doing number one for a few years now. Have started doing number four as a New Year’s resolution!

    • rayman
    • January 25, 2019

    Great tips on how I can save money this 2019. Hopefully I will be wealthier this 2019. Thanks alot for this article.

    • Cathy
    • January 25, 2019

    I am currently working on my part time job after regular work hours. It doesn’t bring that much money in but it somehow adds a little bit to my current earnings. I am also cutting down on eating outside on weekends and opt to cooking at home.

    • Scott Summers
    • January 24, 2019

    I am in for an annual audit!!! It is a good practice to have on your expenses. Just to see what works or not.

    • Grace K
    • January 24, 2019

    Wow super helpful ideas. I love the one on auditing myself. I’ve never done auditing before, so this will be a skill learned.

    • Maury Cheskes
    • January 24, 2019

    Great healthy tips for a steady income. It’s good to break down your financial situation and I like how you went even deeper in asking how we feel about money and out belongings. Thanks for the insightful read.

    • annie
    • January 24, 2019

    Saving have never been easy for me but I think this post is a wake up call. I need to start saving some monies. Even these little pennies that comes as change.

    • Obalade Damilola
    • January 24, 2019

    Great share..I don’t have a good Money saving habit though.. but I have learnt one or two tips from this write.Its time to declutter my house,sell those things i don’t use and make me some bucks…

    • Danielle M
    • January 24, 2019

    Great tips that Will help me to sav some money. Im already puting in paper my expences and my financial goals. Ill put in practice the other tips from your post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Enyi
    • January 24, 2019

    I’m hoping to have a wealthy 2019,thank goodness this is coming at the beginning of the year. I think I should have two accounts one for just paying my bills.

    • Chuck Davis
    • January 24, 2019

    I really have bad spending habits. All these things you said, they just resonate very well with me.

    • Jay Findling
    • February 18, 2018

    super helpful post!!

      • Maya
      • January 20, 2019

      Interesting tips. I will apply the MY “SEPARATE BILL PAY ACCOUNT” HACK. But I could not understand step 4:
      – “Set up one bill for automatic bill pay out of that account.”. Please if you could clarify.

        • Lauren Bowling
        • January 21, 2019

        Thanks for giving me the heads up on this! I went back and amended. I just meant that once you have the account, set up a bill for autopay and then keep doing that until all your bills are set up for autopay out of that checking account.

    • Dia
    • January 5, 2017

    I love this. I think the idea of having your check go into a bill paying account and then taking out what you can spend for leisure and day to day is a great idea. I really want to try this. I just got my life together two months ago and opened a separate business account.

    1. Reply

      Yes – I’ve found it super helpful. Especially when I first started freelancing and wasn’t sure what to “pay myself” every two weeks!

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