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The Cost of Habit: That sounds expensive!

And it can be expensive. Totes! Every week my husband and I do the food shopping together with the kids. It’s awful. Unless I’m alone with no one hassling me, shopping just for food is in my top five most irritating jobs. The kids are jerks the whole time, there’s always some argument about what should be on the shopping list. The list is always right, okay?

The thing that used to make it easier to survive was that afterwards we would debrief over coffee and muffin. It was a small reward. The last thing I wanted to do after food shopping is to go home and actually cook a meal. And I am nothing if not an underachiever.

But we had done this so often, that when I swiped that card to pay for the food shop I’d start sniffing around for cake. I was like Pavlov’s dog, triggered to start hunting for baked goods when the EFTPOS machine beeped.

We have managed to stifle this habit over the last couple of years, but it was tough. And the cravings are still there. I still eyeball the cake shops every time we leave the supermarket. Sometimes we stop, but mostly we press on now. But it wasn’t so tough to give up when we realised how much money we were throwing on food outside of the actual groceries. Especially when we have coffee and the ingredients for cake sitting in our pantry.

So what are your habits costing you?

It’s always the little things you don’t notice. It might be worth your time to take stock, and see where your money is going. If you feel like you’re living paycheque to paycheque and you’d like to make some financial leaps this will be a useful process for you.

Habits by their very nature aren’t immediately obvious to us. We do them by rote. Completely absentmindedly. Ever thought about what order you wash yourself in the shower? Hair first? Feet last? Pay attention next time. Just for the exercise.

You probably never thought about it and that’s exactly how habits work. Do something enough times, and the brain cuts out all the hard work of thinking through each step, making the mental process more efficient so you can do it subconsciously.

Do you have a pre-work ritual? A daily must? Years ago, when I worked for the man, I would buy an apricot Danish and a choc milk every day on my way to the office.

(I realise that most of my habits are food related, but someone once told me to ‘write what you know’).

When I actually tuned into that habit, I realised I was tossing away nearly $50 a week on a second breakfast. It made it so much easier to give up. What about you? Do you have a drive through coffee every morning? Pick up a packet of cigarettes?

One way to hone in on your financial habits is to keep a diary for a week. Write down everything you do from morning till bedtime that cost you money. By the end of the week you should see patterns forming. Even easier, restrict yourself to using debit card only, then check your bank statements at the end of the week. That should give you a nice summary of your expenditure.


The thing about habits is most of us have bad ones: habits that affect your health (see above) and relationships. There’s no need to be precious about it either, we all know our own weaknesses. I spent most of last week whinging to my husband about my chocolate problem while eating a tin of Quality Street. I know where I’m going wrong. I ain’t gonna lie.

But here’s the crux of the matter. If you have a habit that is not only bad for you physically, but is eating a hole in your pocket, then now’s the time to do something about it.

I know I’ve said before that there’s no point to life if you aren’t living it. But some of our habits aren’t really living are they? And one night out with your partner every few weeks, does not a habit make. That’s not what we’re talking about here. I’m talking about those daily fixes that offer no substantial benefit. And cost you.

I mean an apricot Danish? Really? I thought I needed that every day. But when I gave it up, aside from having the extra money, I was actually able to tolerate other human people past 11am. And the whole time I thought it was them that were the problem.

Oh sure, you could die tomorrow and then what was the point of being sensible today. So true! You could definitely die tomorrow, and then today’s healthy and financially sound choices would be meaningless. Would they?

Well I like to tout myself as an advocate of balance. I haven’t yet achieved moderation. But I tout it. Livin’ la Vida Moderate! A little bit of cray cray followed by some sound financial consideration. Today, for example, I overate beef and black bean for lunch, and tonight I updated my spreadsheets and transferred the next two weeks bills into our debit account.

Very organised indeed. I still got to live a little (by my lofty standards), but the money was allocated in advance so if I’m not being healthy at least I wasn’t spending money we didn’t have.

But the thing is, you probably won’t die tomorrow. And neither will I, unless I insist on finishing this bag of prawn crackers. And your cigarette, alcohol, chocolate, gambling, Danish habit is adding up. No one can tell you how to live your life, but right now I’m looking at my two kids and thinking about my future goals. And it isn’t to break any prawn cracker records.

Maybe putting aside some money so they can have a house to grow up in? Teach them healthy habits rather than 99 food related problems? Save for a holiday? Education?

It’s not a very fun topic, this business of bad habits. But it isn’t just the cost of the habit it’s the money that’s taken away from something else. Something else that we really want, not just think we want.

What my husband and I would really like to do is build our dream house one day. It’s a long way off, but the plan is in place. Every week we discuss where the money goes and work towards channelling it in the right direction. It’s not always perfect, but we are focused and clued in to every dollar. We are in control, monitoring everything that goes out, so those pesky little habits that always try to creep back in never get a foothold.

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