Change is hard: Willpower versus habit

Recently on GRS I've been exploring the concept of motivation. But what if you didn't need to be motivated at all? What if you did what needed to be done automatically, without even thinking about it? You've probably heard a version of the saying before: We're creatures of habit. But what are habits, exactly? How are they formed? Why are they important? And how can we form good habits (or break bad ones)?

Recently, I was listening to back episodes of the NPR program Fresh Air and came across a story on Charles Duhigg's book "The Power of Habit." Duhigg has also written about how to change your spending habits for GRS. According to Duhigg, one of the reasons that habits are so powerful is that they are governed by a completely different part of the brain than decision-making.

Why is this important? Because as has also been noted on GRS previously, making too many choices can result in decision fatigue and a loss of willpower. The more you can move your ability to complete desired activities over into the habit center of the brain (the basal ganglia), the more "room" is left in the decision-making center of the brain (the prefrontal cortex). In other words, if you can make an activity into a habit rather than a conscious decision, then you're saving your willpower for when you really need it.

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More about...Psychology

More on motivation and money

In my last post, I talked about motivation and money. Motivation is a huge yet under-discussed concept in personal finance, I think. While big wins may be the quickest way to wealth, that doesn't mean you'll reach your goals overnight. Even if you have become wealthy, you still need motivation to manage your money and prioritize your spending. After all, if you want to stay wealthy, then you can have anything you want but not everything you want. And if (like most of us) you're not wealthy yet, you may have to be even more ruthless in your prioritization.

I've been chronicling my debt payoff journey here on GRS for two years now. (Whoa!) In that time, I've learned quite a bit -- not just about personal finance, but about myself. And as I pointed out in my last post, self-knowledge is an important component of motivation. So here's a rundown of some motivations that I've discovered work especially well for me.

I'm motivated by balance

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More about...Uncategorized

Motivation and money

Especially for those of us like me who are in the midst of the long, hard slog of debt pay-down, staying motivated can be tough. How do you keep your excitement up and your determination high when financial independence is barely visible on the horizon? Here are some methods for staying the course when your goals will take months or years (heck, even decades) to achieve.

1. Keep Your Goal Visible.

This is one you tip with which you may be familiar. Let's say your goal is to move someplace tropical when you "retire" (sarcastic quote marks because there are so many definitions of retirement). However, even early retirement is years or decades away. How can you keep your goal at the forefront of your mind? Turns out there are plenty of ways!

You could make your computer's screen saver a picture of a hammock on the beach. You could pick a personalized design for your credit card that reminds you of what you really want when you're tempted to spend. I read a blog recently that suggested making passwords incorporating phrases that remind you of your goals, like RetireInBelize2045. Finding a way to make the far-off a part of your everyday life may help you keep your eyes on the prize.

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More about...Psychology

Student loan update: Interest rate edition

In my last progress report, I mentioned that I took my student loans off Kwik-pay (autodebit) until after closing on my house. The thinking was that I'd have the money just in case things didn't go smoothly with the house and move. Originally, I thought I'd re-enable the automatic payments after closing.

Then I realized that if I kept my student loans on manual payments, I wouldn't be at the mercy of my lender in terms of how payments were allocated. I assumed that I was no longer receiving an interest rate reduction for being on Kwik-pay. Nothing about an interest rate reduction was listed anywhere that I could see in their account interface.

However, it turns out that I was getting an interest rate reduction. Although I didn't receive any sort of notification, after removing Kwik-pay from my account, I noticed the next time I logged in that the interest rate was now listed at 4.75 percent. Previously, it was 4.5 percent.

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More about...Debt, Budgeting, Planning

What type of procrastinator are you?

Aah, procrastination. Controlling our time can be difficult, and most of us are intimately familiar with the act of delaying the act of starting or completing a task. Piers Steel, professor of human resources and organizational dynamics at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary and author of "The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done," has made the study of procrastination into an academic specialty.

Steel believes that putting off a task in and of itself is not considered procrastination. In a 2007 article in the Psychological Bulletin called "The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure," he says that procrastination is when one "voluntarily delay[s] an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay." Procrastination is thus different from, though related to, poor time management.

Why do people procrastinate? And what does procrastination have to do with finances? Research into the first question is still being conducted. What is clear is that procrastination can have devastating effects on one's finances. According to H&R Block, about 25 percent of the people wait until the last minute to file their taxes. What's more, the average procrastinator pays about $400 more due to rushing and last-minute errors.

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More about...Psychology

Book review: “Eventual Millionaire”

There are many personal finance books and tools out there that are useful to people in all stages of personal finance. I have a lot to learn before reaching financial independence, and the editorial elves thought it would be helpful if I shared some of what I learn with you.

My recent reviews include "Personal Finance for Dummies, Fifth edition," by Eric Tyson, MBA. This week, I'm reviewing "The Eventual Millionaire: How Anyone can be an Entrepreneur and Successfully Grow their own Start-up" by Jaime Tardy, who has previously guest-posted right here on Get Rich Slowly. After finding out that corporate America wasn't all it's cracked up to be and racking up significant debt (~$70,000) while on a six-figure salary, Tardy left that world behind to focus on being happy.

However, she wouldn't mind being happy and being a millionaire. Who would? Today she runs the website She's interviewed over a hundred millionaires to track down some common denominators in financial success, and this book shares her discoveries with you. Continue reading...

More about...Books, Career, Side Hustles

Charity, hobby, or mistake? The cat we didn’t keep

Jake and I have two cats and a dog. To us, having pets is one of the most important aspects of our lives and identity. You might even consider it a hobby. Unfortunately, it is a hobby that, as you will see, has not always been entirely strategic.

Our love for animals has permeated much of our lives. I've been vegetarian for over a decade, and Jake was veggie for six years and still cuts back where he can. We also have a standing commitment to donate only to animal welfare organizations. They're our charities of choice!

Meet Julius, the Almost-Third Cat

When Jake and I met, I actually had three cats. One of them was diabetic, however, and passed away. So when an ex co-worker of Jake's said that she had found a homeless cat she couldn't keep, he said yes. Sight unseen. Can you guess how well this is going to turn out?

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More about...Giving, Home & Garden

Pick your hobbies strategically and save

For the most part, we think of hobbies as activities that we naturally gravitate toward. The idea of being strategic in our selection of hobbies may seem contradictory to their very nature! However, I think that being strategic in the selection and pursuit of hobbies isn't mutually exclusive with enjoying yourself. What's more, you have options in how to strategize.

The Hobby-as-Side-Gig Option

One obvious method of making your hobbies work for you is by getting others to pay you to do them! Maybe you enjoy making quilts but hate the outlay of money and Stuff. Plus, how many quilts do you (and the friends and family you make gifts for) really need? By selling what you make on sites like Ebay or Etsy, you can keep your house uncluttered and come out ahead financially.

This method may work best for hobbies that produce an end result that takes up space, especially if the process of making the item appeals to you as much or more than the item itself. You can always take a picture of the item you made before selling it. That way, you can look back and admire your handiwork without having to store and dust it.

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More about...Frugality

Book review: “Personal Finance for Dummies, 5th Edition”

There are many personal finance books and tools out there, useful to people in all stages of personal finance. I have a lot to learn before reaching financial independence, and the editorial elves thought it would be useful if I shared some of what I learn with you.

My recent reviews include "FlexScore, Part I (The Book)" by Jeff Burrow, CFP, and Jason Gordo, AIF as well as a review of FlexScore's online tool. This week, I'm reviewing "Personal Finance for Dummies, 5th Edition" by Eric Tyson, MBA.

Why this book? Well, I figure that this is the time of year where people are resolving to eat right, exercise more, and track their money. As a result, we probably have lots of readers who are either new to GRS or returning to the fold after a hiatus. So a book that provided a comprehensive overview of all things financial seemed just the ticket.

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More about...Books