Research says it takes 21 days to form a habit. But financial ones can be harder to stick to. If you’re having trouble keeping your financial wellness habits, start small then take a stab at this habit stacking technique.

Surely you know by now that creating good habits will generally help you kick butt with your money and create financial wellness. We’re probably all guilty at some point of creating some pretty lofty financial goals, only to have them fizzle out halfway through the year. Why is so hard to develop good financial habits that will stand the test of time?

Frankly, it’s uncomfortable, and being consistent with any new venture is hard. You’re so used to doing what you’re currently doing that when you introduce something new, your natural reaction is to push it away. Don’t worry, failure at creating new goals gets the best of all of us.

If you’re ready for a change, you can try an approach called habit stacking. For those who’ve never heard of it, habit stacking is a technique to help you create a new habit by “stacking” it on top of one you already have. The idea is that you’re using something that’s already working in order to help set you up for success.

The Key Question You Need to Answer

Habit stacking is in theory really simple to implement. In practice, it’s much harder because many of us aren’t aware of our existing habits that help us in our lives, not just financially. So to make it easy to start stacking habits, all you need to do is ask yourself what existing habits you can use to incorporate a new one. Or another way to put it is, what old habits do you already do that will help you successfully create a new one?

The answer you provide will give you a lot of insight into how you can go about your day. For example, let’s say you want to start meditating 5 minutes a day. You know that you have a tendency to check your email in your phone in the morning. What you’d do then is install a meditation app on your phone so you checking your email acts as a trigger to turn on your meditation app. Which in turns reminds you to meditate for 5 minutes a day. Simple enough, right?

Let’s integrate habit stacking with financial wellness.

Start With One Specific Habit

Starting small will keep you from feeling overwhelmed. If you get too ambitious and start something that will take you hours upon hours to do, you’ll fail. Those interested in never spending money on dining out will do better to read up on easy recipes while taking the subway to work, instead of whipping up a roast every weekend. Or, you could start by researching cheaper dining options and putting the savings into an emergency fund. As you feel more excited about trying out new recipes, you’ll soon find that your bank account is growing. Hopefully, the idea is that you’ll be so excited at this new habit that you’ll keep it up long term.

You want to be specific about your habit because it’ll be really hard to create a habit out of that. Things like “stop eating out” isn’t going to cut it, because there isn’t really a trigger that will stop you. Instead, find a specific action that will help you move towards your goal.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Listen to personal finance podcasts about budgeting on your afternoon walks
  • Automatically transfer an amount of money into a vacation fund every time you go grocery shopping
  • Read a new recipe you can try out when waiting in line to get your morning coffee

Getting clear and specific on what habit you want to implement will increase the chances of success.

Assess Your Current Routine and Habits (Be Honest!)

Assessing your routine and current habits doesn’t need to be hard, but it’ll be tedious. Start by writing down in a notebook everything that you do on a daily basis and how those habits take. If you love apps, there are ones that log what you do online and for how long. You can combine those two methods to help you, and make sure not to leave anything out.

Remember, write everything down and be honest about it. Nobody is going to read this but you, so there’s no shame in it. These can include singing in the shower, watching TV and even listening to audio books on your commute. Do this for at least a week so you have an idea of when you have the time to add in new habits.

Let’s say you like to do stretches for 20 minutes each morning before you shower. Instead, free up five minutes by cutting down your stretching routine so you can quickly browse for new recipes. Or purchase a waterproof speaker you can leave in the shower so you can listen to a personal finance podcast while you’re in the bathroom (sorry, I guess that means no more singing).

Refine and Move Forward

No matter what, creating a new habit means you may stumble and fall along the way. That’s OK because we’re all human. When you do habit stacking, it’s important to see what’s working and what’s not. If you started a habit and you haven’t consistently implemented it, it could mean you may need to try another old habit to stack the new one on top of. Or just give yourself some grace and keep trying. Know that you’re working hard to improve your financial life, so be kind and keep moving forward.

Sarah Li Cain is an experienced content marketing writer specializing in FinTech, credit, loans, personal finance, alternative investments, international business and k12 education. Her work has appeared in Fortune 500 companies, publications and startups such as AOL Jobs, Magnify Money, Credit Karma, FluentU, Pearson Teachability and Chicago Tribune. Sarah specializes in writing compelling content that weaves in strong storytelling. It has helped the brands she’s worked with not only engage their audience, but be remembered in a sea of content.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner professional.

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