Big Picture

How To Make Purchases That Build Habits


If you’re a frequent reader of the blog you’ll know that I’m fascinated by optimizing my day and building positive habits. The past 3 months I’ve been increasingly thinking about my finances and how to manage my purchases. During these months I’ve changed my way of thinking about spending money. Throughout college I’ve always thought of spending money as a negative activity. The more I spend, the less I have, and who doesn’t want more money? However, I’ve begun to realize that it’s possible to make your purchases work for you, and help you build habits.

I’ve spent much of the last month limiting my wasteful expenses and using the saved money on purchases that improve my quality of life. Today I’ll touch on some of the best investments you can make to build commonly sought out habits (gym, reading, writing, meditation, etc…)

Purchases That Get You Into The Gym

There aren’t many people who don’t have at least one fitness goal. These goals can range from building muscle, losing fat, having better endurance, or even just finding an active hobby. Luckily, we live in a time where we can now use technology to help us achieve these goals. The most common example of using technology to stay active is the Fitbit:


One of the great things about a Fitbit is that depending on your budget you can buy one for as little as $60 and as much as $200. Fitbit uses gamification (the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service) to keep you active.

Even if you’ve never owned one, I’m sure you have a friend that celebrates reaching 10,000 steps for the day and brags about out-stepping their Fitbit group. Pitting us against our friends and giving us daily milestone’s is just one way Fitbit motivates us to stay active, here’s a piece from that talks about all of it’s features:

Available on Android and iOS, Fitbit recently launched three separate challenges for you to extract data and steps out of your fitness social circle: Weekend Warrior, Daily Showdown, and the Workweek Hustle. The challenges are custom to your group and include cheers, taunts, and push updates. Those who accept the challenge in your group have their steps measured against other participants, and you can see micro-events of who’s winning, whether people are almost tied, or if anyone has hit their own daily personal goals. I’ve been using this for 3 months and can attest from walking an extra mile at 9pm just to beat a friend in a weekday challenge that it definitely serves to be a motivator.

Buying a wristband that allows you to have workout buddies that don’t live nearby is a game changer. If you find yourself lacking motivation to go on that run or a daily walk, purchasing a Fitbit with a friend and start building that habit.

New Gear

We’re taught that we should embrace the concept of a sunk cost and not dwell on past purchases. If you bought a movie ticket and halfway through decide you don’t like the movie, you can’t get the money back so you might as well leave. On the contrary, I’d argue that sunk costs help us just as much as they hurt us. Last month I was long overdue for a new pair of basketball shoes and decided to purchase a pair for $120. Even when I don’t feel like playing it’s human nature that I don’t want to waste my purchase so I suck it up and go play.

You can do the same with your gym gear. We’ve heard of girls buying clothes too small for them to get motivation to fit into them one day.  Think of your goals and make a small purchase that helps you work towards it. Want to run more? Buy a new pair of running shoes. Want to lose weight? Purchase a shirt than you’ll have to drop a few pounds to fit into. Or even just a well fitted dry fit shirt that makes you feel comfortable when working out.

It goes without saying that just by purchasing a new pair of running shoes you aren’t guaranteed to build a running habit. My argument is that if the purchase is large enough, you’ll feel the need to get your money’s worth and use the item enough to start the process of building a habit.


The obvious answer to increasing your activity level is making a monetary investment at a gym. Who wants to give a company $15-30 a month to get nothing in return? We’re well aware that resolutioners purchase gym memberships in January only to scramble to cancel in the coming months. But maybe make a one month commitment and do your best to get your money’s worth. At the end of the month decide if it’s worth another month’s investment to you.

This February I needed a new activity to keep me active before the weather warmed up so my good friend Jon Wehausen and I joined a boxing gym. I made the $50 investment and made sure I went 3-4 times a week to not waste my money. This helped me build my schedule around the boxing gym and make it apart of my routine for the month. (Side note: Read Jon’s guest post on the blog about Staying Active with a 9-5)

Purchases That Make You Read & Write



Similar to the Fitbit, the Kindle can be purchased no matter your price range ($80, $120, and $200 versions available). To help build a habit it’s best to remove as much friction from the activity as possible. If you’d like to read more, perhaps the friction lies in driving to the book store, finding the book, and handing over your hard earned cash. Buying a Kindle removes all friction from buying a book, you simply click “Buy” and it’s on your device in seconds. You can read a chapter long preview to make sure you like it, and you have access to a bunch of other digital features as well.

The down payment investment in the physical device will also serve as a cost that you don’t want to waste.

Daily Journal

A big shout out to my former roommate Nathan who sent in the original idea for this piece. It started with a story he told me about how he bought a daily journal that encourages him to write every morning. He knew he wanted to build a writing habit and nobody hates wasting money more than Nathan McClung. Buying the journal at least got his foot in the door, he started using it to avoid wasting his money, and the habit followed. I had a similar situation when I paid $5 for the daily journal app. $5 isn’t a lot in the long run, but when you spend it on one app, you’d like to give it a fair shot. I kept using the app so that I’d get my money’s worth and in the process built a habit that I’ve carry with me today, I’ve written a journal entry every day for 7 months.

Purchases That Help You Meditate

The next piece I’m working on for the blog is an introduction to meditation. It’s been about a year now since a mentor at GEICO introduced me to the practice. I’ve been on and off throughout the year, but know enough to help someone get started. There’s a reason why Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, Kobe Bryant, and the late Steve Jobs all praised meditation, it works. It’s a common habit that many people would love to build. There are two apps in particular I’ve tried that can help you get started on your journey, Headspace and Calm.

Meditation Apps


Using Headspace or Calm will teach you the basics of meditation and allow you to pay monthly to continue your practice. They both give you a beginner “pack” (about 10 free sessions) where they guide you through meditation as if you’ve never done it before. Once you’ve completed this program you are given the option to buy a yearly membership for around $8/month or you can pay $12 for a month by month membership.

These apps are similar to Fitbit as they use gamification to keep you involved. It keeps track of your total minutes spent meditating, and shows you how many days in a row you’ve meditated. Similar to a Snapchat streak you don’t want to end, if you’ve meditated 20 days in a row the app will remind you to complete day 21. More on these apps later, but if you’re interested in clearing your mind and improving your focus, these are small investments that can guide you towards your goal.

Final Thoughts

By now you get the gist, small purchases can help you build a habit that last a lifetime. Use human psychology to your advantage and spend money where your ambitions lie. Cutting out $30 worth of junk food from your diet and spending it on a month at the gym is the first step towards changing your life.

Here’s a checklist to execute now that you’ve read the post:

  1. Think of a habit you’d like to build (exercise, write, pick up a new skill, etc…)
  2. Research a purchase that is large enough to keep you invested
  3. Make the purchase and put it to use

For example, I’d like to start a podcast with my friend Joey. We want to have great sounding audio so we are both purchasing $130 microphones for our computer. There’s no way I want to waste $130 and the only use I’ll have of this mic is from podcasting, that alone will get me started, the rest is up to me.

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  1. Love this post Ben. I too changed my spending habits a few months back. I went from that similar “lack” vibe to an abundant mentality, spending on freeing, fun and fulfilling things and activities. If you ever need a good, bite-sized eBook for your Kindle I wrote 124 and self-published on Amazon. The ideas flowed to me after some deep meditation sessions; yes those icons are spot on 😉

  2. I never thought about this before! I recently decided to lessen my spending on useless knickknacks (though not stopping altogether) and instead buy supplies for projects I wanted to do, and ingredients for recipes I wanted to try.

    Now, most of my time is filled creating and cooking, which is exactly what I wanted! Months of saying “one day” finally turned into “today”, and it’s all because I changed what I was buying!

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