In elementary school I remember learning about the farming technique “slash & burn” where farmers burned their crops to the ground in order to fertilize the soil and get the land ready for the next crop. The farmers did this because the soil was exhausted and needed to be replenished. This same technique can be applied to your financial lives.

It is hard work figuring out how to balance long-term financial responsibility and short-term needs (and wants). Sometimes it takes harsh measures to root out bad habits and replace them with good ones. If you argue with your partner about money or are too tired to pay attention to your finances, follow these steps to ensure you have a good foundation on which to build next year’s financial crop.

Slash. Time to cut down bad habits. Even the smallest changes can make a difference. Do you tend to go to the grocery store frequently and do little shops? This tends to cause overspending. Try to limit grocery shopping to a maximum of twice per week. Also, look at your spending. Did you go to the grocery store and end up eating out that same day? Make a rule that you cannot get take out or go out to eat for 2-3 days after hitting the grocery store.

Burn. Annihilate the old to make way for the new. If you have signed up from daily emails (Zulilly, Groupon, Gilt, etc.) do yourself a favor and either remove yourself from the email list or mark it as Spam. You do not “need” the items being pushed through these email marketing campaigns.

Rest and replenish. Give yourself time to root out your old habits that are not serving you. The examples in steps 1-2 above may not pertain to you, but there is probably some form of inertia that is holding you back from building your financial strength. It takes about six weeks to change behavior.
Plant the right crop. Just because you have children does not mean that you need to start a 529 plan and stress about putting money into it each year. Instead, figure out what you need most as a family to build a sustainable financial future. Living within your means is most important, followed by consumer debt elimination and saving for retirement. This is true for most families.

The goal is to pull out the bad habit weeds making your financial life an eyesore and replace them with good habits that will help you build a sustainable financial future for your family.