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My housemate is looking to take a trip next year and so for the first time in a while he's actively trying to save some money. He is employed, doesn't have any debts, and even has a bit of savings in a bank account (although he hasn't contributed to it in a while).

He's come to me as his financially-savvyish friend for advice, so we went through the last month of spending and found that he tends to spend a lot on fast food. I recommended cooking more at home and linked him to some budget cooking blogs and cookbooks, which he agreed with, then we went shopping together and I helped him buy some meal ingredients that he can cook later.

Unfortunately, that's where he stopped. The groceries are languishing at home and within the next week he ordered the same amount of delivery fast food. He says he really wants to save more money, but it seems the inertia of his habits are too much to overcome.

How can I help him?

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    You know the old joke about how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb, right? You can't help anyone who isn't ready to be helped... – keshlam Nov 29 '15 at 23:25
  • That's callous. He's my friend and I'd like to help. – A. Sim Nov 30 '15 at 22:01
  • Go ahead and try, but I don't want you injuring yourself in the attempt, or blaming yourself if you fail. Either is a great way to kill the friendship. – keshlam Nov 30 '15 at 22:12
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    That's a good point. I remember trying to change my then-boyfriend's financial habits and it was an impossible task, which definitely helped kill the relationship. – A. Sim Nov 30 '15 at 22:17
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If he's not used to cooking, recipes might not be enough. Maybe he needs cooking lessons. I used to think if you could read, you could cook -- but I grew up "helping" my mom in the kitchen and in the process learning what all the instructions in cookbooks meant.

But it also might just be force of habit, in which case about all you could do would be to go over and cook for (or with) him. Maybe if you helped him get into a good habit, he would be more likely to continue with it. Otherwise, I don't see that there's much of anything you can do. If he isn't motivated to change his habits to save for his trip, you can't make him be.

  • Right! It's a process... and it does not stop with shopping. Helping with the cooking would be a useful thing. And to start with simple recipies too. Small steps change habits, not big turn arounds. – Ghanima Nov 30 '15 at 11:14
  • That's a good idea! I'm not the best at having other people in the kitchen but I'm willing to try if it'll help him. Thanks! – A. Sim Nov 30 '15 at 22:02
  • +1 for this idea: My Mom made sure I didn't leave home without having some basic cooking skills. Nothing too flash, but enough to feed myself and be able to (mostly) understand what's in a cookbook / recipe instructions. Many of my male friends didn't have that at all, which surprised me. – Peter K. Dec 1 '15 at 13:37
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Budgeting is the key.

Saying that you need to eat out less and cook more is good, but ultimately difficult for some people, because it is very difficult to measure. How much eating out is too much?

Instead, help him set up a monthly budget. Luckily, he's already got some built-in motivation: He's got a saving goal (trip) with a deadline. When you set up the budget, start here, figuring out how much per month he needs to save to meet his goal.

After you've put the saving goal and the fixed monthly bills into the budget, address what he has left. Put a small amount of money into a "fast food" category, and a larger amount into a "grocery" category. If he spends everything in his fast food budget and still has the desire to go out, he'll need to raid his grocery budget. And if that is depleted, he'll need to raid his vacation budget. By doing this, it will be made very clear to him that he must choose between going out and taking the trip.

In my opinion, using budgeting software makes the whole budgeting process easier. See this answer and this answer for more detailed recommendations on using software for budgeting.

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In the end, this is really not a finance question. It's about changing one's habits. (One step removed, however, since you are helping a friend and not seeking advice for yourself).

I've learned a simple cause & effect question - Does someone who wants (goal here) do (this current bad habit)? For example, someone with weight to lose is about to grab the chips to sit and watch TV. They should quickly ask themselves "Does a healthy, energetic person sit in front of the TV eating chips?"

The friend needs to make a connection between the expense he'd like to save up for and his current actions. There's a conscious decision in making the takeout purchase, he'd rather spend the money on that meal than to save .5% (or whatever percent) of the trip's cost.

If he is clueless in the kitchen, that opens another discussion, one in which I'd remark that on the short list of things parents should teach their kids, cooking is up there. My wife is clueless in the kitchen, I taught our daughter how to be comfortable enough to make her own meals when she wants or when she's off on her own. If this is truly your friend's issue, you might need to be a cooking spirit guide to be successful.

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Get him the book "Total Money Makeover" (http://www.amazon.com/Total-Money-Makeover-Classic-Financial/dp/1595555277/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1448904191&sr=8-1&keywords=total+money+makeover) and tell him to follow the baby steps. If he comes to you again or doesn't follow your advice, remind him to follow the baby steps. Repeat as needed.

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