20+ Triggers to Hack Your Life & Money

One year ago I picked up a large, 8 cup, water bottle to help force me to drink more water, and after staring at it day in and day out I’m proud to say I’m still going strong and hydrating my body :)

It’s rare stuff like this sticks, but according to my psychology loving friend James Clear, this is the power of “physical triggers.” Items in our life that remind us to do, or think, something specific. Every time I see this large ass bottle sitting on my desk I’m reminded to keep drinking!

8 cups water day bottle

We’ve blogged about these triggers before, and how I’m also obsessed with sticky notes which are my all-time favorite triggers (the current one I have on my computer screen simply says “lifestyle” to remind me of why* I blog and work so hard online), but after seeing this email from a new reader of the site, it reminded me to share some others I’ve since come across as well.

Here’s what Janice sent me:

“I love the little games we play with ourselves to motivate. Right now I am working on getting rid of my Starbucks addiction. Every morning that I don’t get one, I drop a $5.00 bill into a big glass jar next to my desk so that I can visually see what I am saving. Silly but effective! Once it is full, I will deposit the money into savings and start over.”

Nice and simple right? And even though I’m a huge fan of spending money on things that make you happy like especially coffee (so long as it’s budged for and a priority!), the idea here is pretty solid. And can easily be used to curb other splurges as well.

Here are a handful of other money triggers that might help too:

Big thanks to everyone who shared these with me at some point over the past handful of months! Some really REALLY good ones here :)

Password Trigger: “Make your passwords a goal you want to accomplish so every time you log into your laptop, download an app, etc. you’re reminded of a different goal you have set for yourself. BEdebtFREE!2016, DEC15FinishBook, DrinkH20NowJ$ :)” – Heather Stephens

Pile of Crap Trigger: “When I was in credit card debt and realized what I was doing, I piled up all of the crap I bought onto my bed and took a picture of it all. Then I carried that picture in my wallet. Whenever I wanted to buy something I saw that picture and it made me think, “is this just going to end up on the pile of crap that I don’t even use/wear?” It really helped me a lot.” – Jon @ Money Smart Guides

Parking Lot Trigger: “My parking spot at work is a trigger to check my goals before entering the building” – Catina Mount

Savings Graph Trigger: “This kind of physical graph is a very powerful tool to help you achieve any of your goals, having them in front of you every day. I find it way more powerful than digital graphs because it is tangible. The target is to be always on track with the pink line (or above!) if we want to own our home in 3 years. I do update our stash amount every month and this is great to see the black curve trying to keep up with the pink one.” – Mustachian Post

savings graph trigger

Net Worth Text Message Trigger: “I run a quick net worth calc each afternoon and text the wife the day’s number. It keeps her focused on the goal.” – @Andrew_Dad

Blackberry Trigger: “I have a recurring weekly reminder on my Blackberry that pops up to tell me to “Save Money”. I only set it a few months ago, but it seems to help me stay focused.” – Weenie

Comparison Trigger: “I always have this quote on my computer screen, “Never compare yourself to anyone; you are only comparing your worst to their best.” It really helps me put things into perspective especially after a long hard day. – Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen

Financial Independence Trigger: “Today, I have my financial independence number all over the house. It’s taped to my computer monitor, on my message board on my wall and in my bathroom on the mirror. I see it all the time and it reminds me to keep pushing ahead to reach my goals.” – Jon @ Money Smart Guides

early retirement calculator

[EDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to copy Jon here but don’t know what your financial independence number IS, download my early retirement spreadsheet shown above and you’ll be able to calculate it yourself… Though, fair warning, it could shock you ;)]

Spending Money Trigger: “I withdraw all my free spending money in cash.  See it leave my hand.  Buy something online reqs re-deposit.” – @ebruenner

Gmail Trigger: “I have automatic reminders set up on my gmail calendar. I initially set them up while working but I left them there for now (1.5 years into early retirement). “Look for new work opportunities” – ha ha. “Invest spare cash” – on the 25th of each month. “Download credit card transactions” – 6th of month after the statements close. “Prepare quarterly financial statement and review with wife” – quarterly on 1 Jan, 1 April, etc.” – Justin McCurry

Closet Door Trigger: “I keep a graph of our monthly income, expense and net worth à la “Your Money Or Your Life” on the closet door of our master bedroom. Having the daily visual as I go to bed and when I get up and get ready in the morning keeps me focused on our goals.”  – Free To Pursue

The Purpose of Money Trigger: This is a note I personally have in multiple places that simply says “Freedom > Money > Stuff” to remind me that it’s not about the money itself, but what the money can GIVE you. Namely, freedom.

freedom money stuff[feel free to print this off and put it on your wall/fridge/wallet!]

Decorative Rock Trigger: “When I because a financial advisor I bought one of those decorative rocks with the word believe on it. There were very few female advisors (sadly still an issue 23 years later) and it was my focus word. It still sits in my office and when I find myself beginning to doubt, I look at the rock and remember how far believing in myself has taken me.” – Shannon @ The Heavy Purse

Work Trigger: “I have a quote from Vince Lombardi hanging on my wall by my PC: “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.” It is my trigger to keep going with my work.” – Rich Uncle EL

Coupons Trigger: “We keep coupons where we put our mail to remind us to use them!” – Alan Steinborn

coupons near mail trick

And then here are some other cool life triggers:

Light Switch Trigger: “They are at the exit to every room. As I reach for the light switch, I look around really quick… is there something in this room I should take out? A dish? trash? shoes that shouldn’t be in here? Especially helps as you’re winding down the day.” – Not Quite Sexy Darrell

Pillow Trigger: “For some reason it ALWAYS seems like I remember something that has to be done just as I climb into bed and get comfy. So, I reach down, grab one of the bazillion extra pillows scattered around our bed and chuck it across the room. Vonnie will ask, “What are you doing?” My response: “Reminder pillow.” The next morning when I get up, I’ll stumble across the pillow in the doorway and think to myself, “Hey, why is there a pillow laying….. ooooooh yeah, right” and I instantly remember what it was I had forgotten to do the night before. :)” – Travis Pizel

1440 Trigger:  “I have 1440 written on my board. That is how many minutes there are in a day. Next to it, I draw 11 empty tomatoes. Google Pomodoro technique if you don’t get that.” – Not Quite Sexy Darrell

Activity Tracker Trigger: “I bought an activity tracker. I see everyday if I hit my steps goal or not. It’s become an addiction. I have hit my goal every day since November 24, 2013. At this point, I just don’t want to break the streak! My wife laughs when I am running around the house at 11:30pm trying to get in the last of my steps (it’s only happened twice thankfully!)” – Jon @ Money Smart Guides

Floss Trigger: “Remember how the girl had glasses of water everywhere in “Signs?” That’s me with floss. My trigger is when I see a nice smile on TV, doesn’t have to be a toothpaste commercial. If I haven’t flossed, yet… boom. – Not Quite Sexy Darrell

And, lastly, one more trigger from the peanut gallery when I polled Twitter ;)

physical trigger tweet

What triggers do you incorporate into your lives/money?

PS: Here are a handful of other financial triggers as well.

* The “lifestyle” sticky reminds me to keep focused and grow my online biz, and money, as naturally and purposely as I can. When you’re surrounded with kick-ass entrepreneurs making all kinds of money and businesses around you, it’s easy to get sucked into trying to beat them all regardless if it matches your own goals and/or priorities. Kinda like the “Joneses” with money, only in business :) And after being self-employed in this world for over 4 years now, I can tell you that this is a sure way to failure and burn out. So this sticky is a reminder to ignore it all and only do the things that get me closer to my own dream lifestyle of working on whatever I want every day without financial worry. I don’t need to take over the world or become a multi-billionaire – I just need want my ideal lifestyle!


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  1. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank April 29, 2015 at 5:41 AM

    I just remember the first time I related my password to my goal. My password back then was moreincome2012. The following passwords I have had are still financial or saving related. It really helped me be reminded and encouraged to go further to reach my goal.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2015 at 10:01 AM

      love it!

    2. Free to Pursue April 29, 2015 at 12:08 PM

      My key password used to be Free@2014 (no, I don’t use it anymore). Been there. Done that. And didn’t need the t-shirt…

  2. Kirsten April 29, 2015 at 5:59 AM

    I love the coffee savings jar trigger. I might have to implement that with groceries. If I come under budget, I put the money in… Because I seem to have a hard time getting motivated to make serious slashes there. I also like the idea of sticky notes around. I keep telling myself I need a sticky to remind me why I blog, but I blog from too many devices – most of them portable. Maybe I should get a tattoo? Hey! There’s another idea!!!

    1. J. Money April 29, 2015 at 10:01 AM

      “Blogger 4 Life” – I can see it now ;)

  3. Mrs. Frugalwoods April 29, 2015 at 7:08 AM

    My trigger is our financial independence date. All I have to do is just think about fall 2017 and I am immediately focused and not interested in spending money. It helps to remind myself constantly of the big picture and why we’re doing what we’re doing. Now I want to write it down and hang it up on my desk so that I’ll have the physical reminder too! But I better come up with an excuse for what it means in case anyone at work asks…

    1. J. Money April 29, 2015 at 10:02 AM

      The best part about all that is your date is only 1 year away!!! Incredible!!

  4. Savvy Shopper April 29, 2015 at 8:07 AM

    I had a identity theft scare earlier this year. In dealing with it, I changed every one of my passwords….and in doing so, I unknowingly made them triggers. I was trying to make each one unique instead of using the same password for everything (my bad, I know) and they actually relate to my goal with that account. It works! Every time I log into each website, I’m reminded what I’m trying to achieve plus make it a point to track my progress.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2015 at 10:03 AM

      Yes, perfect!

  5. Reelika @Financially Wise On Heels April 29, 2015 at 8:18 AM

    That was a fun read! I love the closet door trigger :) I track absolutely everything, every penny, but I am also working towards building my net worth, so I need to keep myself motivated and the goals in front of my eyes. I need to have physical reminders and besides, it is fun to watch the progress as well!

    1. Free to Pursue April 29, 2015 at 12:10 PM

      Graphing it is the best. I love to see the progress toward the top right-hand corner. It lead us to triple our savings rate. No joke.

  6. Brian @ Debt Discipline April 29, 2015 at 8:19 AM

    I’ve got several, passwords, notes, monthly net worth tracker. Just put my FI numbers together too and it was certainly an eye opener.

  7. Shannon @ Financially Blonde April 29, 2015 at 8:25 AM

    I find myself motivated most by the purpose of money trigger. I am currently working on a building a business while also fast tracking financial independence so my money choices are pretty easy. If they don’t contribute to one of those purposes, then I easily walk away from it. My purposes give me focus and thankfully since I am so passionate about them, I’m not easily distracted from attaining them.

  8. stephanie April 29, 2015 at 9:13 AM

    I, too, use a password trigger! I’m surprised that it has helped – and I was so proud of myself for coming up with something creative like that. But reading other comments . . . I am apparently in good company even if I’m not original!

    1. J. Money April 29, 2015 at 10:04 AM

      Hey, if it makes you feel better I hadn’t thought/done it before! Y’all are much smoother than I! :)

  9. Petrish @ Debt Free Martini April 29, 2015 at 9:51 AM

    When I started on this journey I had reached a point where I just was so sick of being in a bad financial position that I didn’t need a trigger, but now that I am 70 percent to becoming debt free and at times a little too relaxed with my mission, it may be time I establish one.

  10. maria@moneyprinciple April 29, 2015 at 10:22 AM

    Powerful things triggers. Positive triggers are great; negative – bot so much. This is why while we were paying off our debt I referred to it as ‘negative wealth’. Every time I made an extra payment against the debt, my heart was singing rather than sinking. Probably this helped to paying if off so fast.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2015 at 10:45 AM

      yes – triggers can be bad things too! like when I would automatically go shopping when I was bored. When there were plenty of other (more productive) things I could have done instead to be equally, if not, more happy in curing the boredom ;)

  11. Tawcan April 29, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    These are great triggers for sure. It’s important to be able to remind yourself about your financial journey so you can stay positive.

  12. Adam @ AdamChudy.com April 29, 2015 at 10:42 AM

    The screen image on my phone says, “read a book instead” in big white letters against a black background. It’s my reminder to stop screwing around on facebook, twitter, and other social media when I could be doing something productive.

    1. J. Money April 29, 2015 at 10:46 AM

      THAT IS AWESOME!!!! I’m so tired of people around me on their phones all the time too – I swear it’s going to give us some e-disease at some point!

  13. EL April 29, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    I like all the cool triggers, and behaviors at times need a kick in the butt J. Thanks for the shout out, and I like the Net worth trigger.

  14. Dawn April 29, 2015 at 11:01 AM

    I love seeing how others use triggers. I hadn’t thought much about this. Passwords, which at my work have to be changed every three months, sounds like the best place to start. You shouldn’t use the same password for all accts? Um… guess I better get busy this morning. Really behind on this internet security stuff argh!

    1. J. Money May 5, 2015 at 10:11 PM

      I know some people just use the same one for the first part of the pass, and then change the 2nd half so it’s at least half-easy to remember, haha… but if you’re going the goals route that should def. help more! :)

  15. Kayla @ Hello Pre Nurse April 29, 2015 at 11:36 AM

    I actually don’t have a physical trigger right now, but maybe I need one to help me remember my goals when I get tempted to overspend.

  16. Gen Y Finance Guy April 29, 2015 at 11:44 AM

    Reading and writing about personal finance has been the ultimate trigger to optimize my finances. I have always loved talking about money, but since I share all my juicy details, I think about every decision I make with a bit more scrutiny.

    1. J. Money May 5, 2015 at 10:13 PM

      Hah – yes. A lot different sharing it to the world than on your own spreadsheets at home :) I’m pretty sure I would have slacked a number of times if I didn’t force myself to share the numbers here every month.

  17. Chris April 29, 2015 at 1:00 PM

    I do a daily journal and at the end of each month, I read the entire journal from the previous month. It is me coming back from the past and giving me a pep-talk to stay on the path to awesome!

    1. J. Money May 5, 2015 at 10:13 PM

      That’s a good one!

  18. Even Steven April 29, 2015 at 1:49 PM

    I think one of my biggest financial triggers is listening to Dave Ramsey in the morning on the way to work. Reminds me that every day I need to save and spend less, nothing like an old bald guy yelling at you at 7 am that gets the ball rolling.

    1. J. Money May 5, 2015 at 10:15 PM

      I’ve heard he gets pretty feisty!

      Never really listened to before, but I feel like I’d like ’em.

  19. The Professor April 29, 2015 at 2:56 PM

    I make the background of my computer whatever my goal is.

    Really like the password idea.

  20. Christine @ The Pursuit of Green April 29, 2015 at 5:19 PM

    I just did that thing where I read my quote and thought to myself “Wow this person uses the same quote I do!” Then I realized it was my quote haha.

    Fun to see how everyone else reminds themselves of their goals and tricks themselves to get there!

  21. Heather April 29, 2015 at 6:48 PM

    Triggers can be so helpful! When I was working on paying off my car I had a picture of my car that said, “How much do you own?” and it was tucked into my wallet next to my credit card and also on my fridge. Now I’m working on generally making good decisions with my money and health and I have a sign on my fridge that says, “Make good choices.” A simple reminder, but it helps me keep my focus. When I was trying to build the habit of flossing, I had a calendar next to my bathroom mirror and stamped each day that I floss. I wanted to earn those stamps like they were gold stars!

    1. J. Money May 5, 2015 at 10:49 PM

      haha perfect! you’re a master of triggers! :)

  22. Kalie April 30, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    Great ideas, some of which I have used. I keep books that I’m reading in obvious places like my kitchen counter so I can just grab it and read without having to go find it. One place I keep them is by my computer to remind myself that sometimes I should read actual books in addition to blogs.

    1. J. Money May 5, 2015 at 10:50 PM

      Hell yeah! I so hope print doesn’t ever go away entirely. Starring at the screen all day long can’t be good for our eyes.

  23. Chad April 30, 2015 at 9:24 AM

    The Digit savings system you turned us all onto is an awesome trigger. The daily reminders and positive reinforcement that they send via text message gives me such a visual and encourages me not to be afraid of saving, that I end up throwing way more into the account myself then what the algorithm pulls. Its an amazing hack.

    1. J. Money May 5, 2015 at 10:51 PM

      Never thought of it that way! Totally sending this to them too – they’ll love to hear it :)

  24. Steve Kobrin April 30, 2015 at 2:33 PM

    I have a trigger that works in all parts of my life. It is an application of a traditional martial arts lesson. I am a practitioner of Ba Gua Kung Fu and take great inspiration from these tales.

    The story is basically this: a student goes to a master for training. However, he thinks he knows everything, and is too concerned about showing the master what he knows as opposed to learning with the master knows. At break time, they sit down for tea. The master pours him a cup. However, he does not stop. He keeps pouring and pouring until the cup overflows.

    The student protests that the cup is already full and cannot take any more tea. The master praises him for seeing that, and says that now you know what is like to try to teach you. You think you know everything so there is no room for new knowledge. To learn, you must keep your knowledge cup empty.

    On my desk there is a little empty cup. It is in front of me every time I try to sell somebody something, deal with someone, and make a decision. It reminds me to ask myself, “What have I got to learn here?”

    1. J. Money May 5, 2015 at 10:58 PM

      How awesome! Never heard of that story before but absolutely love it :) And even more so that you have a little cup on your desk, haha… great share!

  25. Slackerjo April 30, 2015 at 7:31 PM

    I make sheep sounds in my head. I don’t want to follow blindly follow the flock to the [insert name of money spending location here].

  26. DrWe April 30, 2015 at 11:15 PM

    J., totally rad post. As always, right on the, um, money. I seriously need to put up some more physical triggers to inspire the adults around here. I’m looking at half-coloured dinosaurs and macaroni art on our walls…

  27. Chris Muller May 3, 2015 at 8:12 PM

    I can honestly say I do none of these things – and that sucks. I am, however, more motivated to try some of these triggers to help me stay focused on my financial goals.

    I’ve read about people who want to lose weight keeping a “fat picture” on their phone background or something to remind them, and I think this is the same concept. Maybe I could keep an image a student loan bill as my background!

    One of the ideas I really love is the sticky notes everywhere around the house. People might think I’m insane, but when did we start caring about what other people think?

    Thanks again for sharing J.

    1. J. Money May 5, 2015 at 10:59 PM

      When in doubt, sticky note :)

  28. Kurt May 6, 2015 at 1:57 PM

    I’ve got lists of food posted on my fridge that are helpful for different reasons–anti-inflammatory, good source of omega 3s, lowers cholesterol, etc. Definitely helps me eat more of the good stuff. Now I just gotta eat less of the bad stuff. :)

    1. J. Money May 8, 2015 at 1:24 PM

      sounds like you need sticky notes to put on those too:

      “Don’t eat me or you’ll get FAT!!!”

      “Drink me and you’re going to hell.”

      Haha… Done.

  29. spiff May 12, 2015 at 12:37 AM

    I do the pillow thing too! Usually I throw the box of kleenex or book from on the nightstand onto the floor so that I trip over it in the morning – I started doing this as a variant on something my coworker did when she was interrupted in the middle of something – she would take her wedding ring off and put it on another finger.

    She said that she had noticed that after the interruption, she would find that she would end up either forgetting what she had been working on, or being derailed into starting a new task – and eventually she would notice that the ring was on the wrong finger, and be reminded of what she HAD been doing before she was interrupted.

    The idea of ‘something is out of place, why is that…’ triggering a memory, seems to work pretty well!

    1. J. Money May 12, 2015 at 10:04 PM

      Yeah! Cool to see the idea take form in the ring changing too – good one.

  30. MrRicket November 27, 2015 at 5:37 AM

    Thanks for that. I especially liked the Pomodoro technique :)


    1. J. Money November 30, 2015 at 4:19 PM

      That is a good one :)

  31. Pamela February 15, 2016 at 5:21 PM

    This is really cool. I am a big advocate of vision boards. I have an annual vision board for my overall goals but then do a quarterly one to get more specific. I cut images up from magazines, draw graphs and motivational quotes. I really like the trigger examples you gave

    1. J. Money February 29, 2016 at 5:08 PM

      Nice! The more visual the better!