Thoughts From an Airport

How important are routines?

Photo credit: me.

This will eventually turn into “thoughts from a plane,” but for right now I’m outside Gate 18, waiting for a flight that was delayed 90 minutes and then undelayed 20 minutes and will probably leave 80 minutes after its originally scheduled departure.

I’m lucky, though. Many of the flights leaving today were canceled.

I read Ashley C. Ford’s interview at Extraordinary Routines this morning, and between that and my tallying up of food and transportation costs as I shuttle myself from city to city, every leg delayed for some reason (my first flight on the Newark tarmac, the Amtrak trip at Penn Station, and now my return flight here at DCA) I’ve been asking myself whether routines are essential to “good financial habits,” and whether the only reason I’m good with my financial habits is because I really like routines.

I like routines so much that Mondays are my favorite day of the week. Friday evening is relaxing, to be sure, but so is waking up Monday at the right time and doing the same set of tasks I do every weekday, the tight deadlines fitting together like Lego.

So I want Extraordinary Routines to interview me — come on, I belong there — while I simultaneously wonder if my love of making a plan and sticking to it is as much a character flaw as it is a strength.

If that sounds a little cliché, it’s because it is the truth of any trait. There’s a reason we have the expression “generous to a fault,” after all, and why so many of us honestly believe that our greatest weakness is that we work too hard.

(Also, I’m on the plane now.)

But back to routines and money. I didn’t necessarily overspend during this past week of travel, but I did end up buying things that I shouldn’t have needed to purchase — like a water bottle at Penn Station — because the train was delayed and I wanted more water and I wasn’t about to fill my reusable bottle at a Penn Station drinking fountain.

Knowing what comes next can help you save money, and knowing what comes next for the next six months can help you save a lot of money, if you meal plan and use coupon apps and the rest of it.

Again, I don’t think I’m writing anything particularly mind-blowing here. (I blame the plane.) What I’m really asking is whether I’m good at personal finance because I am good at making and sticking to a routine.

I am not good at spontaneity. I pretend to be, by telling myself “the situation on the ground has changed” — a phrase I learned while I was an executive assistant at a think tank — and then immediately reorganizing the rest of the day in my mind. (And sometimes on paper, or my ever-present spreadsheet.)

When I learned that my flight was delayed, for example, I realized that I would be able to get the majority of my work done before boarding the plane, which meant the $16 I paid for “all-day Alaska Airlines Gogo Wi-Fi access” was essentially wasted. As we all learned on my last flight, I could save $24 if I bought Wi-Fi ahead of time — so I put it on the to-do list and I got it done.

Then the situation changed, and so did my need to spend $16 on Wi-Fi, except I had already spent it.

So, fine. In the future, wait to buy Wi-Fi until right before you leave for the airport. In the future, refill your water bottle before leaving for Penn Station. In the future, refine your plans and tighten your routines.

Is there any other way of doing this? Is there another method of being “good with money” that doesn’t involve constant calculation? I’m honestly not sure. There’s the kind of unstructured, general personal finance advice that comes down to “just think about whether you really, really need what you’re about to buy,” but that won’t bring your grocery bill down the way meal planning will. It won’t leave you with money for your savings account unless you already had more than enough money to begin with.

I’ll turn the question over to you, as I always do. Because — and you know there’s only one way I could end this — I have a routine for everything.