If you're looking to turn over a new financial leaf, it's not enough to simply examine a snapshot of your current circumstances and smooth things out around the edges.
Achieving lasting and effective positive change will require you to trace your "money story" back to its very beginnings.
"Some things related to money management are part of our personality," explains behavioral scientist and author Sarah Newcomb. "Others are inherited or absorbed from our surroundings as we grow up - and the same circumstances can produce very different results, depending on the person."
Which is to say, each person's perspective on money has been shaped by a unique mix of factors including family attitudes, peer influence, individual experiences, historical forces and our own always-evolving approach to decision making.
In reforming long-held spending habits and navigating your financial ship to calmer (and more prosperous) waters, "The why is often just as important as the what," Newcomb says.
As you work to disrupt your more deep-seeded spending habits, it's important to remember that saving more doesn't necessarily require a complete lifestyle overhaul. Introducing smaller hacks can be a means to make progress and score some quick, momentum-building wins. Ideally, the hacks you undertake should suit your spending personality.
Newcomb believes our individual spending personalities exist on a spectrum that can be broken out into six groups:
Defined by: A tendency to spend generously on others.
What it means for your money: Spreading the financial love with others may stretch you thin with little money left to save.
If you're a selfless spender, try to:
Defined by: Spending that's driven by a desire to keep up with the latest trends.
What it means for your money: The focus on right now can potentially leave you unprepared for emergencies or longer-term goals such as retirement.
If you're a status spender, try to:
Defined by: Buying smaller items you don't necessarily need, on impulse.
What it means for your money: Small purchases can eventually add up to one big shortfall in your savings plan.
If you're a spontaneous spender, try to:
Defined by: A completely hands-off approach to money management.
What it means for your money: Creating a workable budget and saving is more difficult when it's unclear how much money is coming in and going out each month.
If you're a free spirit, try to:
Defined by: A watertight budget, with saving included.
What it means for your money: You're saving regularly but may not be taking time out to enjoy the benefits of your efforts.
If you're a planned spender, try to:
Defined by: Saving money regularly but reluctance to spend any of it.
What it means for your money: Feeling nervous about spending any of your savings could be a sign that it's time to revisit your financial goals.
If you're a secure saver, try to:
Before moving on, which of these types sounds like you? Identifying your spending personality and its associated pattern can help you develop positive new behaviors and habits with your money.
Of course, uncovering your spending personality is the easy part. Altering its underlying habits is more involved.
"Once a behavior has become a habit," Newcomb says, "we aren't using our central command center anymore, but a different part of our brain. To break the habit means activating that conscious command center and violating the positive feedback-producing pattern that we're used to."
In other words, you have to retrain your brain to deliver the same buzz from saving that you're used to receiving from spending. "If you want to become a better saver, you need to make saving feel great," she adds. Find what motivates you and use that to maintain the savings momentum.
There are five stages to forming a new habit: Pre-contemplation, where you're not really thinking about a change yet; contemplation, when you're aware that a change is needed; preparation, which involves setting the stage; action, which involves introducing the behaviors needed to develop a new habit; and maintenance, when the new behavior becomes normal.
To make your desired money habit stick, you need to have fully worked through those first three stages before moving on to action and maintenance. "If you don't really wake up to the need, think about how to do it well and set your environment up to help you be successful, [then] you aren't really going to make a lasting change," Newcomb says.
"Uncovering your spending personality is the easy part. Altering its underlying habits is more involved."
Newcomb offers one last mindset-shifting tip: Visualization. "Imagine yourself crossing the finish line of your financial goal fully and in detail," she advises. Then, picture the obstacles standing in your way and you clearing them. "Combining the obstacle with the goal helps to connect your success with overcoming it."
You've got to admit - that sounds like a great scene for the next chapter of your financial story.
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