How To Break Your Spending Habits Once And For All

By on December 7, 2012 No Comments

Let’s face it, getting out of debt requires a lot of discipline.  And sometimes even the best intentions get waylaid by habits that formed long before you decided to take control of your finances.

That’s why a new book called “The Power of Habit”, by Charles Duhigg will be able to help a lot of you short-circuit those behaviors.

We all have some weakness when it comes to spending.  Maybe it’s food, shopping, video games, must-have accessories for a motorcycle, or whatever else, there’s always that one thing that we NEED to spend some money on.

In The Power of Habit, Duhigg outlines the mechanism that both controls our habits, and ultimately gives us the power to break free of them.

Cue, Routine, Reward

No matter what habit you’re trying to break, it all starts with a cue.  That might be seeing a commercial for something you want, seeing something someone else has that triggers a shopping response, or something unrelated like a bad day at work (“I really deserve a good meal to compensate for today”), a fight with a partner, or anything else.

That cue triggers the routine (shopping or otherwise spending), which delivers the reward (enjoying whatever you spent your money on).

Identify The Cycle

You have to be able to identify the cycle that you’re stuck in.  Pay attention to WHY you suddenly want to spend money on something, and then follow it through so you understand the routine and reward attached.

The Cue

Duhigg says that most habitual cues are triggered by one of the following, and you can use these to figure out what’s affecting you:

– Location
– Time
– Emotional State
– Other People
– Immediately Preceding Action

The Reward

Once you’ve followed through and spent the money, how do you feel?  Are you actually enjoying what you bought?  Or maybe you feel like you deserve it and it doesn’t really matter what you did as long as you did something.  Is it a sense of being in control?  Or maybe you just really like thing you bought.

Breaking The Habit

Now that you’ve identified the habit, it’s time to break it.  Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to actually break a habit.  No matter what you do, the cue will keep triggering a response, and your desire for the reward is basically an addiction in your brain.

The secret then, is that you only have to replace the routine part of the cycle.

An Example

Let’s say you have a spending problem with online shopping.  Every night after the family is asleep, you end up browsing for books or whatever else you like, and sometimes end up ordering too much stuff.

First, identify the cues.  Are you going there automatically after your family is asleep?  Is it because you’re alone?  Maybe you just made a cup of tea and your pattern is to drink that and ‘relax’ by browsing online.

Next figure out why you like buying things.  Do you actually use what you’ve already bought, or does it sit unused?  Maybe you like giving the things away because it feels good to give presents to your friends.  Maybe you buy kitchen utensils because it makes you feel like you’re a better cook.

Rewire Yourself

You’ve now figured out the cues and the reward.  It’s time to change the habit.  Let’s say you realized that every time your family goes to sleep, you make some tea and end up shopping online.  So the environment, time, and immediately preceding action are your cues.

Let’s also say that the reward you feel is that you’re a better cook because of all the waffle irons and baking trays you’ve ordered.

The answer should be obvious.  The cues stay the same: Family asleep, tea made.  You want the reward of being a better cook, so just replace the shopping with actually cooking something!

Or you could watch a cooking show on TV (still learning, but free), or browse online for how-to videos.

Try It Out

Don’t expect this to work overnight, but get some practice identifying your routines and try to come up with alternative things to do.

Next time we’ll talk about how to protect you from yourself when it comes to sabotaging your efforts.


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