Do you feel like no matter what you do, you never have a decent savings? You reduce your spending… you spend less on groceries… you do everything “right” and it never seems to help?
I’ve been there!
Saving money comes easy to some people. They have willpower. That means they can delay gratification for a larger reward at a later time.
I’m not known for my strong willpower. I’ve never met a brownie I didn’t like and when I want something, I’m a force of nature until I get it.
So… How in the world did I transform our family’s finances, pay off debt, and reduce our spending by over $23,000?
Easy. I know my weaknesses and I work around them. I don’t try to change a personality that’s been set in stone for 25 years.
Here’s the secret…
You can’t easily change the way you feel about something. Your willpower is set when you’re in your formative years along with the rest of your personality. I am who I am and I will never be the girl that sees a brownie and says “Looks good! I’ll skip that and have a carrot instead”.
You can’t easily change the amount of willpower you have or the way you react in certain situations. It’s almost impossible without an extremely strong motivator (usually fear). Thankfully, most of us will never have a strong enough fear motivator to change our willpower.
The secret to work around this is to trick yourself into saving money. I do this by reducing the situations I put myself in where strong willpower is needed.
The second part of this solution is to recognize that we’re looking for progress, not perfection. This is a huge distinction! If you don’t recognize that you will absolutely have moments of weak willpower and make bad decisions (and that’s OK!) then you end up in a cycle of making bad choices and then more bad choices because you feel bad about the first bad choice (say that three times fast).
Everyone has moments of weak willpower and strong willpower as they go through their day. Our goal going forward is to prepare for the weak moments ahead of time by creating an easier path to take that leads to our desired result.
Your moments of weakness will have a trigger. A trigger is a situation that usually results in you overspending. It may be a trigger that you didn’t even realize you had.
Let me give you an example…
My trigger is when my husband is away for a work trip. Almost the second his foot it out the door, I start to feel overwhelmed and sorry for myself. (Totally putting myself out there… I’m a wimp! There are so many amazing moms out there who are rocking single mom status or who have husbands that are always away for work- you guys are amazing!)
I see countless days and hours with too much to do and no breaks and the thought of cooking and cleaning without anyone who will appreciate it (because my kids would be thrilled living in a pigsty) makes me just want to drive straight to Target and buy things until I feel better. That feeling will likely never go away. It’s who I am.
With 6 years of good financial decisions and a total life make-over, I still struggle with wanting to make myself feel better by spending money.
You have to understand that’s OK. That doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or bad with money, or hopeless. It means you’re human. You need to accept that you will always feel like that when your trigger happens.
That doesn’t mean that you have to go blow money that you’d rather save when that feeling strikes! The key is to identify the triggers that make you want to spend and come up with a plan to head those moments off.
Here’s how I handle that now…
When my husband goes away, I plan ahead. I leave treats in the house (homemade brownies, a new journal, a book from the library I’ve had my eye on), so I can get that dopamine release from things without spending. Even in cases like the new journal- I’d rather spent $5 ahead of time in an effort to prevent the $70 trip to Target when he’s gone.
If I do run to the store while he’s gone, I take photos of things I want and make the agreement with myself that I can come back and buy them the second he’s back home. (It rarely happens that I choose to buy them when he’s back).
I make a plan with a friend to leave the house and meet up at a park or playground, so I know I’ll be getting out of the house in a place where I can’t buy things.
Making dinner when he’s gone is another trigger. T0 counteract that, I plan SUPER simple 15 minute meals, that are easier to make than going to Chick-fil-a. I even stock up on paper plates so I don’t feel stressed out about dishes.
I’m not changing the emotions I’ll have while he’s gone. I’ll still feel overwhelmed and sorry for myself. I’m substituting my natural solutions with my desired solutions.
Is it wasteful to get paper plates? Yep. Are brownies bad for me? Probably. Do I really need a new journal to write it? Nope.
But that’s exactly my point. I’m sacrificing a few small things in order to get the results I want. I’d much rather spend $10 on a journal and paper plates and suck up the 300 calories for the brownie in order to save myself that $70 Target trip and three straight nights of Chick-fil-a.
After years of trying to do it right, I realized that it’s better to minimize damage. That’s ok! We’re after progress, not perfection.
Here are a few common triggers that weaken your willpower and lead to over-spending along with a simple solution or substitution.
- Taking the kids grocery shopping and buying too much food.
Eat before you go, have a list and pick out one treat that isn’t on the list.
- Being asked out for lunch with friends when you didn’t budget for lunch.
Budget $20/month cash in your wallet to say “yes” when you really want to, have an excuse ready to go to say no when you don’t, and offer an alternative that saves you both money and still lets you hang out (like meeting up tomorrow instead for a picnic).
- Having an unusual amount of stress and wanting to feel better.
Reduce your stress before it gets out of hand, focus on more sleep, give yourself a task to complete before you make the purchase. Ex.: If you really want to redecorate a room, make yourself scrub the room clean and completely organize it first while you make a list of the things you want to buy for it. Look online or go to Polyvore to create an idea board of the things you want to put in it. By the time you do all of that, you’ll feel much better about yourself and the urge to spend will have passed. If it doesn’t? At least you put a ridiculous amount of thought into what you’re buying instead of random things you found on your shopping spree.
- Gaining weight or losing weight and wanting new clothes to fit better.
- Being alone with the kids all day and wanting something to do.
Get a routine. Write down the perfect routine. Go overboard with details. 8:15 am- Drink chai tea and do some yoga in the dining room while the kids play in the toy room. 9 am- Breakfast! Etc. Try to stick with it for 2 weeks. Have yourself be constantly occupied. As time goes by, you’ll change your routine and it will be more relaxed, but you’ll reset the expectations of your day and never be bored again.
- Seeing an amazing deal and wanting to take advantage of it.
Create a “Good Deal” category in your budget. Put aside some money so that when you see something amazing come up, you can choose to get it and know that you might miss out on next week’s deal because of it, or you can pass and wait. Knowing that you can grab it often helps you say no if you’d rather do something else with the money.
- Feeling like your family doesn’t have enough, and wanting to give them more.
Give them more, but give them more of the things they need. Head out to the park with some sandwiches and chocolate chips… you’ll be mom-of-the-year in their eyes.
- Having a messy house and wanting to buy products to organize it.
Make yourself a deal. You can buy the products, but you have to clean first. You’ll either put off cleaning (and buying), or you’ll clean and make the decision in a better mental place.
Keep in mind, it’s an important distinction to note that none of the above purchases are bad purchases. This is only a problem when you don’t have the money to make those purchases. Like when you made a conscious decision to save for good reasons, and later regret making the purchase.
Your game plan should include several of your triggers and solutions, since most of us have many. Work on them one at a time until they’re mastered instead of bombarding yourself with a ton of new changes.
Our goal is to create change in the way you spend money. Not instantly, but over time. We want to completely transform the way you spend money in your everyday life. The best way to do that is to understand who you are, why you spend money and then decide what you really want.
As long as you remember that you’re looking for progress instead of perfection and give yourself grace, you’ll do awesome!
What are the triggers that leave you with weak willpower?
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