We all have deeply ingrained beliefs about money. Whether you’re a saver, spender, or money avoider, each of us acquires thoughts and behaviors about money that frame our financial identity.
According to research by financial psychologists Brad and Ted Klontz, these deep-seated beliefs about money are born in our childhood and passed down from generation to generation. These beliefs are largely unconscious, and yet they drive many of our financial behaviors.
This means the money messages we heard when we were kids, and the spending and savings behaviors we witnessed, have shaped how we think about money in adulthood — thanks, mom and dad!
Sometimes we fall into the same patterns as our parents. Other times we see the mistakes they made and avoid them. Regardless of whether or not you’ve adopted your parents’ financial beliefs, almost all of us develop money mantras we use to justify bad money behaviors.
Let’s talk about three of these bad money behaviors and the ways we try to justify them.
3 Ways We Justify Bad Money Behaviors
“That’s Just Me – I’m a Spender”
We all know someone who overspends. They go into a store for a new pair of jeans and come out with a new wardrobe. If confronted about their spending, they tend to say something like, “Oh, you know me, I’m a spender.”
Saying things like “that’s just me, I’m a spender,” is often a deflective answer, but it also might be true. Because we develop our money beliefs and behaviors early in life and the process is often unconscious, it’s hard to fight against these beliefs. Over time, these bad money habits can become a part of who you are.
No doubt, some people have a proclivity towards spending, just as some people have a proclivity towards saving. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it.
A few easy adjustments you can make involve changing your environment to make it harder to spend. Change your route to work so you don’t drive past the local mall or Starbuck’s. Delete all shopping apps from your phone. Don’t store your credit card information online and force yourself to dig into your purse and pull out the credit card before making a purchase.
These may sound like simplistic ideas with little chance of working, but don’t judge them before you try them. If you’ve been around the block once or twice, you probably know how far-reaching little changes can make in your life. Besides, what have you got to lose by giving it a shot?
The bottom line is there are ways to overcome your overspending habit. Blindly saying, “that’s just me, I’m a spender,” is a defense mechanism; it’s something we tell ourselves to protect us from the guilt and shame that often accompanies overspending.
“I Deserve It”
Here’s another phrase we tell ourselves when we really want something, but know it’s outside of the budget and shouldn’t get it. This one taps into our sense of fairness. “I work really hard, so I should be able to spend my money however I want.”
“I deserve a new shirt.”
“I deserve a new computer.”
“I deserve” a new car.”
Perhaps you do deserve some acknowledgment for all of your hard work, but twisting that into purchases you can’t afford is something entirely different.
The “I deserve it” mantra can be difficult to overcome because we’ve always been told, “work hard and good things will come to you.”
The “I deserve this” argument is an emotional argument. It’s rooted in our expectations of how things “should” be. I should be able to buy that big house because I’m killing myself at work. I should be able to afford a new car because I work really hard. But, is the feeling of “I should” and “I deserve” worth the negative consequences of buying something you can’t afford?
If you feel like you need a reward for your efforts, make sure it’s something that won’t put you into financial hardship. There are many things you can do to treat yourself that don’t cost a ton of money and will make you feel like a million bucks.
- Take a day off and go for a hike in nature
- Buy your favorite bottle of wine and savor it with a delicious homemade dinner
- Invest some of that hard-earned money in your future by actually investing it
And, if you have worked really hard and you really can afford to buy whatever your heart desires — go for it!
“You Only Live Once”
We’ve all heard someone utter these words. Usually followed by some brazen act that makes for a good story later should they live to tell the tale.
Yes, it’s true, you only live once. But, that doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind and spend as if there’s no tomorrow. Odds are, unless you have a serious medical condition, you’ll live far into old age as opposed to dying young.
Saying, “you only live once,” is another way of saying, “I don’t have a plan for my financial future.” This may be a cute or acceptable thing to say when you’re 18 and don’t have a clue — not so much when you’re in your 30’s or 40’s.
It’s essential to find the right balance between spending now so you can have fun and experience a rich life, and saving enough for a future that is sure to come.
On one hand, you don’t want to save every penny you make and put off your dreams to travel or learn to sail until you retire because … what fun is that? Using some of your money to live your best life RIGHT NOW is critically important to your well being.
On the other hand, just because we want to live our best life today doesn’t mean we should spend and live like there’s no tomorrow. Do that, and you’re destined to live your worst life tomorrow. Do you really want to struggle later in life when you’re less able to care for yourself?
Research as otherwise.
Stop Justifying Bad Money Behaviors
If you are guilty of uttering one of these money mantras, you’re in good company. Many of us do the same thing.
Don’t worry, all is not lost.
First, identify your bad money behaviors. Because many of our thoughts about money are learned in childhood and largely unconscious, it’s crucial to identify how you think about money and the changes you want to make.
Second, start by implementing small changes. Start tracking your spending in a spending journal. How do you feel when you overspend? What prompts you to go on a shopping spree? How do you feel when you resist the urge to spend? Just becoming more mindful about your spending can help you to make more intentional decisions.
If you feel like you deserve something because you work so hard, assess why you feel this way. Do you really think buying another “thing” will make you feel better? Or, is there something larger at play? We all know that warm feeling you get when you buy something new is fleeting. If you must reward yourself and want to feel happier longer, opt for an experiential reward. Perhaps, a dinner out with your family or a relaxing day at the spa.
Lastly, if you feel overwhelmed or confused about how to start, reach out to a financial professional for help. A competent professional can help you create a financial plan you can get excited about. At the very least, she can get you pointed in the right direction and give you some forward momentum. As the old adage goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!”