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How to Break Bad Spending Habits

A woman considers how to break spending habits.

Have you ever surprised yourself by how many times it’s possible to make the same mistake? If bad spending habits have you discouraged, you’re not alone. In fact, researchers at High Point University say that 98 percent of people who try to change feel that they fail at some point.

Why not take a page from the book of the two percent who achieve lasting positive change. Here are seven ways to break spending habits that threaten to keep you in a rut.

1. Take responsibility. Own the fact that you’re still the one in control (even if external people or things trigger spending). Be honest with yourself: no one made you develop unhealthy patterns, and no one can break spending habits for you.

2. Know your triggers. Perhaps the most effective tip is to get to know yourself, your environment, and even your relationships. Then identify what factors weaken your resolve. If a buddy at work always invites you to dine out at lunch, but your commitment is to brown bag it—recognize that that’s your trigger. If you can’t visit certain websites without buying anything, realize that’s another one of your triggers. Simply identifying and acknowledging your traditional triggers can be just the perspective you need.

3. Plan. Starting a vegan diet or quitting cigarettes cold turkey on a whim is a recipe for failure. The same is true when you want to break spending habits. Planning for success means thinking of multiple scenarios and deciding what to do to achieve the best one. Write down your decisions in a journal. Here are a few examples:

  • What will you do when you encounter each trigger you listed earlier?
  • What is your spending goal for today? What about this week? This month?
  • When and how will you reward yourself once you achieve your short and long term spending goals?
  • Whom will you tell about your efforts, failures and successes, if anyone?
  • What activities will you use to replace your old habit?

4. Commit to the long haul. Change won’t happen in a day, or a week or even a month. Envision yourself six months from now— still struggling with temptations— with one difference: You overcoming those temptations.

5. Write yourself a letter. Before you try to change, write your future self a letter explaining why you want to succeed, and what’s motivating you. This reminder may come in handy in times of weakness or temptation. Since you’ll be the only one to see it, you can be a completely honest voice in the midst of enticing advertisements and salespeople.

6. Get a buddy. Most people simply cannot make lasting positive change alone. Call a non-profit credit counselor to talk you through your spending habits. They’ll give you the tools you need to break the cycles that keep you from succeeding.

7. Forgive and (kind of) forget. When you slip up, don’t beat yourself to a pulp. Give yourself grace, and then look toward the next trigger with the resolve to rise above it.

If it feels like Groundhog’s Day again and again, take heart. There are supportive tools at your disposal and a team of people on your side who can help. Congratulations on taking the first step and acknowledging your desire to improve. Your future is so bright, and we at CESI Solutions are cheering you on.

Image Source: Flickr


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Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit service provider of comprehensive personal financial education and solutions for all life stages and for all of life’s milestones. Our goal is enhanced economic security for everyone we serve.

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