How Do I Improve My Money Behaviors?

Jan 9 / Dr. Jay Zigmont, PhD, MBA, CFP®

In order to learn how to manage your money effectively, you have to learn to manage your money behaviors. And everyone has at least one problem money behavior, so if your problem is with, say, ordering from Amazon on a whim, you're not alone. Your money behaviors are formed in childhood and based on the way you were raised. If you grew up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck, and as soon as money came in, it got spent, then you may end up living that way yourself as an adult. The good news is that you can change your money behaviors and get better.

You Might Need People for Accountability & to Help You

The way you communicate about finances goes a long way towards helping you improve money behaviors. This might be easier if you're part of a couple, because if your finances are solo, you may not have someone to bounce ideas off of or to keep you accountable.

If you do have a spouse or partner or anyone else with whom you share finances, you can sit down with that person and discuss your issues around the money and the ways you want to improve. You can also lean on others –  in life, you need three people: a therapist to look back, a spiritual person to look up, and a coach or planner to look forward. Chances are, you could use some improvement in one or all of these areas. So if you only want to look back on your history with money, you probably need a coach or planner to help you look ahead to the future and where you want to be with money.

You Need Goals to Work Towards

Learning better money behaviors ultimately comes with replacing child behaviors with adult ones. Children are focused on doing what they want, which is whatever feels good. Adults, on the other hand, can set a plan and goals and try to stick to them. Goals can be anything, like upgrading your car, or buying a house, or getting out of debt, or not living paycheck to paycheck anymore.

Let's say you want to travel, which is a pretty common goal. If you want to be able to spend $5,000 on travel this year, you can make it a goal to put aside that money, and change your spending behaviors in the process. So every time you're making a purchase that isn't necessary, this will mean asking yourself the question, "Do I want to travel or do I want this item?" If you have a goal in mind, it will be easier to change behaviors like overspending – you'll have more motivation.Normal text.

You Can Build in Stop Signs for Yourself

If you want to save money for travel, but can't resist the siren song of retail therapy, try this. The next time you're browsing online and feeling tempted to buy something, add it to your cart. But don't check out. Let it sit for 24 hours. You might feel better, like you've bought the item, but you haven't, and no money is leaving your bank account. You might even get a coupon emailed to you, because the retailer will see that you didn't complete the purchase.

So if you decide after 24 hours that you actually do want the item, you might be able to save a little on it. Or you might decide that you don't need it at all, and you'll move the money you would've spent on it over to your travel savings.Normal text.

Be Kind to Yourself

It's very easy to be mean to ourselves, especially when it comes to problem money behavior. So try to be nicer to yourself. If you wouldn't tolerate hearing someone say something nasty about your spouse, friend, or family member, don't tolerate hearing it from yourself, about yourself. Don't beat yourself up for making an unplanned and unnecessary purchase.

And even if you make the impulse purchase, it doesn't mean your budget is now messed up for the month. Every day is a new day and a chance to do better with money. Try to improve just one or two things at a time. If you've been working hard at learning how to manage your money, and are not seeing positive changes, you might need help.

In the U.S., personal finance is generally not taught in schools. So it's up to us to seek out the help, in the form of a therapist, a coach, or even a Certified Financial Planner, if we want to get better with money and are spinning our wheels on our own.

You Can Always Get Better

The good news is that there's always a chance to improve your money habits. The hardest part is often getting started. And working with a professional is a great way to get a nonjudgmental assessment of your finances and money behaviors, and a plan to get better.