Maybe you’ve committed to saving a few hundred dollars every month or to devoting a certain percentage of your income to paying down debt because you know that, in the long run, your hard work and sacrifices will pay off.
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to get distracted by an emotional day or particularly tempting impulse buy—and suddenly you’re completely off track.
“So many of our buying behaviors happen automatically, without much conscious thought,” says financial psychologist Brad Klontz, Psy.D. “The key to reining in our spending is to put systems in place to increase the time-gap between our impulse to buy and pulling the trigger.”
Translation: If you really want to stay true to your financial aspirations, it pays to have some pre-existing self-control checks—like the following 10 tactics—in place.
1. Disconnect your checking account and emergency fund.
If you’re the type who might be tempted to access your emergency fund for, say, a bachelor party, do yourself a favor and move your savings to a credit union or other institution that’s separate from the bank where you regularly do business.
“If you transfer money to this account on an automated basis, it will be out-of-sight, out-of-mind,” says Lisa M. LaMarche, a Certified Financial Planner and Certified Public Accountant in Delaware. “Also, it usually takes a few days to transfer money back to your checking account, so you will be less likely to use it [impulsively].”
2. Time-delay your purchases.
Whenever you feel the urge to spend, Klontz recommends taking a pause to engage your “thinking brain” by asking yourself the following questions: Is this something I really need? Can I afford this? Where will I put it? How am I likely to feel about this purchase tomorrow morning?
Especially for bigger buys, he suggests committing to a 24 to 48 hour wait-period between your impulse and your actual purchase. “Quite often, whatever emotion was attached to the impulse has faded by then, and it is easier to more objectively think through the pros and cons,” he explains.
This tactic can also apply to investing, LaMarche says: “It’s easy to get swept up by the news of a particular company, which might lead you to purchase a stock that you may not have really researched with financial tools.” She adds that since most investors should be making decisions for the long term, waiting 24 hours won’t make a material difference.
3. Use online tools to curb shopping.
Browser plugins like StayFocusd and LeechBlock allow you to set limits on when you can visit certain websites—which can really save your budget if you have a tendency to shop online during specific timeframes, like late at night or while you eat lunch.
“Shopping online can become a pastime activity,” LaMarche says. “And the inconvenience of returning an item [you regret buying] might lead you to just keep it. Any way to limit this behavior is imperative.”
Know, though, that using online tools alone may not be enough to build self-control. “When willpower is low, it is easy to change an app or browser setting to override the controls,” says Certified Financial Planner R. Joseph Ritter, Jr. of Zacchaeus Financial Counseling Inc. “So be deliberate in shutting off your computer, tablet or phone after a certain time and engaging in another activity.”
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