Comedian Jerry Seinfeld famously joked that public speaking ranked ahead of death as something people feared. In other words, people at a funeral might be more afraid of giving the eulogy than ending up in the casket. But that’s hardly the only irrational fear people hold onto. Most of us are also awfully afraid of the unknown. That’s because any change – good or bad – produces stress.
Well, that explains why many of us have such a hard time with our money. After all, most financial changes require significant adjustments in our habits and even our lifestyles. And while the results may be positive, the sensations those changes produce are anything but.
Fortunately, it is possible to shake off bad habits without losing your mind in the process. Here are seven ways to do it.
When it comes to debt and other financial problems, people often rely on denial. They aren’t sure how much debt they have or how long it’ll take them to pay it off. They aren’t sure how much money they spend each month. And they don’t want to dig into it for fear of finding out.
How to Change: The first step to making a financial change in your life is assessing where you are right now. Pull out your bank and credit card statements and get to work calculating out how much you earn, how much you spend and how much you owe. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s better to take a close look at this problem now, before it becomes too big to ignore.
A top-to-bottom financial overhaul is a recipe for relapse. If you want to change your biggest, most expensive habits, it’s best to start small.
How to Change: Pinpoint some of your biggest financial weaknesses, such as overspending, relying on credit cards or caving in to impulse purchases. Then, pick one small improvement you can make immediately. Once you’ve mastered that habit and it’s become a part of your life, you’ll be ready to add another.
Have you ever noticed that your friends are a lot like you? It isn’t just because you have a lot in common; we also seek out friends that support our beliefs and behaviors. If your friends have some of the same financial habits you do, that can be a problem.
How to Change: If you’re looking to change the way you live, it’s a good idea to find other like-minded people who will support and encourage you. Seek out frugal friends who embody some of the financial values you’d like to incorporate into your own. They’ll help make the transition easier.
Replace Instead of Remove
We’re often stuck in the habits we have because they reward us in some way. So, instead of trying to toss out a rewarding (but costly) habit, try replacing it with something else that provides a similar reward.
How to Change: Maybe you buy an overpriced cup of coffee every morning because you enjoy the walk to the coffee shop, or chatting with the barista. Rather than overhauling your morning routine, pour your own brew into a take-out cup and head out for a walk, or chat up a co-worker before you get to work. Replacing expensive habits with less expensive ones that deliver similar emotional payoffs is a great way to reduce the stress associated with making these changes – and increase the chances that you’ll maintain them over the long term.
See It to Believe It
A lot of the financial changes we need to make involve doing work now to reap the benefits much later. So, one key to succeeding at long-range financial goals is to make them real by envisioning the future.
How to Change: A study conducted by New York University’s Stern School of Business in 2012 found that when researchers showed participants an image of how they’d look decades into the future, those who had glimpsed their older selves later said they were willing to put twice as much money toward retirement savings as those who’d only looked at their current reflections in a mirror. If you want the motivation to make changes that’ll impact your future financial life, spend some time thinking about and visualizing what you want that life to be like. If it feels real, you’ll have more motivation to start saving for it.
Off-the-cuff remarks about the need to save, budget or pay off debt don’t go far. The problem is that the bolt of inspiration that inspired them may be long gone once it’s time for action.
How to Change: Holding yourself accountable can help transform a whim into a work in progress. Decide what changes you’d like to see, set goals to achieve them and post those goals in a place where you’ll see them every day. If you can keep those ambitions on your radar, it’ll be a lot harder to sweep them under the rug and pretend they never happened.
Procrastinating is the way we avoid the things that make us uncomfortable. The reality is that change isn’t any easier when you put it off.
How to Change: Just do it. If you need to make a financial change in your life, take a deep breath and take the first step. It’s never easy, but here’s the good news: Getting started is the hardest part.
Breaking bad financial habits can be a little scary, but letting go means making room for new habits that are more practical, more productive and much more profitable.