If you received a raise tomorrow, what would you do with the extra money? Most people would celebrate—maybe with a nice dinner out or a great bottle of wine, which you deserve. However, earning more should not always change your current or long-term spending habits. The problem is that our minds have the tendency to think we can (and should) spend it. This can quickly create a loss of context, consistency, and control.
These behavioral tendencies are often seen in clinical disorders, and can affect your financial health. They’re also far more common than many realize.
Financial wellness is not about having so many dollars in your bank account, but about being someone who behaves in a financially healthy way by spending, saving, and living better. But what about those unhealthy financial behaviors that sneak up on us? How do we face them head on, instead of sweeping them under the rug?
You may be shocked to learn that basic elements of common behaviors often seen in personality disorders can trickle into the lives of even the healthiest of individuals and affect their day-to-day financial behavior. Let’s explore three of the most common behaviors.
A Loss of Perspective
The first behavioral challenge we all face is a loss of perspective.
Remember your first paycheck? While we all savored that initial euphoria of the world being our oyster, that feeling dissipated quickly once you discovered the limits of your own largesse and factored in unavoidable expenses such as rent, car payments or student loans. By not falling into that same mental trap today and assuming you have more money than you actually have, you’ll avoid the sticker shock you get when you open up your credit card statement each month.
You don’t need to experience euphoria to feel wealthier than you actually are. But you’re damaging your financial health by not looking at your numbers or balancing how much you’re spending with how much you’re earning.
“When people are manic, they have an inflated self-esteem and view of themselves—their sex appeal, their resources—and they have the inability to process the consequences of their actions, which leads to staggering indiscretions,” says Dr. Igor Galynker, a psychiatrist and the director of the Family Center for Bipolar at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.
How can you avoid this? One simple approach is to come up with your “Daily Spend” so you never lose focus. What is your Daily Spend? It’s your take home pay, minus all of your required living expenses divided by 30. When you go out shopping, you’ll have a whole new perspective when you realize that the nice shirt you’re looking at is seven days worth of your Daily Spend.
An Addictive Personality
We’ve all heard it. A lot of us have said it. “I have an addictive personality.” But in most cases, we’re referring to an innocent attachment to something we can’t live without: a daily habit. Our trusted Starbucks latte fix. An after-work glass of wine. Eating out for lunch every day!
While neither of these simple pleasures would classify us as an addict, have you stopped to think about how these daily purchases are affecting your financial health? How much are they costing you in the grand scheme of things? And could you live without them? In many cases of alcohol, drug, or gambling addiction, these behaviors started out just like anyone else—innocent and sparse—but spiralled as the daily fix lost its luster.
“No one knows what causes addictive behaviors, like shopping, alcoholism, drug abuse, and gambling,” says Ruth Engs, a professor from the applied health science department at Indiana University. “Some of the new evidence suggests that some people, maybe 10%-15%, may have a genetic predisposition to an addictive behavior, coupled with an environment in which the particular behavior is triggered, but no one really knows why.”
While you aren’t likely to go broke from frequent trips to Starbucks, if you can’t afford the habit, it could still damage your financial health. This is especially true when the cost of your habit is greater than just a coffee. A bottle of wine a day or a pack or two of cigarettes will add up significantly.
How can you avoid this? Create a snapshot of how much you spend on your daily habits over the course of a month. Sometimes just seeing the total cost will be enough to curb your addiction. If not, maybe it’s time to budget for it. Take a look at your Daily Spend and factor in your habits into your expenses. This will create a more realistic look at how much you do have to spend every day—already taking into account that glass of wine or latte.
A Loss of Control
Are you an oniomaniac? Maybe you’ve heard this more colloquially described as being a “shopaholic.” While it may sound cute and out of a chick-lit novel, in its worst form, such behaviors can destroy relationships, and at best, hinder your ability to be financially healthy. To know if you have it, just ask yourself the following:
1) How much of your time is spent buying things or thinking about buying things?
2) How often do you feel guilt, depression or shame because of your discretionary purchases?
3) How often do your discretionary purchases impair your ability to pay for basic necessities?
How can you avoid this? If your answer is “often” to any two of these, or “always” to even just one, then it’s time to speak to a licensed therapist about how you can find a happier, more sustainable lifestyle. If you’re most people, however, your answers will most likely be “sometimes” or “rarely.” But those “sometimes” can be the difference between being financially healthy and financially ill.
Take a moment to examine your own behaviors. Accept those that you now have, and use these tools to make a change. Your financial health depends on it.