MONEY ON THE MIND The Psychology of Spending and Saving

It’s called the “insula”.  That’s the part of the brain that gets triggered when you experience something unpleasant.  In other words, when you feel bad about what you are doing, then you know that your insula is stimulated.  For example, when you spend money and don’t feel good about it, your insula is doing its thing.  Now what about gratification?

Well, that would be affected by the part of the brain known as the “nucleus accubens” at the base of the forebrain.  An overactive accubens can lead to impulsive behavior.  So, if you’re a shopaholic, now you know that your accubens is highly active.  Don’t you feel good?  What’s my point?

The way you manage money, according to some researchers, is related to your chemistry.  When it comes to saving or spending money, you can experience both kinds of feeling, good and bad.  You can feel good or bad about not spending money, especially when you really want to buy something.  It could be something you really need and it is not driven by impulse.  So, which one are you?  Do you have a propensity to save money or spend money?  And, is it a problem either way?

Your chemistry influences your desire to save or spend money.

So, how do we change or shift our behavior around money?  It’s called discipline.  The origin of the word comes from Latin and means “teaching” or “learning”.  I like to think of it as “remembering what is important”.  To do that, we need to teach ourselves about our own behavior so we can remember what is important.  Usually, this means that we need to overcome prevailing habits.  How we spend money is often something “out of sight, out of mind”.  So how do we cause a shift in our behavior?

How do we cause a shift in our spending behavior?

Try this for one week.  Start a spending log.  Save your receipts — ALL of them.  Write down everything you spend money on.  Give yourself a one-week spending snapshot.  It will open your eyes to your behavior.  In my own personal experience, this has been quite compelling.  It is amazing what we spend money on and how quickly the total accumulates.

You will begin to see how much money you actually spend gratuitously on things you really don’t need.  Once you add those kinds of expenditures up, you will realize how much money you could save.  But that amount will be meaningless unless you give yourself something to shoot for.  Saving money without a purpose is like driving down the road without a destination.

A good place to start is by defining the difference between what you need and what you want.  Most of us can dig into our memories and recall a time when we really needed something and did what we had to do to put the money together.  For example, it could have been for something critical that a needed a repair.

Make a list of your needs and wants.

There are plenty of tactics you can use to control your spending and maximize your savings.  Certainly, I will share some of these in other articles.  The most significant challenge is how we change or shift our behavior.  For me personally, the best way I found to understand my own spending behavior was to create a picture of it.  A picture is worth a thousand dollars.  (Sometimes more.)

The biggest obstacle most of us face when it comes to managing money is to avoid the reality of the numbers.  I can’t find the words that will affect you enough to realize how important it is to get a grip on your spending (if you’re one of those who need to get a grip).  If I could affect everyone’s behavior through words such that people become motivated to take snapshots of their spending, I would put in a bottle and market it.  I would become a millionaire.

Take the one-week challenge!

Seriously, do it.  Here’s something else you might try.  During one Christmas season, I set a budget of daily spending over a 3-week period.  I set the threshold at $60 a day for 20 days.  Toughest thing I ever had to do.  What I found was that I had a tendency to spend closer to $80 a day.  Believe me, on the days I actually spent nothing, I’d feel really terrific.

So, ask yourself: what do I need to do to remember what is important?  Where do I find my motivation?  Perhaps it could be the idea of buying something you have always wanted.  Could be a trip somewhere.  A special outfit.  A piece of furniture.  A work of art.  A new TV or some new-fangled electronics.  Whatever it is, indulge your accubens.  Whatever you do, create a tangible image of it.  Remember, if you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.  After awhile, the same thing happens to money.  It disappears.

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