Changing your behavior is essential to accomplishing anything great in your life, right? Skip your traditional Sunday brunch so you can train more for that triathlon. Study every night instead of hanging with friends so you can get an MBA.
And when you start working on your personal finances, you’re going to be asked to change your behavior, at least in some small way.
Some of those changes will be easy. “Oh, I should invest my 401(k) in Fund A instead of Fund B? Done!”
Some are very much not easy.
Behavior Change is Hard.
Probably the hardest change to make in our financial life is to spend less money. Not everyone needs to do it, but a lot of us need to, just to achieve some financial security. And a lot of us want to do it in order to get to our goals faster–buy a home sooner, retire earlier, travel more often.
(The difficulty of reducing spending–which I’ve observed time and again in my practice–is perhaps the best reason for avoiding “lifestyle inflation” in the first place. Undoing lifestyle inflation, deflating your lifestyle, reducing what you spend: it’s just The Suck.
I wrote recently about the futility of will power in making these lasting changes. If you’re anything like me, it won’t work just because you try.
So, what is to be done?
In that article, I propose creating a plan and automating your finances as solutions. But what if you can’t automate the change you want to make?
Increasing your 401(k) contribution by changing your paycheck settings is easy to do. But there’s no automatic setting to “spend less every month.” You have to actively, consciously make the decision, every day, to Not Spend Money.
Rely on Your Community to Help Change Your Behavior.
Do you remember that study that came out about a decade ago from the New England Journal of Medicine? The study that showed that if your friends gain weight, you’re more likely to gain weight, too? And that if your friends lose weight, you’re more likely to do that? The effect persisted even if friends were far away, and even if friends were more like friendly acquaintances. (The effect was just smaller.)
What if we apply that relationship to changes in financial behavior? If being friends with people who gain (or lose) weight makes you more likely to gain (or lose) weight:
What about hanging out with people who treat their money the way that you want to treat yours?
I’m not suggesting you abandon the Big Spender friends you have. (I’m not that crass.) But why not seek out other people whose financial behavior you admire and would love to emulate?
There are all sorts of possible resources out there. It’s hard to make good, close friends, but you can still grow your community to include people with the desired behavior. You can easily find online communities that espouse the kind of relationship you want with your money, whatever that is. Early retirement, avid travelers/travel hackers, home buyers, you name it. You’ve got reddit channels, Facebook groups. Talk with your co-workers. Look for meetups. I don’t know, talk to people. See who’s doing it in a way you admire!
And to “flip the script” a bit (having recently watched the new Cobra Kai, Hawk has forever changed my perception of this phrase), if you make healthy and helpful changes to your financial situation, then your friends are more likely to do so, also. Whaddya think of that?
Managing your own behavior is the hardest part of life (at least, in these affluent, developed-economy parts of the world). It’s also arguably the biggest determinant of success, in life in general, but certainly in your personal finances.
What can you do, to help change your behavior in a way that will create stronger finances?
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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.