When I hit my financial bottom, I realized that a lot of things in my life needed to change. I went through my closets and sold off a lot of my entertainment collections. I started trying out every frugal tactic under the sun. I created a debt repayment plan and hammered some of my debts with the money I made from the sales and from the frugality.
Yet the biggest shift â€“ naturally choosing not to spend money at every opportunity â€“ was much more of a gradual change. I didnâ€™t wake up one morning with complete success in this area. In fact, it took quite a while before my â€śdefaultâ€ť mode when I went into a bookstore was not to buy a book. It took a long time before I stopped putting unnecessary stuff into my shopping cart.
Why did it take a long time? For one, the old ways were my normal behaviors. It was just the way I had done things my entire adult life, and bulldozing those patterns â€“ especially bulldozing a lot of patterns at once â€“ is easier said than done. For another, I still derived a lot of personal short-term comfort from those choices. I got a nice rush from owning a new book or something like that in the short term â€“ it was only later on when that book was read (or sitting unread on my shelf) and I realized that it had gobbled down $15 or so that I felt bad about it.
What caused an overall mind shift away from that? Obviously, from the subject of this post, it was a gradual shift. However, there were three big key elements that convinced me to break the habits of unnecessary spending in my life.
First, I focused in on one or two key areas where I had a lot of money leaks. For me, the big one was the book store. I love to read, donâ€™t get me wrong, but buying three or four new books a week isnâ€™t exactly a habit that creates long-term financial security.
So, to start with, I really focused on my book-buying habit. I went on a lengthy sabbatical from bookstores. I just didnâ€™t buy any new books.
The effect of this is that it forced me to discover and utilize other methods for feeding my book-reading hobby. I found PaperBackSwap (one of my first orders from there was the remaining four Douglas Coupland novels Iâ€™d never read, for example). I rediscovered the library â€“ and I started utilizing the waiting lists for big new releases. I started swapping more books with friends as well.
By the time I gave up on the book store sabbatical, I found that my tendency to buy books with reckless abandon had been broken. I still pick up a book on occasion, but more often than not, itâ€™s one that Iâ€™m pretty sure Iâ€™m going to read multiple times and thus mine extreme value from.
Second, I tried to be mindful of spending in other areas but I didnâ€™t beat myself up over failures. I found that, time and time again, if I beat myself up over a mistake, I would be much more prone to just repeat that mistake.
A much better approach for me was to simply say, â€śI made a spending mistake. Thatâ€™s okay, though â€“ one mistake doesnâ€™t break me. What can I do in the future to not repeat that mistake?â€ť
From there, Iâ€™d try different things. I eventually adopted a new driving route to work, for example. I altered my evening routine so that Iâ€™d often have a lunch packed for me to take to work the next day so I didnâ€™t have to eat out each day.
I was mindful of my mistakes and I constantly experimented. Sometimes things would click and just work. Sometimes Iâ€™d repeat a mistake a few times. It was a learning process.
Finally, I got more involved in communities and interpersonal relationships that didnâ€™t value spending. I started spending more time with some community groups while spending less time with my buddies that were spending money left and right in a seemingly never-ending game of one-upsmanship. I focused a lot on a small handful of personal relationships with people who reflected where I wanted to be with my life and didnâ€™t focus as much on relationships that pulled me away from that ideal state.
Over time, I found myself doing less â€śgoing out with the boysâ€ť to do expensive things and more evenings inviting people over to our house to play board games. I found myself filling my evenings with community meetings instead of going out with people who spent most of their time being negative. I joined groups that matched my interests instead of just trying to keep up with the others in my usual gang.
The people I surrounded myself with began to gradually reinforce good spending behaviors instead of reinforcing bad ones. I no longer felt a social need to have the latest and greatest thing â€“ and that helped a lot.
A final tip that helped: I reduced my mass media consumption. Iâ€™m not talking about the advertisements â€“ Iâ€™m talking about a lot of the content itself. Shows where people demonstrate unbridled excitement at the possibility of winning some material item. Magazines that talk breathlessly about the latest and greatest product. Whenever I see those things, I just toss them out. I have no need to be influenced by what other people want.
It takes time â€“ at least, it did for me. Good luck.
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