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How To Track Your Spending Triggers To Change Your Ways[Today’s post is by staff writer Melanie.]

In my lifelong quest at improving my finances, I am always trying to look at my moments of failure.

In what cases do I fail?

Why do I fail?

What could I be doing so that I set myself up for success and not failure?

A lot of that has to do with how we manage our money and how we spend it. In most ways, I’m on the path to recovery. I’ve got the targeted savings accounts down, I’m paying off debt, and I’m pretty frugal. However, there are moments when I am more inclined to spend money. For example, in certain situations, or with certain feelings your brain triggers a response for you to spend money on something.

These are your spending triggers.

We all have them. Maybe our spending is triggered by being around a more successful friend, or due to unhappiness, stress, or even convenience. I mean this to say that our brain creates a pathway with certain emotions or situations, which psychologically trigger a desire to spend or take a certain action.

I have quite a few spending triggers that I’ve recognized over the years.

For example, 98% of the time I ride my bike places, as I don’t have a car. But when I take public transportation 2% of the time, I am ten times more likely to purchase a coffee and croissant. I don’t like taking the bus and somehow a nice treat seems like a consolation prize. It’s my warm cup of delight through the drudgery of the commute. In my brain it feels like a nice, hip, morning-ritual thing to do.

If I’ve had a bad day, I think I need to treat myself and often do. This means going out to eat or drink, hanging out with friends and generally not caring about money for several hours. It’s all fine in the moment, but it’s really a band-aid. I spend more money when I’m unhappy (and most people do by my unverifiable research) because I think, even just for a moment, these things, these little experiences can make me feel better. And in some ways they definitely do. For the moment. But in the end, I’m still trading dollars for happiness.

I have many other spending triggers as well and I now recognize them for what they are. You can live a whole life saving and spending and never really think about this stuff.

But every aspect of how we deal with money is firmly rooted in psychology. It’s important to know when you are more likely to spend money, why you are doing it, and what situations trigger your spending.

Once you can determine what situations trigger your spending, you need to come up with an action plan for how to deal with it. If you don’t, it’s just too easy to go back into old patterns.

I deserve this…

Only this one time…

I’ll be better next time…

Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so.

For example, if I know I have to take the bus, I wake up even earlier to make myself a coffee at home and make sure I eat breakfast.

I’ve worked especially hard at trying to re-pattern my thinking when it comes to stressful or unhappy situations. My default was going out. It is still so hard to say no to, but now I give myself more time to think, go for a walk, or even take a nap.

This isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t have any fun. While I practice frugality, I definitely think money is meant to be spent on fun life experiences. But spending triggers are generally unhealthy patterns that can keep us trapped doing certain things in certain situations over and over again.

Now, I will still indulge occasionally on a warm cup o’ joe and a flaky croissant in the morning – but now I don’t feel like I’m entitled to it, or need it. Now it’s back to its luxury status and I enjoy it more.

To get started, sit down with a piece of paper. Create two columns. One for purchases, one for emotions. Think about the spending patterns in your life. Are there things that consistently come up? Do you have certain emotional associations with those purchases? When I track my spending, I have a line for how I felt making that purchase, so that I can ensure I am spending based on my values and also tracking my potential spending triggers.

Start writing down some of the things you know trigger your spending. Just by writing it down, you are letting it have less power over you and recognizing something pretty deep.

Now on a separate piece of paper, come up with alternative plans for your spending triggers.

When I take the bus, I will make coffee at home.

When I {spending trigger}, I will {solution}.

These things take time and there is no perfect solution. So don’t beat yourself up too hard if it takes a while. But with some consistent effort and self-awareness, you’ll be making improvements in no time.

What are your spending triggers?  Click here to leave a comment below.

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About The Author: Melanie blogs about breaking up with debt at DearDebt.com and invites others to write breakup letters to their debt as well. She’s accumulated a total of $81k in student loan debt between two degrees. Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. Melanie enjoys travel, art, music, adventure, and of course, personal finance. If you’re interested in writing for Vosa contact us here.

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