By MELANIE LOCKERT
After a long, hard day of work, it's natural to want to "treat yo'self." You're tired and hungry, and you've put in the time. Now, it's time for some relaxation and fun, right? Not exactly.
The desire to reward yourself can be a spending trigger, enticing you to spend money you can't afford to spend. And that's not the only situation that can get you in trouble, either. Spending triggers -- certain situations or emotions that drive us to spend -- are everywhere, acting like financial landmines.
You probably can't evade them forever, but there are ways you can overcome them instead. Here are four tips and tricks to help you overcome your spending triggers and stick to your budget.
What is a spending trigger?
Spending triggers are often certain situations or emotions that encourage us to spend. Just broke up with your boyfriend? You may feel like splurging on a purchase to make yourself feel better. Sluggish and exhausted? Time for that double-shot latte and a sweet treat at Starbucks.
Our spending triggers are oftentimes associated with things like stress, exhaustion, anxiety, boredom, hunger and more.
For example, when I'm hungry or tired, I usually end up spending more than I planned in order to remedy the situation. If I'm feeling down? Somehow money feels less relevant, and I could find myself spending too much on a night out with friends.
Over the years, I've learned how to master my spending triggers, but it takes a bit of work.
1. Identify your spending triggers.
To overcome your spending triggers, it helps to know what they are. In order to do this, consider tracking your expenditures for one full month.
You may have heard this advice before, but here's the extra twist: Instead of just tracking how much you spend and what you spend money on, track your emotional state at the time as well.
I prefer to use an Excel spreadsheet for this exercise -- logging what I spent money on, how much I spent and how I felt at the time. This exercise has helped clarify a lot of things for me -- like why in the past, I've spent $20 dining out -- by myself. How? If you're like me, you can't think straight if you're starving, and you'll spend money on whatever sounds the most delicious. It usually isn't the most frugal option.
Doing this simple exercise for 30 days can help you identify your spending triggers. If you're looking for a shortcut, start by being mindful about when you have the urge to make a purchase. Before you swipe your card or throw down cash, think to yourself, "Why do I feel the need to spend right now?" It may be because you're stressed, bored or just feel like you need an extra treat to reward yourself.
2. Learn how to combat your spending triggers.
Once you identify your spending triggers, you can learn how to combat them. Common spending triggers include hunger, exhaustion, boredom and wanting to treat yourself. Fortunately, there are little things you can do to overcome them.
Pack snacks. OK, so I've admitted that hunger is a huge spending trigger for me. In the past, I've spent too much money on food, but now I pack snacks wherever I go. This is especially true if I'm going to the airport, taking a long car ride or waiting somewhere for a while.
I pack simple things like granola bars, nuts and fruit -- just enough to hold me over until it's proper mealtime. This helps me avoid the urge to dine out when I wasn't planning to.
Get a good night's rest. Exhaustion can make anyone spend more on coffee and food, just to make it through the day. As hard as it may be, try to go to bed at a set time each night. You know your body and how much sleep you need best, so set your schedule accordingly. Getting a sufficient amount of sleep can help you make clearer and more informed decisions.
Try something new. When you're feeling bored and aren't sure what to do, try something new. Look up a new exercise video on YouTube, learn how to sew through online tutorials or go to the library to get a new book. You don't need to spend money to combat boredom.
Treat yo' self. We all deserve a little pampering now and then, but it can be an expensive habit if you're not careful. Treat yourself with little things like a hot bath, cup of tea, night of doing nothing or just binging on Netflix.
3. Create a new habit.
Instead of continuing to let your spending triggers drive your behavior, try replacing that behavior with something positive.
For example, instead of continuing to visit a convenience store while at work, High Fiving Dollars blogger Sarah Li Cain dealt with work stress by creating a positive, more frugal habit.
"I found a corner in my work space where I have pictures that remind me of happy times (like playing with my son) and would do something simple to relax, such as making a cup of chai," she says.
Creating a new habit and finding other ways to reward yourself is crucial. "If you suppress the reward altogether, you will feel deprived. Instead, replace it with something just as pleasant, but cheap or free," says Pauline Paquin, founder of the blog Reach Financial Independence.
If you find yourself buying things when you're bored, block certain websites where you tend to spend money, using StayFocusd or SelfControl. Then, direct that free time to another activity, such as reading or learning a new language.
4. Set up ground rules.
When it comes to overcoming spending triggers, you may need to set up ground rules for yourself in order to stick to your budget.
Overcoming spending triggers isn't about never spending money on anything fun -- it's about only spending money when you're in the right headspace for it or when you've actually planned for it.
"Buy items only from a wish list you've made at a time free of distractions, anxiety or sadness. Or make yourself wait 24 to 48 hours before giving in to an unplanned purchase," says Sean Clark, president and CEO of financial firm York Independents Inc.
Everyone has spending triggers, so there's no reason to beat yourself up over yours. However, it's important to acknowledge that they are there and learn how to overcome them with time. It may not happen overnight, but using these tips, you can create a roadmap for conquering your spending triggers and rocking your budget.
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