Zoning out for hours watching reruns, checking your PDA every 15
minutes, spending a morning surfing the Web for bargains -- these
are hardly behaviors that defy social norms. And, really, what's
the big whoop about checking your messages or biting your nails a
wee bit too much?
Nothing. Until it's
nothing, that is.
When done in excess, harmless habits morph into something far
more sinister and self-destructive -- what self-help expert Judith
Wright calls "soft addictions."And make no mistake: Soft addictions
can run roughshod on your emotional and financial well-being.
The signs of soft addictions
Overshopping, overeating, watching endless amounts of TV, and
sporting an impenetrable umbilical cord to the Internet are common
soft addictions, Wright says.
The psychological signs of sufferers can be subtle, but the
emotional drain is very real: They "rob us of time, numb us from
our feelings, mute our consciousness, and drain our energy," she
says. (You can take this quiz on her website to see if some of your
habits have become bona fide soft addictions.)
When soft addictions involve money, they inflict yet another
side effect: financial drain. Left unchecked, things like boredom
spending, convenience shopping, and day trading can quickly balloon
out of control and become emotional and financial cement
All it takes is a few too many clicks and suddenly:
- Convenience shopping turns into a mountain of credit card
- Trading in and out of stocks eats away at your long-term
- Those winning bids on auction sites eat away at the money
you've amassed for a down payment for your dream home.
How habits become harmful
You can be the most self-aware person on the planet and still
suffer from a spending soft addiction. That's because the things
that make it easier to manage our money also numb our brains to
what's really happening with our finances.
Consider credit cards: Like poker chips, they only represent
money. Studies show that when we put purchases on plastic we spend
more because we don't experience the discomfort of parting with
actual cold, hard currency. (This also explains why I've never
walked out of Target with just the things on my shopping list.)
Online shopping, stock trading, auction sites -- same thing.
Done in moderation, all is well. But it doesn't take much for our
reliance on these tools to turn into a harmful addiction.
Break bad habits before they become addictions
Because of that fine line between "harmless habit" and "soft
addiction," it's easy to overlook or brush aside budding problem
If worry about the financial fallout of your everyday actions
even occasionally breaks through the subconscious into the realm of
acknowledgement, it's worth taking a deeper look.
1. Bring consciousness to your cash flow
You do this by tracking your spending -- but with a twist. This
tried-and-true exercise is always an eye-opener. But we're going to
add an element of depth to the spending analysis:
- For at least three days (two weeks is even better), record
the factual details of every dime you spend.
- Here's the twist: Within the next hour, write down how that
transaction made you feel (e.g., "a brief buyer's high, but I
felt restless again 30 minutes later").
- Extra credit: Try to identify any triggers that drove you to
whip out your wallet.
After several days, you'll be able to identify some mind-money
connections you might never have detected if they had gone
unchecked. Quite often the overwhelming feeling people experience
is numbness -- not even remembering or getting much of any
fulfillment from these habits.
2. Calculate the price of happiness
Sit down with your notes and add up how much money you spent. Then
compare it to the amount of satisfaction each transaction brought
to your life.
Did that sweater bring you $45 worth of joy? The answer is, of
course, subjective. So also consider how many hours you spent
toiling at work to pay for the cardigan. Now, was it worth it?
Asking questions like these will help heighten your financial
awareness in a different way than simply reviewing a rundown of the
previous month's credit card transactions.
3. Manage your money more meaningfully
Take some time to write down some things that truly add to your
quality of life -- items, events, pursuits, and purchases that put
a lasting kick in your step and were worth the time and money
Then make a list of the things you are willing to change about
how you handle money today to free up psychological and financial
space so you can pursue things like those you just wrote down.
Start with the small stuff (e.g., turning off the TV, canceling
premium cable, and joining the Y with the family) and work your way
up to bigger changes you'd like to make. Just a few tweaks to
routine spending habits can really add up.
If you find yourself slipping back into old habits, review your
list of joy-inducing items and remember that a little self-control
can keep you and your finances out of harm's way.
More ways to become financially self-aware:
My name is
and I am a TV addict. There, I said it. Now may I please be excused
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