Explore Your Spending Habits to Build Saving Habits

If you’re seeking to turn over a new financial leaf, it’s not enough to simply examine a snapshot of your current circumstances and smooth things out around the edges.

Achieving lasting and effective positive change will require you to trace your "money story" back to its very beginnings.

"Some things related to money management are part of our personality," explains Sarah Newcomb, a behavioral scientist and author of Loaded: Money, Psychology, and How to Get Ahead Without Leaving Your Values Behind. "Others are inherited or absorbed from our surroundings as we grow up — and the same circumstances can produce very different results, depending on the person."

Which is to say, each person’s perspective on money has been shaped by a unique mix of factors including family attitudes, peer influence, individual experiences, historical forces and our own always-evolving approach to decision making.

In reforming long-held spending habits and navigating your financial ship to calmer (and more prosperous) waters, "The why is often just as important as the what," Newcomb says.

Embrace small money hacks for big savings

As you work to disrupt your more deep-seeded spending habits, it’s important to remember that saving more doesn’t necessarily require a complete lifestyle overhaul. Introducing smaller hacks can be a means to make progress and score some quick, momentum-building wins. Ideally, the hacks you undertake should suit your spending personality.

To save more, understand your spending habits

Newcomb believes our individual spending personalities exist on a spectrum that can be broken out into six groups:

Selfless Spender

Defined by: A tendency to spend generously on others.

What it means for your money: Spreading the financial love with others may stretch you thin with little money left to save.

If you're a selfless spender, try to:

Launch a money-saving challenge. Give friends and family a heads-up that you’re focusing on saving and ask them to join in. When your tendency to treat others arises, you’ll have a support system helping to curb the behavior.

Give yourself spending limits for gifts. Shopping with only a set amount of cash on hand may help to keep overspending inclinations in check.

Status Spender

Defined by: Spending that’s driven by a desire to keep up with the latest trends.

What it means for your money: The focus on right now can potentially leave you unprepared for emergencies or longer-term goals such as retirement.

If you're a status spender, try to:

Institute a 48-hour rule before you buy. Delaying gratification gives you a cooling-off period to think the purchase through and determine if it’s something you really need.

Consider using a shopping app that tracks items on your to-buy list. Look for one that shoots you a heads-up when a must-have item goes on sale.

Spontaneous Spender

Defined by: Buying smaller items you don’t necessarily need, on impulse.

What it means for your money: Small purchases can eventually add up to one big shortfall in your savings plan.

If you're a spontaneous spender, try to:

Create a savings match. Each time you spend money on unnecessary items, transfer that same amount to your savings.

Check retailer return policies. Consider using apps to help keep track of purchases and receipts — which typically include return policies — so you can view them at a glance.

Free Spirit

Defined by: A completely hands-off approach to money management.

What it means for your money: Creating a workable budget and saving is more difficult when it’s unclear how much money is coming in and going out each month.

If you're a free spirit, try to:

Do one thing to improve your finances each week. Review your budget, shop around for a better deal on your car insurance, pay an extra AED 100 to your credit card debt, round up your loose change and put it in savings.

Let an app do the saving for you. There are numerous digital tools to link to your checking account to set up no-fuss automatic savings deposits.

Planned Spender

Defined by: A watertight budget, with saving included.

What it means for your money: You’re saving regularly but may not be taking time out to enjoy the benefits of your efforts.

If you're a planned spender, try to:

Add a line item to your budget for fun. Give yourself AED 100 or AED 200 per week or month to let your hair down.

Make saving fun. Create a vision board of your savings goals, treat yourself to something small every time you add another AED 2,000 to savings, challenge yourself to not spend any unnecessary money for a week.

Secure Saver

Defined by: Saving money regularly but reluctance to spend any of it.

What it means for your money: Feeling nervous about spending any of your savings could be a sign that it’s time to revisit your financial goals.

If you're a secure saver, try to:

Set clear goals. Consider using a goal-oriented app or a savings-focused bullet journal to tie your savings goals and habits to the things you enjoy doing most.

Create personal reminders of savings goals. For example, why not make your email password a reference to your goal? If you want to save AED 10,000 in your emergency fund, your password could be "Save10K." The act of repeatedly typing your savings mantra each time you log in may give you a mental boost you need to keep saving.

Before moving on, which of these types sounds like you? Identifying your spending personality and its associated pattern can help you develop positive new behaviors and habits with your money.

How to change your money spending habits (and make them stick)

Of course, uncovering your spending personality is the easy part. Altering its underlying habits is more involved.

"Once a behavior has become a habit," Newcomb says, "we aren’t using our central command center anymore, but a different part of our brain. To break the habit means activating that conscious command center and violating the positive feedback-producing pattern that we’re used to."

In other words, you have to retrain your brain to deliver the same buzz from saving that you’re used to receiving from spending. "If you want to become a better saver, you need to make saving feel great," she adds. Find what motivates you and use that to maintain the savings momentum.

There are five stages to forming a new habit: Pre-contemplation, where you’re not really thinking about a change yet; contemplation, when you’re aware that a change is needed; preparation, which involves setting the stage; action, which involves introducing the behaviors needed to develop a new habit; and maintenance, when the new behavior becomes normal.

To make your desired money habit stick, you need to have fully worked through those first three stages before moving on to action and maintenance. "If you don’t really wake up to the need, think about how to do it well and set your environment up to help you be successful, [then] you aren’t really going to make a lasting change," Newcomb says.

Picturing your savings success

Newcomb offers one last mindset-shifting tip: Visualization. "Imagine yourself crossing the finish line of your financial goal fully and in detail," she advises. Then, picture the obstacles standing in your way and you clearing them. "Combining the obstacle with the goal helps to connect your success with overcoming it."

You’ve got to admit — that sounds like a great scene for the next chapter of your financial story.

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Rebecca Lake has written for online publications U.S. News & World Report, The Balance and Investopedia.

This article is intended to provide general information about finance and investments and does not replace or should be taken as professional financial advice. The content reflects the view of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article except information on Citibank N.A. – UAE products referenced herein.
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