Money: Values, Behaviors, Habits and Change

saving money

Money values, behaviors, habits, and change: Perhaps there is something about middle age, or a pandemic, that creates the urge to examine values, behaviors, habits, and change.

At my 25th college reunion, I had breakfast with a college friend who worked for our alma mater, Davidson College. She had attended lots of reunions.

I asked about her observations of reunion attendees. She said something like, “At the 10-year mark, everyone’s comparing notes – who has how many kids, who has graduate degrees, what they did for vacations, what kind of home they live in, etc.”

In other words, their money values tended to be focused on status.

“By the 25th, nearly everyone has experienced some kind of life event, and they are a lot more mellow. The other stuff must not seem as important.”

So, values shift as life unfolds.

Values drive behaviors, which become habits. When we begin to question the behaviors and habits, we become ready for change. And that’s how growth happens. Eventually this process can work its way into finances.

Beginning to Examine Behaviors – Eating Habits

My own path to behavior change didn’t start with money. It started with eating.

One of my first experiences with behavior change was through Weight Watchers. I was 35 years old, 5’3″ and 15 pounds overweight. I decided that I valued being healthy more than enjoying unhealthy food. I lost 20 pounds and gained 5 back, but kept it off.

How did I do it? Tracking and accountability. Whenever my clothes got tight, I would write down everything I ate. This helped me track and change my eating behaviors permanently.

Ironically, tracking and accountability had come naturally to me with money. I wrote my first budget at age 9, and had tracked my money ever since. This made me a good saver, but later I learned it didn’t necessarily mean I had a good relationship with money.

Conversational Habits

Next I moved to healthier conversation habits.

The values of listening well and feeling heard became more important. I learned that “listening” does not mean, “Wait until the other person is finished talking so I can say what I want to say.”

Listening means to suspend all noise and chatter in my head; and reflect on what I am hearing. To eliminate the noise and chatter, I acquired a rule: Anything that I want to say while someone else is talking, I am not allowed to say.

Like any other habit change, it took conscious effort at first. When I think of something I want to say, I let it go, stay present, and listen. I found that, if I truly wanted to understand someone then what I wanted to say would have gotten in the way of that.

My conversational habits, and relationships, improved.

Money Values, Behavior, Habits and Change

My money habits needed improvement too.

I used to overtrack my spending and worry unnecessarily about it. This led to a habit of denying myself some things that would have been convenient, or just enjoyable. Then, like binge eating, I would splurge on something silly or outrageously expensive. Even though the splurges never exceeded the savings, it created big regret and self-criticism.

This roller coaster of emotions tied to money was one of the hardest habits to break. The shift came indirectly through other personal changes wrought through a divorce. Working structured programs with friends who shared similar struggles helped me identify emotions sooner and do something more constructive with them.

This education helped me write The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future, for people who have difficulty spending their savings in ways that bring joy and happiness.

Examining is Easy; Change is Hard

It is easy to underestimate how difficult behavior change can be.

It’s normal to believe we can simply tell ourselves to act differently. We can “just say no” to cookies after dinner, to quit interrupting, or to quit worrying about financial things we cannot control.

Instead, it helps to have a nudge – a program, a structure, a new discipline, or an accountability partner – to complete the transformation from old habits to new ones.

Before you know it, with new habits, a lot of good physical, relational, mental, and financial growth will happen.

Enough good stuff to share at the next college reunion.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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