Limited Willpower Costs You Money

Did you know that you have a finite supply of willpower? A few years ago I read about how humans only have so much willpower. When it comes to things like diets, fitness, and self control, we only have a limited supply of resisting temptation. This has totally changed how I view my personal finances, and how I go about living my life on a day to day basis. I’ve found it an incredibly freeing way of managing my personal expectations for myself, and it has influenced where and how I spend my money. Here’s a couple examples.

Automate Savings

I’ve always been a good saver. Even when I was a kid, I would be able to resist the temptation (most of the time) to spend my money on candy or fast food, because I wanted to save up for a bike or a computer. I’m definitely still that way, as any little bit of cash that I come across, I try not to spend, and would much rather collect a bunch of money together to buy one big thing rather than spend it bit by bit. It’s become a lot harder, however, in my adult years, as there are way more opportunities to spend my money. Even if I choose to save money one day, I have to resist six or seven more times the next day. It becomes hard, over time, to end up with the cash that you need to make the big purchase. So I’ve given up on that. Instead, I have my bank accounts set up to withdraw my savings automatically on the same day I get my paycheque. This way, I only had to make the decision to save once. Now it is just done for me. I can’t be tempted to spend money I don’t have, and if it’s not in my bank account, I won’t spend it.

Create Spending Budgets

I know that I won’t always be able to resist my temptations - so I’ve planned in advance to fail. I don’t want to stop at McDonalds after work, but sometimes it’s so close, so easy, and I’m hungry enough that it’s really, really hard to avoid spending a dollar and a half making my stomach full of greasy midnight food. So I’ve planned on that happening. Each week I set aside a certain amount of food for exactly this type of temptation. I try to resist, of course, because it’s not good food that I should be eating, and while sometimes fast food can be an inexpensive option, it’s not the healthiest choice. Instead of driving myself insane trying to avoid the temptation, I budget for it, so it won’t cause me financial harm, and I don’t have to go through the stress and frustration of having to deal with broken financial commitments. Even better, if I go a couple of weeks without spending that set aside money, bonus! I suddenly have enough to buy a bigger present for myself.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Sometimes I get into a spending frenzy. I’ll be at the grocery store picking up milk and suddenly I’m unloading chips, pop, some Tupperware and a garden hose from the car. This often happens when I am mentally distracted or stressed, and I’ve come to recognize that it may just be the way that I deal with tough life situations. If the purchases are small and can be useful (who doesn’t like chips!), then I don’t sweat the small stuff and I just go with it. Our monthly budget has some flex room for this type of situation. If we buy milk and it goes bad, but don’t have a lot of time on our hands, fine. We chuck the milk and dont’ worry about going back and getting our money refunded. It’s not worth the time or the effort to sweat the small stuff.

Roll With the Punches

Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes everything that can possible go wrong, does, and suddenly there’s a lot more important in the world than just getting out of debt or saving for a trip. When these times come, my willpower is spent doing things like managing my emotions, dealing with people, making phone calls, etc. I can’t be bothered to try to save extra money or eat healthy, and I don’t worry about it during those times. Just like building an emergency fund prepares you for the worst possible scenarios, giving yourself some breathing room when it comes to being financially healthy during the tough times can also be a way of preparing in advance for emergency situations.

How do you manage your limited willpower?

Written by Alan Schram

Alan Schram writes about personal finance and his encounters with it in his everyday life. Alan is recently married and is looking to save money on expenses and reduce his debts.

One Response to Limited Willpower Costs You Money

  1. Steve says:

    My Grandpa told me once that his parents only had $10 to last them the winter until they could farm again the next year. You don’t need much willpower when there are no options.

    People nowadays are soft and are raised without having to face as much hardships as in the past. Instead of choosing which almost rotten vegetable to make soup with, kids today have to choose which pizza place to order from.

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