Experiences that make you feel good, activate your brain’s reward centre, which responds by releasing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine plays a key role in establishing and reinforcing habits – including bad habits – by linking the things that make you feel good with the desire to do them again.
Dopamine is that little zing that you may get from buying something. Perhaps you buy a cake (zing!) and then take it home to eat it (zing!). Or do you like online shopping? Your card is charged (zing), you get a confirmation email of your purchase, a notification of dispatch and then the item eventually arrives (zing zing zing!).
I had a habit of indulging in a little retail therapy after particularly stressful days at work. This routine was assisted by the fact that there were no less than 10 clothing stores, 5 cosmetic shops, and three cake shops between my office and the tube station. I could reward myself with a purchase of £2 or £200 whenever I wanted to. And – heavens – I wanted to.
This was a tough habit to break. Trying on dresses made me feel good. Smelling perfumes made me feel good. Buying things made me feel especially good – for a while. But I could not justify having any more clothes than would fit in my wardrobe, nor even another little cosmetic.
Change the zing!
One workday, after tearing myself away from another possible purchase, I sat down in a huff. I had had a pretty bad day and wanted something to make me feel better. But not spending money made me feel deprived – I deserved a reward! The idea popped into my head that I should put the saved money aside – right now – and not wait until I had a surplus at the end of the month. So, I decided on a Christmas shopping budget. I opened up my banking app and sent some money straight away to a new ‘bucket’.
There it was. A little reminder that I had done something that made me feel good. Testing out my idea during the following week, I tried on clothes (zing!), thought carefully and every time I decided against a purchase, I transferred some money into my savings bucket (zing again!). As time went by, the saving habit got easier and the spending habit waned. Replacing my spending zing with a savings zing has made changing a sticky habit much easier. So I encourage you to give it a try.
- Replace your spending zing with a savings zing.
- Dust off your physical or online moneybox.
- Decide upon something to save for (or a debt to pay off) and name it. Put a note and/or picture of it on your moneybox.
- Identify one of your spending habits you would like to break.
- Every time you decide not to perform the habit, put some money immediately in your digital moneybox (or put it aside in a different part of your wallet so you can put it in your physical moneybox later).
Keep doing this for at least a week and take note of how you feel each time. Do you get a savings zing? If not, why do you think that might be?
Want more articles like this? Sign up to my updates here and get my tips on changing your online spending habits (free)!