MAKING CHANGES to our everyday behavior isn’t easy. Inertia is a powerful force: Our brains tend to be on autopilot, not thinking much about what we’re doing—or why we’re doing it. It’s time-consuming and takes effort to pause and reflect on our habits and behavior.
Like so many others around the world, I found myself in lockdown earlier this year. I took advantage of the time to reassess my finances. I was shocked by some of the spending patterns I spotted, especially the mismatch between my expenditures and my preferences. I found that I’d been dedicating time and money to activities that weren’t adding much to my life.
No matter how mindful I thought I was about my financial habits, checking my spending showed me the truth: I had regularly failed to make the right choices in the moment, despite knowing that I was likely to fall prey to such mistakes. Many of these expenses—often resulting from unnecessary visits to the shopping mall—were nonexistent a few years ago, but suddenly they were eating up a significant part of my spare cash.
I can’t even count all the random things I bought. There was the high-end camera that I thought would turn photography into a hobby. It hasn’t. There was a collection of graphic novels that still sit sealed on my shelves. There’s my wardrobe filled with twice as many items as it needs to be. To be sure, these won’t put too much of a dent in my ultimate retirement nest egg. Still, I feel bad for wasting several hundred bucks on things that I’m not using or deriving any pleasure from.
I decided to do something about my behavior, so it improves over the coming months. I listed the activities I missed the most during lockdown, along with the positive effects of each one. Playing soccer with my friends is on the top of the list. Not only do I get to exercise playing my favorite sport, but also it’s a social activity that connects me to other people. Other items on the list include visiting my parents on weekends, going on holiday with my significant other and walking on the beach.
On another sheet of paper, I made a second list, detailing my short-term and long-term goals. For the near future, I listed saving for a vacation near the mountains and visiting a new country. For the long haul, I wrote “buying a house.”
Going forward, my plan is to be more conscious about my choices and evaluate how my actions align with my priorities. If something isn’t contributing to my objectives, I want to avoid it.
Marc Bisbal Arias holds a bachelor’s degree in business and economics, and is a Level I candidate to become a Chartered Financial Analyst. He started his professional career at Morningstar, performing research and editorial tasks, and is currently employed by Dow Jones in Barcelona, Spain. Marc’s previous articles were The Upside of Down and Setting Boundaries. Follow him on Twitter @BAMarc.