If you were given $100, what would you do with it? How about $100,000? How about one million dollars? Would you start spending it right away on clothes, technology, and other items that have been on your wishlist, or would you wait to find out the best way to invest some of the money and save some for the future before the fun shopping begins?
We all want money, yet not all of us are taught what to do with the money once we start earning it. When we talk about finances, we usually talk about savings, investments, and charity. But we rarely talk about what will help us not only in finances but for the rest of our lives. What is that secret to healthy finances? Self-control.
What is Self Control?
Other terms that are also related to self-control are patience, self-mastery, discipline, and willpower. All of these describe behavior that delays gratification and resists temptations. It’s having patience for something a person wants now knowing if they wait they may get it cheaper or realize they may not even want it later. It’s having the discipline to stop watching a TV show they like when they know they can use their time in a more productive way. It’s saying no to their child when he or she wants a new game because something more important is needed.
The Truth About Overspending or Having little Willpower.
When parents overspend and/or give in to their children’s wants too often (not needs), the children tend to copy this behavior in their adult lives. They are also more susceptible to drugs, alcohol, and sexual promiscuity.
According to MarketWatch.com, 41% of marriages end in divorce because of money.
The average household has four or more credit cards, states Debt.org.
The amount of debt Americans have is staggering. According to Debt.org, the average American household in 2019 has $8398 worth of credit card debt and reached $1.08 trillion for the whole country. This is only credit card debt so the number doesn’t reflect mortgages, car loans, and student loans.
Sometimes we may think we just need more money to pay our debts and then we’ll be fine. Earning more definitely helps, but the amount of money we make isn’t how we got into the debt mess in the first place. It’s our behavior.
Consider this real-life example. On the radio a few years ago, there was a woman who earned about $40,000 a year as a teacher. Her husband had passed away a couple of years before and her bills were mounting. After a moment of clarity, she decided she wanted to change her financial life and in turn help her children understand what true financial freedom was.
For the next few years, she and her children canceled Netflix, only turned the lights on when needed, and didn’t go out to eat. Anytime any of the family members missed Netflix or wanted to get fast food, they reminded themselves of their goal. Was that burger worth staying in debt longer? They used will power in knowing their short term sacrifice would bring them long term gains.
Another real life example can be found with a professional man who made $500,000 a year. He had 7 credit cards, a yacht, and took expensive vacations with his family several times a year. Realizing he needed to take care of his debt, he went to a financial advisor to ask for help. The advisor told him he overspent so much that it would take years for him to pay everything off. Imagine making half a million dollars a year, and still having that much debt.
The professional made a lot more money than the teacher, but the teacher’s finances were much healthier. Not because of the amount of money earned, but because of the teacher’s attitude about money and her self-control in spending.
Your Family’s Legacy
Ask yourself what is more important to you. Spending more money on purchasing a new bike for your son or daughter that they might use for a few years or using the money you would have spent on the bike and putting it toward your debt or your future? You can get one at a thrift store or better yet see if anyone in your church group or work is giving one away.
Overspenders easily give in to their child’s wants, not needs. Those with self-control easily say no to their kids. Every year, I purposely did not get everything on my kids’ Christmas lists. First of all, I couldn’t afford all the things on their lists and no, I wasn’t willing to put Christmas on the credit cards. Second, I didn’t want them to think they could get everything they wanted. What would I be teaching them? What were the results? Every year at Christmas when my kids opened their presents, they never once complained about things they never got. Instead, they were grateful for what they received. And yes, they got more than one present each.
What do you want to leave with your children once they move away? Material goods that won’t last, and memories of money arguments? Instead, how about giving your children a good solid dose of self-control.
How to Improve Your Self Control
While some people are born with sheer determination, the rest of us can learn to master our money. It’s easy to use excuses. “I was just not born that way” or “I like giving people gifts. That’s my love language.” It is very generous that one thinks of others and wants to give them presents, but at what cost? If the cost is your financial future, your sanity, or your marriage, it is not worth it.
First, have a desire to have self-control. No, really. It’s not enough to just like the idea of it, you need to actually want to master your money or anything else for that matter. Without a true desire to change your habits, you’ll fall short every time. Once you have the desire, then you’ll be able to achieve whatever you want, no matter what the obstacles are.
Second, while some people can quit overspending cold turkey, most people have a hard time stopping a bad habit so suddenly. If you’ve struggled in the past, start small. It’s not easy and just like anything you want to be good at (piano, basketball, cooking, etc.) it takes practice. If you tend to shop online every weekend, tell yourself you need to practice self-discipline and repeat the word ‘no’ to yourself. Put post-its around your house with words like ‘willpower’ and ‘determination.’
But be careful. Sometimes we can get really good at self-control in one area of our lives and ignore the rest. Be determined to have self-mastery in different parts of your life. It can be very difficult in the beginning, but the more you practice, the easier it will get.
Try planning ahead. Think of situations where you become an impulsive shopper and plan what you will do and say in that situation. Think of the consequences if you go back to your old habits or continue with your new habit of self-control.
A Word of Caution
People can get discouraged if they fall back into their old habits and lose their willpower. It’s normal to make mistakes, but it’s not okay to constantly blame ourselves for giving in to temptation. If you didn’t buy anything for a whole month but slipped the following weekend, you still made progress. Any progress is still good progress.
When people control their money instead of their money controlling them, they will be able to save for the future.
Children who learn to have willpower at an early age (parents are a big factor here) have fewer chances of obesity, fewer chances of drug and alcohol addiction, and have higher grades in school.
People who have self control in different areas of life tend to be happier and healthier. Even more so than with people with high IQs.
One’s lack of willpower could be a symptom of something bigger. Because self control is tied to one’s behavior, it could be from something unresolved in the past. Overspending habits can be part of depression or anxiety. If you feel this is happening to you, please seek counseling. Your family and your future self will be very grateful.
You deserve a better life and we know you have the ability to make that happen. If you lack self control, you can start today to change it. Go ahead and be the new you.