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The Simple Dollar

Getting bad spending thoughts out of your head

Many professional and financial mistakes can be traced back to bad ideas in your head. But by thinking long-term, many such mistakes are easy to avoid.

By Guest blogger / October 6, 2012

In this September 2012 photo, Katie Myers shops at a grocery store's health market section in Sycamore, Ill. THe grocery store is full of potential bad decisions, Hamm says, but thinking long-term can help avoid mistakes.

Kyle Bursaw/Daily Chronicle/AP/File

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I’m not necessarily talking about “big” bad ideas, like harming others. Those things deserve special attention and help far beyond a blog post.

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The Simple Dollar is a blog for those of us who need both cents and sense: people fighting debt and bad spending habits while building a financially secure future and still affording a latte or two. Our busy lives are crazy enough without having to compare five hundred mutual funds – we just want simple ways to manage our finances and save a little money.

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Instead, I’m talking about the “little bad” ideas – the ones that are fairly innocuous but do subtle harm to you along the way.

Let me give you some examples from my own life.

If I’m at a shop that sells board games, I might be willing to tell myself that I “deserve” one because I haven’t spent any money on enjoyable things lately. However, I have several games on my shelf that I’ve not played much at all, and almost every game I own yearns for more plays. The idea of “deserving” something you do not need is a bad idea to have in my head.

If I’m shopping for groceries and I pass the cheese section, I might buy some and create a meal that utilizes it. Sure, I’ll use it in a meal, but cheese is not a really good option for one’s health. The idea that “this tastes good” is the best (and often only) reason to buy food is a bad idea to have in my head.

If I’m at a professional gathering where there are a lot of people engaged in professional paths that I also wish to be engaged in, I often clam up out of shyness and intimidation. The idea that I have nothing of value to share and am better off not building relationships is a bad idea to have in my head.

Almost every single time, when I make a professional or financial mistake, I can trace that mistake back to a bad idea in my head.

I give in to temptation. I give in to shyness. I give in to a lack of self-confidence. I give in to misplaced values. I give in to marketing.

All I have to do to find these things is to just spend a few moments thinking about my mistakes and a core bad idea will eventually pop up.

Try it yourself! Think about a mistake you made recently. What was the poor idea in your head that caused you to make that mistake?

If you want to live a better life all the time, one of the most effective things you can do is to purge those bad ideas from your head.

Let’s take temptation for certain things. How do I purge that? I spend time regularly thinking about the future I want to live and I show myself that I’m making great progress toward that future. I think about some of those temptations, and I actually show myself with real numbers how giving into that temptation pushes back that future I want to live.

For example, let’s say I purchased a board game for $30 on September 1, then I give into temptation and buy another one on October 1. Saving for my five year vision requires that I put away $1,000 a month each month for the next five years. If I continue to buy board games at that rate, I’m directly pushing my dream back by at least two months. This frivolous temptation directly impacts my goals in a negative way, and so I begin to associate a negative with that temptation. It puts a real damper on it and makes it easier to ignore that temptation.

What about shyness? I spend time regularly focusing on the fact that when I see others being withdrawn in a group situation, I almost always either completely forget about them. Very rarely do I remember someone adding to the conversation and coming away with a more negative impression of that person (aside from people espousing hatred for others or exceptionally poor hygiene or complete domination of a conversation).

In other words, speaking up is almost always a positive for a speaker. They get remembered. Sometimes they begin to build a relationship with the people around them. They also sometimes extract information and ideas from the conversation that they find valuable. Virtually everything about joining in a conversation is positive.

In my mind, I begin to re-label joining in the conversation as a positive rather than a negative. This makes it easier to jump in the next time such a situation occurs.

This solution isn’t perfect. It takes time. It often takes repeated mistakes and repeated re-thinking of those mistakes to build up a new pathway. It also requires self-reflection and admitting to yourself that you’ve messed up and even focusing on those errors.

What happens, though, is that those mistakes begin to disappear from your life. It doesn’t happen overnight, but eventually you find yourself heading in a much better direction, and it all comes naturally.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on www.thesimpledollar.com.

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