5 Ways to Kick Bad Money Habits

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Our parents, peers, the Joneses, and others have a lot of sway over our financial decisions -- both good and bad. All these outside influences can make it hard to heed that little voice inside our head -- the reasonable one, that is, telling us to shape up or declare bankruptcy and not go back to the fridge for a third helping of Chunky Monkey.

To kick bad money habits (or boost good ones), you've got to change the way you think about change, according to the authors of "The True Cost of Happiness." Change is not a punishment for failure; it's the process of getting you closer to what you really want.

So what exactly is it that you really want? Here's a five-step plan to help you figure it out and actually institute the changes that you most want to make in your financial life:

1. Identify your real goals.
Don't skip right to the numbers. Start with the "Financial Self-Reflection" worksheet from's "How to Set Up a Spending Plan." Awareness isn't an automatic fix, but it helps you address your challenges.

2. Explore your behavioral influences.
Reflect on the familial, social, and personal powers at play in your financial choices. Write down things that trigger unwanted actions and tap into those that serve you well instead. (For help delving into those subconscious influences, see "Money Woes? Blame Your Mother.")

3. Adjust the numbers and make goals concrete.
After you have a clearer picture of your current spending (use the "Where Does My Dough Go?" worksheet, also found under the "Set Up a Spending Plan" Money Goal), make a concrete plan using the "Set Spending Priorities" worksheet to redirect your money to best reflect your real desires.

4. Use visual cues to remind yourself of your goals.
Keep the bad influences in check -- track your progress (post it on the fridge!) or carry a picture of your dream home in your wallet.

5. Remind yourself that change is gradual.
Money mindfulness isn't instantaneous. It takes continual work to alter a lifelong way of thinking. Use setbacks as tools to identify areas in which you're still vulnerable.

More tips to tackle your finances and still have a life:

Dayana Yochim writes about behavioral finance, couples and cash, saving, spending, investing, and shopping for The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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