A Simple Trick for Breaking Your Overspending Habit

No, that's not my closet.

The other day I was reluctantly helping the Honeybee clean out her our closets — and having a thoroughly miserable time doing it, I might add — when I came across a couple of old Discover magazines.

I canceled my subscription to Discover years ago, but I really used to love reading those magazines because the articles were always very interesting. Sometimes they were very inspiring too.

Needless to say, coming across the magazines was a pleasant surprise. So much so that, as soon as I found them, I immediately stopped cleaning the closet so I could become reacquainted with my old friends.

In fact, before I knew it, I was downstairs on the living room couch relaxing with an old edition from March 2009, along with a bowl of cocktail peanuts and an icy cold beverage — much to the Honeybee’s chagrin.

Anyway, as I was enjoying my little break I came across a very intriguing piece on the human brain and how it works.

One thing I learned is that willpower is controlled by the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

But what I found particularly interesting is that our willpower can be exercised like a muscle — and that’s important for folks like me who hate cleaning closets.

It’s also great for those who consistently find themselves spending more than they earn because they lack the discipline and financial backbone required to say no when it comes to spending cash on frivolous things.

It turns out that our brains possess only a finite amount of willpower. Apparently, that little fact can be proven with the following experiment:

Let’s say you’re asked to eat a plate of food and then solve an extremely difficult puzzle. If the plate of food happens to be a plate of tasty cookies, you’ll persist in solving the puzzle for some time. However, if you’re asked to eat something unpleasant, like lima beans, research shows that you’ll almost certainly spend significantly less time trying to solve the same puzzle.

According to the experts, that’s because those who push themselves to eat those yucky lima beans end up depleting their willpower to a point that leaves them with less motivation to work the puzzle.

The good news is that we can build up our willpower “muscle” by doing things that tests our perseverance. How? Well, one neuroscience professor suggests that something as simple as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand over a period of several weeks will do the trick.

I know. It sounds crazy doesn’t it?

But for those who are having trouble sticking to their budget this little exercise might be worth a try. Besides, even if it doesn’t work you’ll still be able to say you’re ambidextrous.

Then again, if it does work, your household budget will be all the better for it.

Come to think of it, your closets will probably end up being a lot cleaner too.

Photo Credit: Trix and friends


  1. 2

    Libby says

    I love it! Sounds like a plan to me. This reminds me of some advice that was given to me several years ago, that is, if you want to make something a habit, you must do it for at least 21 days in a row. The example they gave was flossing your teeth daily. Make yourself a checklist or calendar and post it in a conspicuous spot like next to the bathroom mirror. For every day that you complete the task, make a check mark or mark an “x” through the day. By the time three weeks are up, it should become automatic. You could use the same technique for not spending.

    Love your blog!

    • 3

      Len Penzo says

      Thank you, Libby!

      I don’t floss nearly as often as I should. I was going to try flossing with my left hand — but your idea seems a lot easier. 😉

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    We had a guest on our podcast, Laura Vanderkam, who discussed this theory in her books. Because willpower is a depleting asset each day it makes sense to do the horrendous chores early in the day to seize the moment. If you wait until later you won’t do it.

    A good quote from Laura’s interview about the willpower/morning correlation: “People don’t accidentally sleep with the wrong person at 6 AM.”

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