Lingering in the shower the other morning, thinking deep thoughts as a way of postponing the inevitable moment of shutting off the nice warm water and stepping out into the cold bathroom, I started pondering ways to make cuts in the budget.
Not my budget. Other peoples’ budgets. It’s so much easier to be frugal with somebody else’s money. Not quite as much fun as spending somebody else’s money, but close.
Anyway, it occurred to me that one of the reasons it’s so hard to reduce spending is the way we react emotionally to being told what we “should” or “must” do.
I don’t know about you, but my inner child is a contrary two-year-old. The minute she feels she’s being ordered around, her response is to cross her chubby little arms, stamp her foot, and shout, “No! And you can’t make me!”
This is the case even if the person telling her what to do happens to be me.
What we call the “inner child” is actually the emotional part of the brain. It doesn’t respond with “adult” logic or reason, but it reacts emotionally to protect us from what it sees as potential harm. Our logical mind may come up with a perfectly reasonable self-improvement plan, but that doesn’t mean we buy into that plan emotionally. If our emotional response is to feel deprived, threatened, or bullied, we’re going to sabotage that nice logical plan before it even gets started.
If we need to make hard choices and changes, then—like cutting an already lean budget—it’s essential to make an emotional commitment. In other words, we need to get the inner child on board.
One way to do this is to stay away from “should” or “must” or “have to.” Instead, try assessing your budget as if it were someone else’s. Gently start considering things you “could” or “might” reduce. Don’t make any decisions yet; don’t tell yourself what you need to do. Just speculate about possibilities.
Before long, your inner child is probably going to be peering over your shoulder, speculating right along with you. Maybe she’ll even point out options you’ve missed. Then, together, you can start choosing some budget items to reduce for real. It might not hurt, either, to reassure her that you’re making these cuts “for now.” You’re trying them out to see how they work.
With any luck, by the time your inner child realizes she’s been conned, she’ll be feeling the satisfaction that comes with having better control of your money. That emotional reward will be so enjoyable that she’ll want to continue with the plan. Who knows? She might even believe the whole idea was hers in the first place.
Kathleen Fox is a writer and editor who is co-author with Rick of Conscious Finance.