Keeping up appearances is one of the reasons people get into, and stay in debt – they are living beyond their means. Dave Ramsey says, “We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”

You have probably spent your whole life learning this “need” to impress, and it is surprisingly difficult to change.

I see two year olds sporting Nike and Ralph Lauren; so if a good part of your decision making involves what others might think, let’s get the blame thing out of the way. It is your parents’ fault (just kidding, Mom). Now let’s start looking for ways to change this.

We have been proudly on our “austerity” program for some time as we worked to pay off our debt, build our emergency fund, and finally pay off our house. We’ve been killing it, living on a tiny percentage of our income and very happy doing it. We do not feel restricted or deprived. Many of our friends and family know what we are doing and although they sometimes poke a little fun, they are for the most part very supportive.

So given this and the fact that I think I’m way past spending money to impress others, what was up with my GT soda explanation? We recently had some family over for dinner including a favorite aunt and uncle that I don’t often get a chance to see. As I served our guests refreshments, I found myself giving a lengthy explanation of my Aldi (discount groceries) brand diet cola. I do believe I was a little embarrassed to be offering an off-brand soda to people I care about.

How silly is that? These people have known me all my life, I’m certain whatever they think about me would not have changed based on the brand of a cola.

It’s an important to be aware how much this concern of what others might think controls our decision making. Before last night I would have said none, but apparently the real answer is some.

If you find yourself at the car lot because your car isn’t new a enough or nice enough for your friends – STOP. What do you think? What financial goal are you currently working on? Will a new, or new to you, car advance or setback that goal ?

The objective is not to take all emotion out of decision making but to create an internal dialog where we catch ourselves before making choices that conflict with our goals.

Build yourself a list of the thoughts that trip you up and check your thinking before making choices.

“Self, I’ve noticed that you still tend to make some decisions based not on what will lead you to your goal, but based on what others think. Is this one of those decisions?”

“Self, Seems like sometimes what you really, really want today – you lose interest in by next week. Is this one of those decisions?”

So easy peasy, now that we know you’re predisposed to want things to impress others (that’s your parents’ fault remember), all you have to do is be on the outlook for choices that don’t move your goals forward. Question your choices and rethink these stinking thinking decisions; you’ll be richer for it.

Be Here

Where are you right now? Are you really there or are you somewhere else? I recently spent a day with a college freshman. I spent it with her but she definitely did not spend it with me.

I get the feeling that while she spends some weekends on campus, she isn’t really there either. With her eyes and thumbs tied to whatever is going on inside her phone, she drifts along, not attending at all to the here and now.

If you’ve spent much time around teenagers lately this probably doesn’t surprise you. But you might be wondering: “What does this have to do with my money?”

The answer is a lot. If you are not winning with your money; if you don’t feel like you have a handle on things or you’re not achieving your financial goals, chances are, in this arena you’re just another teenager with a Smartphone.


No one is going to care more about your future or your money than you; so start caring. Turn off the phone, the facebook, the twitter and the TV and take a moment to evaluate where you are and where you are going – financially.

Check off Ramsey’s steps as you complete them.

Determine your net worth NOW and update it every month.

Start thinking about what it means to be intentional and present.

Did you eat your marshmallow?

Winning with money is more about behavior than knowledge.

Plenty of very smart high earners do a poor job of building wealth. I know, because I was one of them. They typically out-earn their “stupid” behavior right up until they hit one of life’s speed bumps. I was lucky and got my wake-up call before wiping out.

If you’re not winning, it’s not because you lack intelligence. If you’ve tried to work a plan in the past and have been unsuccessful it could be you’re lacking some self-control. To fix that all we need is a bag of marshmallows.

Oh, The Temptation from Steve V on Vimeo.

In the 1960’s Walter Mischel conducted an experiment to measure the self-control of preschoolers. The kids were given one marshmallow and were told they could eat the one marshmallow now or if they could wait they would be given a second marshmallow. Turns out those who waited were, in later years, more dependable, better adjusted and scored higher on their SATs.

The cool thing that is rarely mentioned about the marshmallow study is that Mischel, in later studies, was able to teach the kids some simple mental tricks that dramatically increased their self-control when measured by the candy test. Mischel found that the kids that stared at the marshmallow could not resist, but those that looked away, sang songs and distracted themselves could. One successful trick Mischel asked the kids to try was to pretend that the temptation was only a picture. When they kids employed this trick they could wait 15 minutes.

Mischel says. “Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it.”

So this means if you have car fever stay out of the showrooms, you shoe collectors stay out of the shoe store, unless you selling stuff stay away from ebay.

You don’t need an iron will. You just need to focus your attention and thoughts on something other than your temptation.

Do you want one marshmallow or two?

Click to read more about Mischel The Secret of Self-Control.

An Attitude for Change

Changing your money behavior so that you can win long term may not be as difficult as you think.

It requires accepting a few basic premises:

  • I can give up something I want now in order to achieve a more important goal later.

Many of us have allowed the marketers of the world to weaken our self-discipline muscle. Some poor souls among us have never been forced to exercise it, not even as children. We have to find this muscle and strengthen it. The same “I want it and I want it NOW” thinking that has caused us not to win with our finances in the past, will undermine our transformation if we allow it. “Later” is a word we need to embrace.

  • Lots of little victories can add up to a big win.

Most people are far less successful financially than they could be, simply because they are unintentional with their money. We can achieve our goals by making lots of small changes in our lifestyle. Quit hoping for the one big win and start collecting small victories.

  • Most people (not you!) are financial losers.

Once you’re on a plan you may find “everyone” around you goes out to eat anytime they want. They also drive cool cars and take great vacations. You’ll have to remind yourself that despite their appearance, most of these people are broke. They are deep in credit card debt; they don’t have an adequate emergency fund; they aren’t saving for their children’s education or for their own retirement. In other words they are not who you want to be.

If you can accept these premises, there is no reason for your financial transformation to be painful.

Shiny Things

The constant desire for new stuff can be our undoing while trying to build wealth.  Unlike the crow, you were not born with an attraction to shiny objects.

Marketing is powerful.

The car you thought you liked last week becomes the car you can’t wait to replace when you are inundated with ads for the newer cooler model. Every new tech toy captures your imagination, becoming the one thing that would make you happy. Not one of the 33 pair of shoes you already own will do for Saturday night, once you catch a glimpse of the latest Jimmy Choo’s.

Marketing is powerful and if there is any hope of you controlling your own life you must be prepared to fight back with some formidable strategies of you own.

Long Term Strategy: ALWAYS

Always have a plan and a goal for your money. Make both the plan and the goal specific and measurable. Having an overall plan helps you resist temporary temptations.

Once you have lived for a while with your long term goals in place, you will find in becomes much easier to be very intentional with your spending.  But until then, give these three mini-strategies a try.

Mini-Strategy One: Blow $

Set up a blow budget; allow yourself a fixed amount of money every month that you don’t need to account for. But do not spend over this limit.

Mini-Strategy Two: Wish List

Keep a list of things you want. Don’t buy anything that’s not on the wish list unless it can be paid in full from your blow money. Having a wish list forces you to consider an items worth to you relevant to other wish list items. Prioritize your list and create a goal in your account or put a jar on the kitchen counter or set aside a little extra in your savings account for the desired purchase. Make a chart tracking your progress and hang it on the wall. Wait until you’ve saved enough to buy your wish list item. You’ll be surprised how fast you can save for something you want, once you’re focused.

Mini-Strategy Three: Cooling off

Set a hard and fast unbreakable cooling off period before you buy, even if you have the cash. Wait 24 hours for decisions less than $50, a week for less than $200, a month for $500. After the cooling off period, if you still want it and you can pay cash for it and it’s the number 1 item on your wish list, go for it!