Are These Mental Health Mantras Tanking Your Bank Account?
Maybe you've taken "treat yourself" a tad too far.
You work hard, so you deserve to splurge, right? You're tired of saving for a rainy day—agree? Well, it's possible you're overdoing the "treat yourself" mindset when it comes to your money. Maybe you're the victim of a few commonly touted money myths that show up under the guise of mental health mantras—ostensibly encouraging self-talk that has the potential to derail your best-laid financial plans (whether that's paying down a mountain of debt, contributing to your emergency fund, or sticking to your budget).
We asked some mental health experts to reframe some of the things you might tell yourself about money—and how to think of them in a new way the next time you're tempted to pull out your credit card and buy something to self-soothe when you should save.
Here, five money mantras to reframe in your brain.
"Treat yourself—you deserve it"
Thinking you're entitled is a little white money lie that could equal excess spending—because you always deserve something. From saying to yourself I deserve a reward to It was a hard week to I'll start saving next week, it's easy to have good intentions until your emotions get in the way, Melissa Reilly Zawisza, LCSW-s, a therapist, tells Health.
Reframe: "Paying attention to our thoughts is one part of the change process," Zawisza says. Before buying ask yourself some questions—Is this a need or a want? or Do I need it now? Is this getting me towards my goals?
Then, change your thoughts to focus on those goals. Maybe you don't need a paid-for reward; could you do an activity you enjoy, like going for a walk, reading a novel, or taking some time for a hobby? Instead of splurging on something financially, you could eat your favorite food, watch a movie, or take a bath.
"Our thoughts play a big role in how we view situations," says Zawisza. One thought could have you booking an expensive spa treatment with $200 in the hole; another can lead you to a meaningful conversation with a friend and money in your savings.
"Money isn't important"
Stating that money doesn't matter to you can be akin to saying, "I'm just not good with money." They're both self-fulfilling prophecies and ways of avoiding making smart financial decisions.
To manifest positivity and a different financial outcome, you'll need to restructure that thought, says Kelley Kitley, LCSW.
Reframe: Instead, try the opposite approach, like "I'm learning how to handle my money well."
Others to memorize:
- "I'm working on having a better relationship with money."
- "Sometimes, I over-spend or make impulsive choices but I'm trying to be more mindful."
- "I'm deserving of manifesting enough money to live the life of my dreams."
"Often, people won't initially believe these thoughts, but with repetition, it becomes a mantra that becomes ingrained in changing automatic negative thoughts," says Kitley.
The feelings or emotions that come from shopping are momentary and fleeting. They may provide instant relief, distraction, or a coping method for whatever you're going through at the moment—but all of that is short-lived.
"Retail therapy could feel good because people feel a sense of control...they can choose what they want to purchase, perhaps when everything else around them feels out of their control," says Annie M. Varvaryan, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist.
Reframe: Spending money that you didn't plan to spend—on purchases you can't afford—can bring up difficult feelings later and negate the momentary relief you felt while shopping, especially if you need to save money or pay off debt. Ask yourself: Will a momentary "high" outweigh the long-term impact?
"Consider other behaviors you could engage in to cope with the current difficulty, including engaging in physical activity or movement, spending some time in nature, calling a friend to talk, or writing down your difficult feelings in a journal," says Varvaryan.
"All of these behaviors will still allow you to feel in control, and they are more adaptive ways of coping that do not impact your wallet," she says.
"Live in the moment"
Maybe the concept of "saving for a rainy day" was instilled in you from a young age—and you're rebelling against it. You're tired of always putting off adventure in the name of responsibility. But it's not actually an either/or proposition.
Reframe: Why not have it all—or at least some version that allows you to do both? "You can live well now, have fun and save some, too," says therapist Mary Joye, LMHC. If you don't want to wait until you're too old to enjoy adventure, develop a work hard/play hard attitude in which you value saving and investing as much as you enjoy your life. "You will not have many rainy days if you do this," says Joye.
Instead of thinking of saving for a rainy day as foregoing fun, think about it as paying for the adventures and luxuries you crave. Then, work toward saving for big purchases, trips, and pleasure pursuits alongside longer-term goals like your emergency fund or 401k.
"You can have much more fun when you're not worried about money," says Joye.
"It's ok to spend on emergencies"
Saying "it was an emergency" might seem like relieving financial guilt or anxiety at purchase time. But it's actually an excuse or justification, says Joyce Marter, author of The Financial Mindset Fix, a psychotherapist.
"Rationalizations are defense mechanisms that keep us in denial and in this case, in denial of our financial reality," says Marter. Financial denial can spiral into mounting debt, followed by crippling stress, anxiety, and depression. In fact, sometimes we kid ourselves into believing that spending beyond our means is treating ourselves well, but it can cause lasting self-harm to our financial health.
Reframe: An emergency is unemployment, an unexpected medical bill, or a dead car battery. But you already knew that.
Take an honest look at whether you're the adult version of the boy who cried wolf—the person who cried "emergency"—and sabotaged yourself financially. "Often, the answer is related to ego; we're trying to feed a part of ourselves that feels inadequate or compare ourselves with others and what they have," says Marter. When you're enough, you don't need to validate yourself with expensive purchases.
Next time you're about to blow the budget or buy yet another fill-in-the-blank instead of paying your emergency fund, stop and reframe the mantra in your mind. It could just be the financial saving grace you need to make better money choices.