5 Strategies to Change the Way You Use Money

Money can be a funny thing. It both fuels your lifestyle while reminding you what you can’t quite afford. When it comes to developing boundaries around money, it can be hard to break already built-in habits and patterns.

Many of my habits around using money developed after I graduated college. After college, I enrolled in AmeriCorps and served a St. Louis nonprofit for a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA. In the AmeriCorps VISTA program, I worked to alleviate poverty and received a living allowance so modest that it placed me below the Federal government’s poverty threshold for that year. It was tough to stretch $850 to cover rent, food, and other living expenses each month, but the experience taught me a lot about how I could be mindful of how I used my money.

I had always considered myself a frugal person, but being mindful with your money goes beyond frugality. In fact, you can practice mindfulness without being stereotyped as frugal. Here’s some of the strategies that helped me recognize how to use money mindfully and become a more financially conscientious person:

1. Learn how to distinguish between the important purchases and purchases dressed up as important.
This starts by consistently evaluating every transaction, each day – which might feel overwhelming at first. But, once you start to get a feel for what matters and what’s frivolous, you’ll no longer need to take the time to stop and analyze if something is worth it. Instead, determining if you really need to make a purchase will start to become second nature. Ultimately, this tactic is all about identifying and prioritizing what’s really important to you versus recognizing when everyone else is telling you something is important.

2. Use the bad purchases.
Let’s be clear – I’m not encouraging you to make bad purchases. The truth is we all tend to make bad purchases from time to time. From going out to lunch when we can easily brown bag it to purchasing shoes that cost way more money than we can justify spending, bad purchases happen to everyone. Once you’ve made these purchases and it’s too late to take them back (I hope the lunch was at least delicious!), move on from beating yourself up and use the purchase to remind yourself of what you *don’t* want to spend your money on. After all, would you rather use that money on a month of lunches at the local sandwich shop or a weekend enjoying something that’s truly meaningful to you? It stinks to throw money away on things that lack meaning, but when these purchases happen, they remind you of how your money can help you achieve experiences that really matter.

3. Use specificity as a powerful tool in your financial arsenal.
I’m a big fan of setting goals. I love thinking about what I hope to achieve day to day and even year to year. However, I’ve found that the toughest goals to achieve are the ones that I set without purpose. For example, it’s a lot less motivating when my goal is “save $500 to visit a new city over the weekend” instead of “save $500 to explore Nashville.” When you make specific goals and have a solid purpose behind them, it’s easier to put the effort into both making them happen and envisioning the end result.

4. Automate what makes sense.
Automation is nothing new when it comes to paying bills. However, since automated bill pay doesn’t suit everyone, try to automate paying yourself. It’s easy to start small, and by establishing a system where a small amount of your income is automatically deposited into your retirement savings – or vacation fund, if you have the disposable income – you’re able to feel like you’re on track in terms of investing and saving. Plus, with this method it’s easy to start small while eliminating the variable of remembering to pay yourself.

5. Most importantly: don’t let what you don’t know keep you from just starting.
Fear is a hard response to overcome – it can paralyze and stop you from achieving your financial goals before you even start. When you’re too worried about what you don’t know, it can stop you from taking the simple first steps that will make a difference. For any big project – applying to grad school, changing careers or getting your financial house in order – the hardest part is taking that first step. There’s actually a wonderful Hidden Brain podcast episode on this topic that explores how human beings actually overestimate how good we are at rationalizing the decisions we make. In the example of personal finances, we’re more likely to continue to avoid tackling any financial issue that we view as overwhelming or intimidating.

Here’s the thing: nothing is that big of a deal in the beginning. Yes, as you start to grow your nest egg, the decisions you make will become more impactful; however, the first few steps do not need to feel like they’re going to make or break your financial success. Most likely, you’re going to change the direction you choose a few times before you find the approach to managing money that works best for you. So get started on those financial goals by breaking down the process with that first, small step.


Move Up, Give Back does not give financial advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from a financial professional.

Liked this article? Share it!
Share on Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
Email this to someone

Emily Knippa

Emily Knippa is a St. Louis-based marketer and writer who focuses on content marketing, career development, and personal finance. She enjoys meeting people pursuing inspiring career paths. She’d love to meet you at the next United Way event. Say hello to Emily on Twitter at @emilyknippa.