Cognitive Dissonance

Your New Best Friend

Cognitive Dissonance. There is a sexy title if I have ever heard of one. And, if you are trying to break your shopping addiction, it can be your new best friend.
Simply put, cognitive dissonance is the feeling of discomfort you get when your behaviors are in conflict with your values. Let’s look at a few examples.

  • You have abstained from excessive shopping for 9 months and your birthday is coming up. Historically, you splurge to celebrate. After all, you survived another year! But, it feels unsettling now to think of spending so much money for an unnecessary item.
  • Your BFF is getting married and you are invited to stand up in the wedding. This will require the purchase or rental of expensive, one time use clothing and all the trappings. Oh, and the pre-wedding celebrations include a spendy trip to Vegas. You finally saved up an emergency fund, but will have to dip into it for the wedding.
  • One morning you absentmindedly found yourself on your favorite website and there was a big sale! Before you knew it, the cart was loaded up and you hit the “purchase” button. Not long after, you found yourself regretting this impulse decision. What you really want is to pay down your credit card debt.

An Opportunity for Growth

It’s not hard to imagine that stress and anxiety might surface when faced with the above situations. However, discomfort is a positive sign! It means change is happening. Think of it as growing pains. After practicing financial sobriety it will no longer feel natural to simply spend large amounts of money on a whim. You are changing!

Now, we don’t tolerate discomfort for long; we eventually do something to alleviate the strain. Sometimes we default to the status quo. Perhaps the most common defense is coming up with reasons why continuing the old behavior is justifiable, such as, “I have been good with my money for so long. I deserve to treat myself this once.”

Or, you can choose action that is consistent with your newly developing beliefs instead. That is, choosing to say “no” to yourself regarding impulses or old habits in service of saying “yes” to yourself in a more intentional way. Chances are, your future self will thank you for making the tough choices now in favor of your higher goals.

Slow Down and Make a Plan

Let’s also be mindful not to fall into all-or-nothing thinking. If you slow down and make a plan, you can still enjoy purchases and experiences that won’t derail your success. Maybe you still treat yourself on your birthday, but scale it back. Of course you will have your BFF’s back on his/her/their big day! However, you will forgo the Vegas trip. That impulse purchase? Perhaps there is time yet to cancel the order. Besides, you have managed to get by this long without it. 

FITE is not about self-deprivation or being miserly. Sometimes there are competing, equally important values, such as creating a financial safety net vs. supporting your BFF. That feeling of discomfort is communicating that you need to slow down and be thoughtful about your next step, because you are being given an opportunity to grow. With a financial plan you can work your values into your budget and still FITE.

How about you? What are some situations that you have encountered cognitive dissonance with your spending? What did you do? How would you handle the above examples? Most importantly, can you make a commitment right now to slow down and notice the next time cognitive dissonance gives you an opportunity to grow?

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