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Train Your Brain, Be Better at Budgeting

a.k.a., Three Workouts for Awareness of Steel

Here at YNAB, we talk a lot about how to claim your slice of financial peace (and why it’s such a tasty dish). Of course, budgeting is a primary ingredient to success, but if you look a little closer, you’ll realize that awareness is what holds it all together.

It’s easy to get swept up in budgeting logistics—how to create your first budget, how to get out of debt, and even how to get your spouse on board—so, instead, let’s turn our attention to that awareness bit:

  • Awareness keeps you on track when bad money habits creep up.
  • It motivates you when you’re just not in the mood to follow your plan.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, it’ll call you out if you lean towards the ‘easy button’ (choosing defeat).

And if you don’t use it, you lose it! So try out these three exercises to keep your awareness in tip-top shape (and make budgeting much easier!).

1. Meditate on It.

There’s a phenomenon in meditation known as “getting behind the waterfall.” Dan Harris, the author of 10% Happier, describes it as “the ability to know what’s happening in your head—right now—without getting carried away by it.”

The idea is that, if you slow down and simply observe your thoughts, you’ll be less likely to react impulsively. In other words, meditation helps you practice awareness—and the benefits include less stress, reduced emotional reactivity and an improved sense of calm.

Have you ever gone shopping to ease stress? Or possibly in reaction to big emotions?

If so, you’re in good company. In a recent survey, Credit Karma found that “More than half (52 percent) of respondents said they have impulsively shopped to deal with feelings of stress, anxiety or depression. Eighty-seven percent of that group said they stress spend several times each year, with 60 percent of them stress spending on at least a monthly basis.”

Imagine the benefit to your bank account if a few minutes of meditation every day could help you process all of those feelings, instead? Give it a try! 10% Happier says, “Despite its PR problem, mindfulness meditation is a simple, secular, scientifically validated exercise for your brain.”

And it’s free.

2. Put Away Your Wallet.

It’s that simple. If you find yourself slowing down in front of a store window, then speed right back up! If you’re surfing the Internet and stumble on a shiny new object, forget your PayPal password. It’s these in-the-moment splurges that can really wreck your grand plans, and the opportunities to buy on a whim are constantly increasing.

If you just can’t stand the thought of missing out, reach into your pocket and grab … a pen. Write it down. Keep a list! Just don’t, for your budget’s sake, buy The Thing. At least not right now. Use a pen and paper, use your phone or start a Wish Farm. Then, go on about your day.

It’s funny how time can shift awareness back to our true priorities, making those impulse buys much less attractive. Take, for example, Ann Patchett, who realized that, actually, she wasn’t desperate for a new Fitbit.

(If you’re keeping tabs, you’ll note that this exercise? Also free.)

3. Have an Attitude of Gratitude.

This one’s my favorite. Do an inventory of everything that you’re grateful for. A lot of times, we shop out of habit, boredom, the desire to fit in or to fill a void. Wouldn’t you rather fill your bank account? Be debt free? Retire early?

Practice gratitude whenever something wonderful makes your heart melt, but also just practice it. Every night, list at least three things that made you feel grateful. The more specific, the better. You can focus on financial blessings (a good roof over your head, a healthy salary) or on relationships, accomplishments or health.

The point is, as you increase your awareness of all that you already have, it grounds you. Smart financial choices are easier to make because you’re caring for a life that you truly appreciate. And you’re not desperate for a quick-fix—a marketer’s favorite bait!

And, yeah. Gratitude is also free.

Practice Makes Perfect.

There you have it—three alarmingly simple exercises to increase awareness. Do the reps, reap the results!

And if you’re looking for a trainer that will whip you into shape? Well, we don’t really do that here at YNAB, but we do have some truly wonderful, helpful teachers! Drop into one of our free, live workshops, ask questions, get inspired, and make it your best year, yet!

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Train Your Brain, Be Better at Budgeting