One of the most frustrating things about trying to change your money habits is how hard it is!  It’s not only hard, it’s mysterious.

How many times have you experienced this scenario:

Sunday night:  “I am going to pack my lunch every single day this week!”

Monday at lunch: “I forgot to pack my lunch. How about Chipotle?”

Tuesday morning, en route to work:  “Oh, I didn’t pack a lunch! Oh well, I’ll just grab a quick salad.”

Friday night: “I didn’t pack a lunch at all this week. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do what I say I will do?!”

There are a lot of ways to interpret this kind of (very common) failure.  Some will point out that you didn’t really have a process or a plan.  Others may argue that you need systems and structures to support you in your lunch making.  I wholeheartedly agree with both of them, but when I hear a story like that, an alarm bell goes off in my mind:

This Person Has a Money Mindset Problem

What’s a money mindset problem, you ask?  The money mindsets are three beliefs that we all hold about ourselves and money.

If your money mindsets are aligned to support change, you can see immediate improvement and, over time, transformative results. If your money mindsets aren’t aligned to support change, you’ll be plagued by slow downs, emotional turmoil and false starts:

 Again and again you will realize you need to change.

Again and again you’ll fail to make any change at all.

Here are the three money mindsets that you need to be aware of:

  • In my heart, do I believe that if I am willing to work hard and try new strategies that I can succeed?
  • Do I actually want to do this or do I simply think I should want to do this?
  • Do I think that people like me do things like this?

Each of these mindsets are capable of stopping you in your tracks, or speeding you towards your goal.  If you want to learn more about all three money mindsets, I’ve created a quiz and mini course that will help you to identify exactly where your mindset block might be and help you shift it.  You can get it for free, here.

In this post, I want to talk about the third mindset, which is referred to as the Belonging Mindset.

People Define Themselves Relative to Others

Quick- what’s your best trait?

“I’m funny!” you say. Compared to who?

You’ll find that most of your traits are relative in this way.  You say you are funny, but you really mean that people laugh more around you than around others.  You say you are kind, but what you really means is that you are kinder than most.  Smarter. Nicer. More competitive. Less athletic.

It’s shocking, but before long you will discover: You aren’t objectively anything, but you are relatively lots of things.

An offshoot of this relativity is that we lump ourselves and others into categories– members of the group of “people like this.”  For example, we believe that there are “people like me, who are funny.”  Then we use this shorthand to understand ourselves and others.

The tricky part of this is that “people like me who are funny” are also understood to have other, in our mind, related traits.  Depending on your experience with other funny people, “people like me who are funny” might also be understood as:

  • people who are less serious
  • people who watch more tv
  • people who keep up with the news

These related traits make it so that we feel that we pretty deeply understand people when we only know a few things about them.  This tendency makes the world feel like a much less complicated and dangerous place, so our brains like it.  In fact, our brains likes it so much that they (our brains) will keep us aligned to our groups, even when changing would be better for us.

All that stuff up there is just a description of how the brain works. It undergirds stereotype, group-think, mass-protest, etc, but how does this affect your ability to save money (or any other change you might undertake)?

Here’s how:

If you’ve read much of my writing on change, you know that a major focus of change work is done at the level of the moment.

Your Success and Failure Will Come Down to How You Act in the Moments of Your Life.

If you want to save money you will need to change the moments when you currently spend money. It turns out that whether we believe that “people like us” spend their moments “like this” has a huge impact on what we end up doing and not doing.

One such moment is paying for food at restaurants and coffee shops.  If you’ve been trying to save money for long, you probably realize that there’s a lot to be saved by packing lunches and making your own coffee, but if you don’t think that people like you pack a lunch, you will find it very difficult to do so. It’s not usually a conscious resistance, but rather an unconscious side-stepping. An avoidance. In short, a major mental block.

Which (finally!) brings up to why you need to talk to your friends about money.  Our friends serve as our most tangible reminder of what “kind” of people we are.  If you aren’t sure whether people like you do something, it’s likely that you ponder “What would my best friend do?”  Thus, it is critically important that you broaden your knowledge of how they think and feel about money.

In my 1:1 coaching, I always encourage my clients to broach the topic of money with their friends. Without exception, every one of them has looked at me like I was crazy or dangerous.

“We don’t really talk about money… I don’t think they really need to think about it.  I would feel embarrassed. I don’t really want to. Do I have to?”

Eventually we work through it and together we pick the one friend that they believe will be supportive of them, no matter what*. We talk about exactly how to phrase it, and then off they go.  Every single time, without fail, they come back amazed.

“I didn’t realize it, but she is also worried about money!  As soon as I mentioned it she looked so relieved!  Now I feel like we can talk about how much things cost before we agree to doing it.  And I feel like our friendship got deeper… more real.”

Listen, the average american can’t come up with $400 to handle a financial emergency. This means that it is categorically true that “people like you”, whoever you are, “do things like” worry about their money.  We need to open the doors a little, and let each other admit it.

If you open this conversation with someone you care about you are likely to discover that you and your friend are both concerned.  This will shift your mindset for sure:  suddenly it will be clear that people just like you are working hard to save money and live responsibly.  Then, it’s back to packing lunches, but this time with less resistance.

*When you take the Money Mindset quiz, you’ll see that one of my suggestions for shifting the belonging mindset is to not tell people about your money goals until you are more confident.  These two suggestions are not in conflict! I DON’T think you should tell people who will make you doubt yourself, but I DO think you should tell your best, most supportive friend(s).

About the author

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist and business coach who helps accidental entrepreneurs get more clients and have a bigger impact. She is the author of Great Work, the host of the Unleashing Your Great Work podcast, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda's TEDx talk has received almost two million views and has been featured on TED's Ideas blog and Ted Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.