How are those New Years budgeting resolutions going team? Sticking to them? Staying somewhere in the ballpark? Splurged on all the things and gave up? Budgeting technically shouldn’t be that hard, yet we can’t pretend it often is. Why? Because sometimes our thought patterns are against us.

We chatted with Dan Auerbach, Psychotherapist with Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney, about why our impulses can sometimes work against our best budgeting intentions.

Why Do Some Of Us Suck At Budgeting?

Remembering that a well-planned budget is realistic to our own personal income and necessary spending like bills and such, and therefore shouldn’t be harder to stick to than anyone else’s, why do some of us find it so much harder to maintain a budget than others? Dan says it’s got more to do with our ability to manage our emotions more than our wallet.

Managing our desires or impulses is a skill of emotional regulation and we don’t all have this ability in equal measure.”

How well we regulate our emotions influences how much access we have to our reason over our desire. This depends largely on our temperament as well as our early learning.

So basically yeah it’s your parent’s fault. Tooootally kidding, well partly kidding. It seems that it boils down to impulse control issues that we may see popping up in other choices we make too.

Sticking to a budget requires a lot of higher-order thinking and control of our impulses. Breaking a budget and overspending shares some traits with other behaviours, like overeating, compulsions and some addictions, where we try and make ourselves feel better right away, despite a greater long term cost.

What Drives An Impulse Purchase?

We’ve all made an impulse purchase at some point, but some are larger than others. We’re usually measured, discerning adults who take our time with life choices, so why does that all go out the window?

Some of us find it hard to delay gratification, or to put in other words, to manage our emotions. We find it hard to pause and consider a range of outcomes before we make a choice. If we haven’t learned how to soothe strong feelings in our early life, we may try to manage those strong feelings by acting quickly in whatever way is needed to relieve our frustration.

How Do We Justify ‘Want’ Vs ‘Need’?

Is it purely for a mood boost that we ruin our budgeting efforts? Instant gratification might be a huge factor, but in this connected world of ours, Dan suggests it can also be about keeping up appearances.

Buying things that afford us status or portray an image can provide a short boost in confidence. Some of us can become addicted to maintaining a strong sense of self by accessorising our identity with lots of stuff.

A lot of our buying behaviour is also influenced by our social orientation. We see things advertised, or worn by celebrities or models and we largely unconsciously follow the trend to secure our sense of belonging with the tribe.

How Do We Fix It?

Here’s the big one, how do we improve our impulse control and get back on a budgeting track? Interrupt the impulse. Count to 10 before you make any choices and make your money harder to reach so that you force yourself to take time to think about it. That could be as simple as setting up your savings account that you actually have to call or visit the bank to transfer money from.

Avoiding temptation is always a good one. It’s hard to want all the things if you’re not looking at them IRL or online.