Is Your Brain Hardwired to Make Dumb Money Decisions?

Esther and Sammy are a couple in their late 40s with a very common money problem.

They’re both smart and talented people who have worked hard all their lives. And they earn a good living.

But what do they have to show for it? A regular monthly shortfall, a mountain of debt, and a lot of marital tension around spending vs. saving.

When they come to me for money coaching, they’re in a tight spot. They’re hoping to marry off their daughter and they’re tearing their hair out about how to pay for the wedding without taking out a mortgage on their mortgage.

Enter Super-Debbie. Faster than a speeding bullet, I am going to solve their money problems, right?

Before I don my cape, the answer is no.

And yes.

Sadly, there is no “undo” button that I can apply to someone’s consistently poor money decisions made over the course of decades – not even my own. But in my research and work as a money coach, I have learned a few things that can help you turn things around starting today, so that in a year you’ll be in a totally different place. And in five years, your money agonies will be a funny story you tell at cocktail parties.  And in fifteen years, you’ll be sipping a piña colada on deck of a cruise ship enjoying the vacation of your dreams – which you paid for comfortably in cash.

It all starts with that powerful little computer that you carry with you everywhere, even to bed at night. No, it’s not your iPhone. It’s your brain.

No Brain, No Gain

The way we behave around money – spending it or saving it; blowing it or hoarding it; giving it away or throwing it away – it all comes down to habit. We think we’re in charge of the dollars that come into our lives, but in actuality we rarely make deeply considered, objective decisions. Usually we just keep doing what we’ve always done.

This is not a bad thing. It’s a normal human thing. We’ve always known that we are creatures of habit. What we didn’t know until recently was how deeply habits are rooted in the brain.

I’m no brain surgeon but there are a few things that I’ve learned about the brain that have really helped me transform my own money habits and coach others to do the same.

When you perform a task repeatedly, your brain saves energy by creating a neural pathway that allows you to do that task in the future on “auto pilot.” For example, a baby expends of lot of concentration mastering the balance and coordination needed to take her first steps, but within a few months she runs all over the house without any thought at all. That’s because the skill of walking gets “hard wired” into the brain. Walking becomes a habit.

Similarly, when you get up in the middle of the night to use the washroom, you can do it in the dark, with your eyes closed, half asleep. You’ve traveled that path many times before. It’s hard wired in your brain. Your brain is the seat of thousands of habits, big and small, that you perform with hardly any thought: making a sandwich, driving to work, putting in your contact lenses, spending your money.

Yes! The way you spend your money is frequently just another habit that’s been hard-wired into your brain.

Let’s say you walk past a store and see a gadget that you want is on sale. Do you go in and buy it right away? Do you linger over it before dragging yourself away? Or do you immediately tell yourself you can’t afford it and keep going? Whatever your reaction, it’s a money habit. And you can probably think of scenarios like this where you keep making this same money decision over and over again.

Change Your Brain

Just as habits are rooted in the brain, the best way to change them is with a basic understanding of how the brain gets in the way of us changing our habits. The super computer that is your brain loves habits because it loves to be efficient. It tries to complete as much of its functions on autopilot as possible.

So when you try to change a habit by consciously making a different choice, your brain resists.

You may have decided last night not to spend any more money on gadgets this month, but when you walk past that sale on the latest thingamajig today, your brain will work to ensure that your habit of spending will overpower your rational decision not to spend. Will-power often won’t help.

That’s because you’re trying to force your brain off the six-lane neural superhighway of habit, where it can travel smoothly and rapidly, and onto a narrow, unbeaten pathway through the thick underbrush where it has to expend a lot of energy to figure out what to do. And that’s not always so easy.

The good news is there are techniques that I use to help my clients develop new, healthy money habits in spite of your brain’s resistance.

The bad news: In the beginning it’s hard. The brain tries to put you back in your old destructive habits almost before you’ve given it a thought. Not because it’s against you. But because it’s doing its job using up as little energy as possible on its own functioning.

But here’s more good news: at a certain point, it will become easy. There is a tipping point at which the new positive practice becomes a habit. It becomes the new neural superhighway in your brain. After that, healthy spending and saving decisions become almost effortless. No more willpower. No more emotional dramas. No more marital spats.

And that’s when the magic starts to happen.

Suddenly it’s easy to spend and save your money in ways that align with your values. With a little time, you find you can afford the things that are most important to you. And over the coming years, financial peace and abundance settles on your family.

Another job well done for Super-Debbie!

If you’re ready to take more positive steps to getting your money working better in your life sign up for my FREE 5-day Mini Money Makeover and jump right in.

And you can always feel free to reach out. Let’s chat and see how I can support you on your journey to better money habits.

In the meantime, I’m off to scale another tall building in a single bound.

With blessings,


is your brain hardwired to make dumb money decisions

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