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Growing up as a saver starts with trusting your new identity

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Are you struggling to develop new money habits? You may be living a past identity when it comes to money.

Let’s start with me and how I relate to money. It seems entirely reasonable that my entire adult life is defined, set in stone and judged by the habits I had as a 12 year old, spending all of my $ 2 per hour baby. -sitting on Lisa Frank stickers. Because at the time, I was spending all my money. I spent all of my summer income in college. Long after college, I spent every dollar I had. Go ahead and tattoo it on my forehead. I deserve it.

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Did the narrative start to change when I started saving money? No. Despite the data and evidence to challenge the spendthrift theory, I have known throughout the dark, deep truth, I am a ‘natural spendthrift’. I certainly have to reckon with the predestination my 12 year old son flirted with dangerously – that I’m the type of person who wastes all the money I earn. Except for the grace of automation and brain tricks and marrying a “natural saver,” I would most certainly live paycheck to paycheck.

But what if I don’t want to identify as a spendthrift the rest of my life? Do I have to file an identity waiver request with the savings identity authority? Does anyone have their fax number and calling procedure?

No, no fax needed. There is one person who decides my savings identity and that is me. According to organizational psychologist Benjamin Hardy, I didn’t need 15 years of data and evidence to change that identity. I could have changed it when I decided to save and took steps to achieve it. This is when I could have identified myself as a saver.

Let’s say you are also defined by your 12 year old self, or devil, 25 year old who spent all your money or got into credit card debt right up to your eyes. Should your path be like mine? Spend 15 years with impostor syndrome, anxious not to upset the natural order of the universe that destined you for a life of financial mismanagement?

The answer is absolutely no. Repeat after me. “I am a saver.” Say this five more times.

Benjamin Hardy doesn’t believe personalities are as fixed as we try to make them. Too bad, because I’m a sucker for every personality test out there. Come on, Hufflepuff Team! The INFPs unite! But, friends, we have to be careful because while we believe in personality traits or fixed tendencies, we also have to understand that humans change. We want to change our minds, our habits, and we might want to change our identities.

One of the unfortunate mistakes adults make is relying too much on definitive statements about who we are. Hardy observed that often these definitive statements are a thing of the past. How many times have I heard people give me a version of “I’m a spendthrift”. Some people confuse the identity of an artist or creator as de facto bad with money.

Hardy’s first piece of advice is to state, to own, to internalize the identity of your future. Humans are supposed to learn, to become wiser, to improve. Doesn’t it make sense that we would rather put our stake in a future self, not in the past?

OK, so you’re with me now. You are a saver. You’ve said it a bunch of times. You believe it.

Now Hardy wants you to become that person.

Let’s take a break from the money for a second –because # stressful – and talk about where I apply these steps in identity changes.

When I turned 40 last year, I set several important goals in my life. One had to be a zero daily email inbox (check!) Every time I go to her house, whether by the way or for a planned event, it’s beautiful. I take a deep breath as I walk through her door and at 40 I decided I wanted to feel the same every time I walked into my home.

After months of incitement and begging, I convinced her to come to my house for an assessment. What would it take for me to walk through my door and enter my oasis of all the chaos of the outside world?

I thought it might involve a new kitchen light fixture, plugging the hole in the wall behind the resting chair, and maybe some new photo frames. But no, we had to create order first. Otherwise, the chaos of the outside world would continue to spread in our home. A mess would soon cover any new sofa or distract from the fixture.

But could we? Let’s be realistic. I am a messy person. Because of course I am busy. I have been busy since I was 10 years old. I don’t have time to be neat or tidy.

Kelly, however, pointed out an inconvenient truth. Did this acceptance serve me so well as a busy person? Laying a sweater on the chair in the bedroom created two or three times the job. He eventually had to be hung up, but then ironed. The real downside was the clutter which brought chaos from the outside to the inside.

Changing the lights would have been so much easier. Instead, Kelly asked me to change my identity. After a few weeks of serious reflection, I told Kelly, my husband and my children that I, and by that I meant, we were good people.

Now Hardy wants me to make this happen, but for a change I had to get groomed all the time. No once in a while. Hardy, in his Ted Talk, argued that it is easier to do something 100% of the time than 98% of the time. The reason is that deciding when to hang up the sweater and when to allow myself to throw it on the chair was an unnecessary and brain draining decision. This is called decision fatigue! So we have to make a decision at some point and then usually follow that same decision. Hardy points to the inspiration of Michael Jordan who said: “Once I made a decision, I never thought about it again.”

I am a neat person 100% of the time.

Usually, Kelly made me do several things to become groomed myself. For example, I never walk around my house without something in my hand to put back, like the glass on the nightstand in the kitchen. This is a handy tip for maintaining a clean home. If there is nothing to carry, there is always a pillow to inflate.

With the children, I increased our allowance game. I give them MORE money for the same tasks and activities as before, but this time I can take a shift whenever something is out of place.

It seems to be working. My kids used to love to undress with panache and sprinkle plenty of clothes on our floors when they poured out at bath time. When it got expensive, clothes began to magically pile up in the laundry room. The toys started to find their way to the bedroom closet.

I also bought a Roomba, and it’s more glorious than I imagined. It would never have worked in our previous state with all the clutter in it. Now he leaves his post at 9am every day, quietly walks around and a few hours later leaves beautifully vacuumed floors behind.

This 40-year-old is neat and tidy.

Believe me, if I can get clean, you can become a saver. Make your statement. Then direct your story and behavior towards that goal. What is your 100%? Well, start with retirement. You say. I will save 10% of everything I do for the rest of my life. Then register for your company’s pension plan. Or get your plan to pay off your credit card debt and make that first payment.

The ability to reliably drive around my house, walk through the door, and breathe peacefully is better than I ever imagined. What I hadn’t anticipated was the added benefit of how rewarding personal change could be.

If money is your new identity, then make the decision to save. Save 100% of the time. Thank Michael Jordan for the inspiration and never think about it again.

Sarah Catherine Gutierrez is Founder, Partner and CEO of Aptus Financial in Little Rock. She is also the author of the book “But First, Save 10: The One Simple Money Move That Will Change Your Life”, published by Et Alia Press. Contact her at [email protected]