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Self-sabotaging your bank balance? Here's why

Money Talks author Ellie Austin-Williams reveals how to take back your financial power

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Ellie Austin-Williams
Freelance Writer
June 20, 2024
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Have you ever had a moment in your life when you've decided that enough is enough and resolved to change your ways? To get unstuck and create new norms that help you get closer to where you want to be? Whether it's the moment when you tell yourself you'll stop signing up for free trials and forgetting to cancel the payments, or that it's time to cut back on the constant online orders and start taking your savings seriously, we all have sparks of motivation to do things differently. 

And yet those good intentions to boost your financial health too often grind to a halt, thanks to the phenomenon that is self-sabotage. That feeling when, a few weeks later, you press the 'screw it' button and put all of those new habits in the bin, before heading back to your old ways - only to go through the cycle again a couple of months later. So why do we self-sabotage when we have a genuine desire to change, and what can we do about it?

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Why do we self-sabotage when we have a genuine desire to change our money habits?

"Your brain likes to be able to repeat patterns and predict the future, so if you've always 'been bad with money', your brain doesn’t know how it feels to have and hold onto money," explains money mindset expert Laura Ann Moore. "The fear of the unknown is too great, so you're more likely to stay in a state of not having money because it’s familiar. Our brains always choose a familiar hell over an unfamiliar heaven."

Self-sabotage can also be a defence mechanism to avoid the risk of failure. Even when we think we are capable of a financial goal, if we have underlying doubts about our ability to succeed at paying off a mountain of debt, or saving enough money to afford a home extension, we self-sabotage to control the outcome of a series of events. As a result, we control our own failure or downfall because as much as we tell ourselves we want to succeed, our brains choose the option of controlling our failure over the uncertainty of what may happen otherwise. 

The good news? Financial self-sabotage is a behaviour you can overcome, and it all starts with understanding what the root of the self-sabotage really is. If you're ready to stop getting in your own way and figure out how to move forward with money, here are Laura's top tips to help you curb your financial self-sabotage for good.

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It's important to address any underlying beliefs that may be driving the financial self-sabotage

Pinpoint your behaviour

Awareness is the first stage for anyone looking to change a pattern of behaviour and financial self-sabotage is no different. Starting to recognise common habits or behaviours with money will help you begin to spot problem areas. Once you can identify the behaviours that trip you up, you can look deeper into the emotions and start to address any underlying beliefs that may be driving the self-sabotage. "If you tell yourself you'll look at your budget and you keep putting it off, ask yourself what’s harder?" suggests Laura. "Is an hour of pain harder - aka looking at your bank account - or a lifetime of pain - aka ignoring your bank balance?"

Put a plan in place

Rather than simply setting goals and leaving them to chance, put a step by step plan in place for how you will achieve your financial goal. For example, if your aim is to pay off a credit card, start by figuring out exactly how much you owe and how much you can realistically afford to repay each month. That way, you have a target to work towards instead of leaving the outcome down to willpower and positive vibes. 

Over the shoulder view of business woman logging in online account with Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) security system visa smart phone and laptop© Getty
Give yourself grace when attempting to build new habits and break cycles

Celebrate small steps

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It's a tall order to change our ways, so it’s essential to give yourself grace when attempting to build new habits and break cycles. It's unlikely that you will stop self-sabotaging overnight, given the hard wiring that goes on within our brains, so make sure to celebrate small steps in the right direction when it comes to building those new habits that support your financial goals. Whether it's walking out of your favourite store without an impulse buy or setting a reminder to cancel the music subscription you no longer use, don't forget to give yourself credit.

Ellie Austin-Williams is the author of Money Talks, a Lifestyle Guide for financial wellbeing. Find her on Instagram at @thisgirltalksmoney.

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