top of page
MM Logo Update Outline.png

Trying to Change Money Behaviors? Recognize Your Triggers


"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are going."

-Lau Tzu


People who try to or have quit smoking sometimes go back to smoking, often because they were triggered. These triggers could be emotional - like being stressed or bored, follow a pattern - like right after waking up or while having a drink, or social - like being around others who smoke. These triggers prompt a strong desire to smoke that is very difficult to combat. 

The same idea happens with problematic behaviors with money.

financial triggers

Financial Triggers

Financial triggers are situations or emotions that nudge us to do something that doesn't align with good financial health. Examples of problematic could be not following your budget, hiding purchases from your spouse, or stress-shopping. Unless we've done some sort of exercise to learn about our triggers, we have no idea that we are getting triggered; it happens subconsciously.

Our triggers are related to our money scripts and financial flashpoints. Financial flashpoints are highly emotional events around money that help shape our money scripts, which are our money beliefs. Those in turn drive our money behaviors and many of those behaviors are triggered when we try to avoid emotional pain. 

Identify Undesired Money Behaviors

The first step is to identify your unwanted money behaviors. There are obvious unwanted behaviors, but even given the fact that they're obvious doesn't necessarily mean we know we have them. Many people are prone to overspend without knowing what they are doing is dangerous. Try to separate the signal from the noise and figure out what you want to change about your financial life. Once you know what behavior you would like to change, you can try to learn what your triggers are.

Money Scripts® are subconscious beliefs we have about money that we learn these we are growing up in our family systems. A Money Script can be anything, but they tend to fall into four categories. Learn what categories your Money Scripts fall into.

Determine What You Experienced

Ask yourself what was happened just before your unwanted money behavior? If you aren't following your budget, maybe you impulse buy when you are shopping with that one friend. If you hide purchases from your spouse, maybe you think there will be a fight if you bring up your purchase. If you stress-shop, maybe you just opened up your credit card bill and it made you feel nervous or anxious. We are more likely to be triggered when we are hungry, angry, tired, lonely, or scared.

Right before you engage in your unwanted behavior, take a timeout and examine your thoughts and your feelings. Try to determine what it is that is nudging you. 

Avoiding and Overcoming Triggers

The next step, once you know your unwanted behaviors and what is likely triggering you, is to figure out ways to either avoid or overcome your triggers. Think of different situations you can put yourself in to instead of the triggering situation. If you can't avoid the triggering situation, try to think of ways you can overcome the trigger so you won't want to engage in any unwanted behaviors. 

Some examples might be, suggest going for a jog with your friend instead of going shopping, take communication training with your spouse, or brainstorm other ways to release your stress.

Identifying Emotions

Getting in touch with your emotions can make it easier to identify and respond to triggers. Remember that we are more likely to be triggered when we are experiencing emotions like fear, loneliness, and anger. Most of our decisions are made emotionally and then justified later by our thinking brain. Getting in touch with our emotions helps you figure out what's actually going on inside you, and can really help to end your unwanted behaviors.

First, try taking some deep breaths. Count to 10 or 15, and pay attention to how you feel. Often times just putting a short break in between a trigger and an action can help. Listening to music has been shown to help us get in touch with our emotions. Music is strongly tied to memories and can help us relax. Lastly, if you want to go all-in, try mindfulness meditation. There are many good apps out there for meditation training and guided meditations, including Waking Up and Headspace

Awareness is the first step toward combating undesired financial behaviors. Become aware of your behaviors, become aware of what your triggers are, and become aware of the emotions behind your triggers and you'll be on your way to good money health.

Read Next:


Drs. Ted and Brad Klontz: Mind Over Money Know Your Triggers


If you liked this post, consider joining the Money Health community. By signing up for free you'll get updates sent directly to you so you'll never miss anything.

© 2019 Money Health Solutions, LLC



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


Join over 1,950 other subscribers.

No Spam - Just new articles sent to you every Thursday.

Popular Articles

bottom of page