Sunday is economics day on the blog. Last week I wrote about how living in the now just means you’ll be broke. Today we’re going to look at a common economic behavior that is very self-destructive. I personally have known many people who have struggled financially who are all victims of this behavior pattern. Understand that these are not traditionally poor people. Most of them are firmly in the middle class and some that I know are outwardly much higher than that. But behind the scenes they struggle badly. They’re like a duck – calm on the surface while little feet move frantically below the water to keep it all going.

One of the big self-imposed hurdles is the tendency to reward themselves when they come into a small amount of money. The familiar phrase that they recite to themselves goes like this:

“You deserve it.”

I’m sure some of you recognize those three words. I sure do. I used to say it to myself all the time. I’d be barely making it through each month, bills would be mounting up in a pile in a forgotten corner. And then I’d come into a couple of hundred dollars and the outcome would always be the same.

“I’ve been doing it really tough this month. I really need a reward to make all that struggling worthwhile. You deserve it.”

And then I’d go out and buy a new jacket, or have a big night out with friends, or go away for the weekend to a nice hotel, or maybe buy some new snowboarding boots. The list is of course endless. The outcome though is always the same.

Isn’t it curious that those three words are in the second person? The saying doesn’t go, “I deserve it.” Rather we utilize the second person and replace the I with you. This is an important psychological effect and it is the key to understanding how this phrase is so effective in keeping someone in a mindset of lack. By using the second person we trick ourselves into believing that someone else is telling us that this behavior is okay. We know that what we are doing is wrong so we seek permission from someone else to spend the money.

“You deserve it.”

It’s kind of crazy when you think about it, but people who have problems with money do so primarily because they approach it from an emotional level and not a logical one. Those three words are all about emotion.

The key to modifying this behavior is to change to the first person. By doing that you accomplish two things. Firstly, you break the spell that someone else is giving you permission to spend the money, (and by the way, for someone who is deep in denial they will use this to sub-consciously trick themselves into thinking that the money is someone else’s and they are being given a gift). Secondly it forces you to recognize that you almost fell for the same self-imposed trick again. That’s what destructive behavior is, and this is a prime example.

You don’t deserve it. But you do owe it to yourself to crawl out of a life of economic misery. Stopping this habit is a step in the right direction.