How to use your 'superpowers' to instil frugal habits

Allow your brain to engage in more critical thinking routines before succumbing to impulsive reactions

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The world wants your attention. It craves your eyes because they are the quickest way to your wallet. Your brain plays a big role in this but advertisers have to be savvy and a bit sneaky.

They have to be selective because they only want to access certain parts of your brain to sell their products. They certainly don’t want to tap into your critical thinking skills. Instead, they want to go straight to the reptilian centre of your brain, where they can target the likes of your amygdala, which is driven by emotions such as fear, lust and hunger. They want to create an immediate impulsive reaction of desire for their product that overwhelms your more rational pre-frontal cortex and other more evolved structures of your grey matter.

This is why you get the old cliche of “pleasure sells”.

Fast-food advertisements bombard us a thousand times an hour as we drive down Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, with brightly lit pictures of food that will bring us short-term pleasure, just so long as we don’t think of the long-term health consequences. That is the part of the brain advertisers don’t want us to use, the part that understands what will happen later on.

But what if I told you that you have a superpower? A superpower to build a psychic shield that keeps you from falling prey to these expensive, destructive, alluring products and their multibillion-dirham ad budgets. You do. It’s your inner cheapskate. Your frugal-friendly angel that can sit on your shoulder defending you from temptation. And, like any weapon, you need to practise with it to make it more effective.

First you need a strong “why”. Why do you want to save money, health and your moral code? Do you want to safely retire one day? Do you want to help support family members who are struggling? Do you want to be healthy for decades to come and not end up with rotting internal organs and diabetes?

Once you know your why, it’s easier to let your cheapness save you from expensive and destructive bad habits. You can use the question, “Will this get me closer to my ‘why’ or farther from it?” to buy yourself some time. It gives your brain a precious few seconds to engage in more critical thinking – and takes the impulse decision away from the less evolved and more emotional parts that roar at you to give in, have fun and buy the thing.

It’s okay to be cheap if it helps you avoid pressure from peers or advertisers that would harm you. It’s okay to say, “No, I can’t afford to go out tonight, sorry. Let’s do an activity that doesn’t require something harmful.”

It's okay to be cheap if it helps you avoid pressure from peers or advertisers that would harm you

The more you practise rational decision making around positive long-term values, the easier it becomes to buck social pressure and trends. You will start looking for positive replacements for your bad habits, something to fill the time that gets you closer to your “why” and not farther away from it.

Let cheapness be a shield. Bad habits derail our financial and health goals, but if you give into your inner cheapness, it can improve your life significantly.

Schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher