It's time to quit your 'financial cigarettes'

Addictive spending behaviour such as buying on credit and impulse buying can stop you achieving your money goals

Zach Holz says you need discipline to avoid splurging on short-term pleasures. Getty Images
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Cigarettes: even if you don't die from them, you are their slave. Every few hours you have to stop what you're doing to answer nicotine's siren call.

Most addictions have this sort of effect. They force you to take a break from what you were doing while you seek out your fix and answer the demands of your compulsion. This causes you to lose focus and efficiency not only for yourself, but others as well.

You need to avoid "financial cigarettes", things that feel good in the moment, but will destroy your long term financial freedom.

I speak from experience, having indulged in cigarettes and other vices throughout the years. I've felt the cravings, and for years at a time, been unable to push against them strongly enough to overcome their imposition. Lately, when I look at people stuck being obedient to their addictions, I am

thankful I no longer feel those same urges, that I have bigger wants than the immediate cessation of superficial desire. I am free of my compulsions.

American author and podcaster Jocko Willink's quote 'discipline equals freedom' at first feels like a paradox. How can discipline, which is often not doing something you want to do, be the same as freedom, where you get to do what you want? If I am disciplined in the foods that I eat, I might avoid eating buffalo wings, even though I really want them.  My discipline is in direct opposition to my freedom to eat whatever I want.  This idea could be a paradox hinting at a deeper truth, or it could just be wrong; it all depends on your perspective.

To  achieve long-term, serious life goals, like health, wealth, relationships, and lasting happiness, it requires the discipline to avoid short-term pleasurable actions. Those long-term life goals can easily be a superior freedom. By having the discipline to avoid cigarettes, I am not a slave to their compulsion. I am free from the need to constantly stop and smoke them; I am free from the harmful health and financial effects that are so clear but too often ignored.

Just like good health, financial freedom is also a massively powerful and desirable goal. If you don't like your boss, you can quit. If you want to change countries, just go. If you want to take a year or more off to relax, you can. But this freedom requires discipline. You need to avoid "financial cigarettes", things that feel good in the moment, but will destroy your long term financial freedom.

"Financial cigarettes" is an umbrella term for those spending habits that stop you reaching your money goals. These include buying on credit, impulse buying, buying to make yourself look good, purchasing because of emotion, paying the minimum towards debts, retail therapy in general and constantly eating out or ordering in food or spoiling your children or pets.

All of these financial cigarettes operate on similar brain chemistry to other addictive behaviours. We receive dopamine and serotonin spikes for both. As well as thousands of ads, the actions of our peers reinforce the consumption of both types of cigarettes. Both are convenient quick ways to make a problem go away, whether it's stress or unhappiness or not fitting in.  For decades, both were totally socially acceptable, but slowly, many are seeing their way through their addictions. In my native US, the Centers for Disease Control reported in 2015 that 10 per cent fewer people smoked than in 2005.

Financial cigarettes are also coming up against powerful and growing movements that help people overcome their addictive qualities every day.  All over the world, more people are learning about how to control their financial lives via the Financial Independence and Financial Independence Retire Early movements. Major publications, including The National regularly publish articles allowing more people to learn the simple principals that allow them to reach their financial goals.  Groups like here in the UAE give free talks and resources and community to those seeking a way of life that isn't limited to immediate cessation of urges.

If you want to get out of debt, learn how to live a more sustainable and joyful life, and be in control of your financial destiny, you need to put down the financial cigarettes. All it takes is education and a desire to change. You can do it.

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