Does anyone have any bad money habits? Most people can list a few…

When we’re trying to modify bad behavior, is it better to abstain or moderate? We’ve all heard “everything in moderation” is typically the best policy… or is it?

Gretchen Rubin at The Happiness Project makes a great point about this over at her blog:

Often, we know we’d have more long-term happiness if we gave up something that gives us a rush of satisfaction in the short-term. That morning doughnut, that impulse purchase, staying up too late watching TV.

A piece of advice I often see is, “Be moderate. Don’t have ice cream every night, but if you try to deny yourself altogether, you’ll fall off the wagon. Allow yourself to have the occasional treat, it will help you stick to your plan.”

I’ve come to believe that this is good advice for some people: the “moderators.” They do better when they try to make moderate changes, when they avoid absolutes and bright lines.

For a long time, I kept trying this strategy of moderation – and failing. Then I read a line from Samuel Johnson: “Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult.” Like Dr. Johnson, I’m an “abstainer.” I find it far easier to give something up altogether than to indulge moderately…

If moderators try to abstain, they feel trapped and rebellious. If abstainers try to be moderate, they spend a lot of time justifying why they should go ahead and indulge.

People can be surprisingly judgmental about which approach you take. As an abstainer, I often get disapproving comments like, “It’s not healthy to take such a severe approach” or “It would be better to learn how to manage yourself” or “Can’t you let yourself have a little fun?” On the other hand, I hear fellow abstainer-types saying to moderators, “You can’t keep cheating and expect to make progress” or “Why don’t you just go cold turkey?” But different approaches work for different people.

At Queercents, Andrea Cecile has been trying to modify her behavior in her Turning Spenders in Savers series. As someone who gets caught up in the emotional rush of the purchase, I doubt that abstinence will work for her when it comes to shopping. Moderation will likely be the key to her long term success.

On the other hand, there are ways she’s trying to strike a balance between spending and saving. Eliminating the use of credit cards is one thing she’s trying to add to the abstinence column. “I know my personal transition from using credit/debit cards to cash helped guide me toward being a better saver. Sometimes, slower IS better.”

Or perhaps, just stopping the behavior altogether. What works for you? Are you a moderator or an abstainer when it comes to beating bad money habits? We’d love to hear your comments below.

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