A reflex is defined as an “an action that is performed as a response to a stimulus without conscious thought.” When the doctor hits your knee, your leg goes up. You don’t will it to do so. It just does. I was at a friends’ house last month. She had a broken toe. She walked into her kitchen and accidentally kicked a Lego with her broken toe that her kid had left on the floor that she didn’t see. Her reaction: Deep breath, pick up the Lego, and walk away. WHAT?! No cussing. No yelling. No throwing things. She just took a deep breath and moved on. Now, I’m a yeller. My kids know I’m working on it and they are very good about reminding me to calm down. But you know what my reflex is if I were to kick a Lego with a broken toe? YELL AND SCREAM! I don’t consciously think “I’m going to yell about this painful, frustrating experience now” and then yell. It is my automatic response. The stimulus hits and I respond with yelling without conscious thought.
Everyone has reflexes/defaults/automatic responses. These are the things you do without consciously deciding to do so. Unfortunately, some aren’t quite as obvious as yelling in a frustrating experience. A lot of financial reflexes are ones we can’t pinpoint and that often causes problems. Tracking your spending to the penny helps identify these things, but think about different scenarios. I’ll present a few, but there are thousands! Instead of thinking about what you THINK you would do or what you know you SHOULD do in these situations, try to stick with your instincts. Try to identify what your default would be. I’m also not necessarily saying there are right answers to your reactions here. They will be different for everyone based on your priorities.
- “There are cheap plane tickets to______! Let’s go!”
- Target toys are on clearance for 70% off!
- The house down the street with the perfect yard and extra bedroom is for sale.
- “We’re going to grab a bite to eat after work. Want to come?”
- You pass 6 coffee shops (or drive-thru coffee stands if you live in Anchorage) on your way to work.
- “Mommy, can I get a candy bar/donut/toy/_____?”
- It’s 6:30pm and you have no dinner plans.
- You get to work and realize you forgot your lunch.
- You got a $10 off coupon in the mail for your favorite store.
- Your kid brings home 17 sign-up sheets for extra-curricular activities.
- Your Alma Mater calls and asks you to donate money to the school.
- The neighbor girl is selling wrapping paper as a fundraiser.
- You pass a lemonade stand on the way home from work.
- “Girls weekend! Everyone splits the cost of the getaway!”
- You get a $900 tax refund.
- Your car needs a new transmission.
How we spend our money and what we spend it on is the very definition of our own “personal finance story.” You and I are different. I would definitely buy those plane tickets (or be tempted if I didn’t actually do it). Knowing your financial reflexes is a big part of taking control over your finances. If you can predict your own actions, you can take the steps necessary to stop the ones that don’t bring value to your life.
Do you know your default reaction to every situation listed? What scenarios would you add to the list?