Everyone is looking to save money these days, and there are a plethora of ways to do just that. The great thing is that most of them are super easy to implement. However, they may require you to take a serious look in the mirror…and you may not like what you see. Don’t say we didn’t warn ya!

You can read hundreds of articles listing ways to save money. The problem is that most of them only address the symptoms of the problem without examining their roots.  Suggestions to lower interest rates on credit cards and paying off debt are great advice! We give it all the time. But you can’t get better if you don’t understand why you got into debt in the first place.

Making lifelong changes means taking a long look at your own behavior. What financial mistakes have you made and what have you learned from them? Are you spending all of what you make? Are you making small gains against your debt only to spend the surplus somewhere else? If you are  ready to make a permanent change in your financial behavior, you need to consider these 5 steps.

1. Evaluate Your Needs and Wants

If you are currently facing financial hardship, it’s time for you to decide what you actually need. You may like having cable TV, but that doesn’t mean that you need it. You might enjoy spending your lunch break at a different restaurant each day, but you would be better off eating leftovers at your desk. Find out what could be cut from your budget, and do it. Remember, as you whip yourself into better financial shape, you may be able to afford these wants again in the future.

2. Learn to Tell Yourself “NO”

If you are experiencing money problems, chances are that it has been your own choices that have put you in your current financial position. Becoming financially responsible and getting out of debt takes time and willpower. If you can’t afford to pay cash for something you want, you can’t afford it.  Period. If you want to get out of debt (and stay out of debt), you have to learn that you can’t have every last thing that you want when you want it.

This can be hard to accept. Afterall, you work hard for a living, right? Being serious about your financial goals means that you may have to ditch your feelings of entitlement.  It may be time for you to stop being an overgrown baby and learn to go without…for your own benefit.

3. Avoid Lifestyle Inflation

As you progress in your career, you will (hopefully) start making more money. It can be very tempting to give into lifestyle inflation. A bigger house and a fancy new car may be things that you desire. Yet, becoming financially responsible means living below your means – not at your means. If you are spending your entire income each month to maintain your lifestyle, then you cannot afford your lifestyle.

It is time for you to take a look at the bigger picture. Everyone, including you, needs to have an emergency fund and be actively saving for retirement. That may mean moving into a smaller house and driving older cars. It may mean less shopping and more time relaxing at home. Regardless of your particular situation, living at your means is a financial disaster waiting to happen. You are only one layoff or sickness away from financial ruin. Learn to live – and be happy – with less.

4. Quit Making Excuses

I can always count on some people saying that it is impossible to keep a budget. I’ve heard every excuse a thousand times – some of them valid, some of them not. Regardless, feeling like you can’t stay on budget can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If it seems so hard, then why even try?

The truth is that you can stay on budget, it just takes a little effort. You can make your budget a reality if you do the work. Start by building a beginner emergency fund of $1,000. Then, when an unexpected expense occurs, you can pay for it without wrecking your budget. Stop making excuses and start taking actions that will benefit you!

5. Re-Evaluate Your Relationship

In committed relationships, it is important to be on the same financial page with your partner.  If one of you is a saver and the other is a spender, this can create huge problems.  How can you possibly get ahead if you are married to someone who spends all of your money?  No matter how good your intentions are, you cannot control another person.

If you are in a financially troubling relationship that shows no signs of being fixed, it may be time to for some in-depth counseling. If you aren’t married and don’t have children together, you’ve got to think about breaking it off. Staying with a financially irresponsible partner can mean struggling for the rest of your life. Ask yourself, what kind of life do you really want to live? And, is this relationship really worth it?

Making the decision to become financially responsible isn’t always pretty roses and balloons. It takes hard work and a willingness to be honest with yourself about your past failures.  Confronting and changing the root causes of your self-defeating financial behavior may be painful.  However uncomfortable it may be, it’s the only way to truly break free from the chains of debt – and nothing feels better than financial freedom.

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