The Secret to Better Money Management May Be in Your Past

It’s easy to feel out of control with your money. It happens to the best of us. But whatever the reason you’re feeling this way, it’s important that you regain your footing and, maybe even more importantly, that you regain your feeling of control. After all, if you don’t think you can fix the problem, you probably won’t even try.

Your first line of defense is financial education. It will help you understand what actions you need to take to get back on track. But there’s another tool that could boost your motivation to carry out those actions. A recent study by scientists at Creighton University shows that harnessing nostalgia can help you get in touch with your feelings, which you can use to regain control over your finances.

The power of nostalgia

The Creighton team carried out an experiment. Dr. Brad Klontz, along with his fellow researchers, divided study volunteers into two groups. One half attended a standard financial literacy presentation where they learned about saving money. The other half was told to bring an item (or a picture of an item) that they considered nostalgic.

The latter group was led through exercises to help them come up with positive feelings and memories tied to their objects or photos. They were asked to name these emotions, identify the values that went along with these emotions, and understand how these same values formed the basis for their future savings goals.

Over the next few weeks, the “financial literacy” group saved 22 percent more than they had saved before. That, in and of itself, is a significant number. But the “nostalgia” group saved 67 percent more — three times more than the control group. It would seem nostalgia and the emotions that go along with it have a lot of power when it comes to how we handle our money! The researchers theorized that the powerful emotions associated with the nostalgic object provided a deep, positive incentive for saving. Participants were able to make direct connections between saving money and the things they value most in life.

Harnessing nostalgia for yourself

If you are feeling out of control with your money, here are some steps you can take to engage your emotions via nostalgia and get back on track.

1. Find an item that has nostalgic value to you

This can be anything, as long as it is important to you. It can be an item from childhood, something passed down from a family member, something you found, or maybe something you purchased on vacation. If you don’t have an item that fits the bill, go through old photographs until you find one that is especially meaningful.

2. Think about how you got that item and why it’s important to you

Remember the moment you found or received the item (or took the photograph). Think about the people you were with or the poignancy of the moment. To the best of your ability, take the time to actually relive the moments in your life that have made this object or photo so important to you.

3. Name the feelings that go along with that item and your memories of it

Giving your feelings names can help them feel more concrete, rather than abstract and ethereal. When they are concrete, they are more useful to you as you continue this exercise. It is perfectly fine to have multiple feelings about your object. For instance, something your grandfather passed down to you may make you feel excited, because he chose you for this item, but also loving because of the relationship you had with him.

4. Identify the values that underlie these feelings

Once you pinpoint your feelings, you can identify the values that provide their foundation. If something came from a grandparent, it may be tapping into your value of close family ties. Something that reminds you of childhood could be important to you because you value wonder and joy and you haven’t felt those things in a long time. An item from a trip could be important because it reminds you that you value excitement and adventure.

5. Connect these values to a financial game plan

When our finances are out of control, most of us know what we need to do to get them in line again. However, it’s hard to find the motivation to do that when we feel hopeless and helpless in the face of financial stress. Connecting our values to the actions we know we need to take can help us find the motivation to actually tackle them.

Think about those values you identified. If you value the safety and security of a stable home, that can motivate you to do what is necessary to provide financial safety and security in your own home. If you value adventure, it can motivate you to make the changes necessary to get your money under control now, so you can afford more adventures later. If you value joy, spend some time thinking about how you will feel when you are out of your financial hole.

It’s never too late to take control of your money. When you harness the power of nostalgia and emotion, you may find yourself making and sticking with financial decisions that you have struggled with before. This, in turn, will help you make even stronger decisions until your money is completely under your control again.