I managed billions at JP Morgan but lived paycheck to paycheck. I finally got control of my finances by doing these 7 things.

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  • Anne Lester is the former head of retirement solutions for JP Morgan Asset Management.

  • Lester managed billions of other people’s money but often maxed out her own credit cards in her 20s.

  • She said she had to make more “friction” between herself and spending money to curb her bad habits.

I was 26 with my life crammed into three suitcases. I had just finished an internship in Tokyo and was flying to Italy to move in with my boyfriend. I was in the final round for a great job and was excited to start my new life. I walked up to the counter and handed my one-way ticket to the agent. The man frowned at my comically large bags and heaved them onto the scale.

“Sumimasen,” he said in Japanese, “the allowance is one normal-sized bag. You need to pay a fee for oversized luggage.”

“How much?” I asked.

The man glanced at the scale and punched a few numbers into his computer. “You owe 57,000 yen.”

I was fairly fluent in Japanese, but I must have misheard him. There was no way I could afford the equivalent of $400 — far more than I had.

Hands trembling, I handed him my Visa card. I knew what was going to happen, but I hoped for a miracle.

“I’m sorry, your card was declined.” Tears welled in my eyes. My credit card was maxed out and had been for years; I could barely afford to make the minimum payments.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I had gotten my master’s degree, won a Fulbright scholarship and worked on Capitol Hill. I’d just wrapped up an internship at Chase Bank. Yet, here I was, a broke twenty-something who couldn’t afford to get her bags on an airplane. How could I expect to start a career managing other people’s money if I couldn’t even manage my own?

As I broke down, the ticketing agent sighed, eyeing the long line of passengers behind me. He waved his hand, “Just go.” I felt like the world’s biggest failure as I boarded my flight.

Understanding I wasn’t alone helped me change my spending habits

I have always been a spender and often lived paycheck to paycheck.

Six months later, I was settling into a career in asset management at J.P. Morgan. I still had a ton of debt and bloated expenses. Rent, student loans, saving for a wedding — everything was a priority except for my future. I was barely contributing to my retirement savings. Mainly because I was in my 20s and retirement felt distant, but also because of my poor spending habits.

There’s always something tempting to spend on. And I’m not alone. Saving money is hard for many people at all income levels. This became more apparent the longer I worked in retirement solutions.

At J.P. Morgan, I was asked to design a brand-new product: a suite of Target Date Funds. The development process involved lots of data-driven research about how Americans save for retirement and why our brains get in the way of implementing our goals.

Once I realized I was just like everyone else struggling to resist temptation, it became easier to shift my habits. I went from believing I was a failure because I couldn’t save to developing a set of rules for myself that made saving automatic and removed most financial temptations from my path.

Saving money is hard, and technology is making it harder

Even after working for almost three decades as a portfolio manager and 15 years of applying everything I learned about behavioral economics and building retirement funds to my own life, I still find it hard to save money.

It does get easier with practice, but I still rely on many of the rules I developed, like making sure I never go shopping without a list, to manage my spending today.

Targeted ads and deals in your inbox mean every Google search stalks you perpetually. But technology has also made saving more difficult in less obvious ways.

Digital payment has removed a lot of friction from the act of spending money. Buying things now is almost completely frictionless. You don’t even have to open your wallet — just tap your phone or Apple watch, and money disappears.

Fifty years ago, if you wanted to buy something, you had to physically go to the store and pay with cash or write a check. There was a lot of time between the decision to buy something and the act of buying it, and a lot of friction in the process.

I’ve learned one of the best ways to save is to find ways to slow down your spending — create friction for yourself. Here are some strategies I’ve developed that can help:

  1. Have a spending plan. Be brutally honest with how much you can afford to spend every day/week/month and keep track. If you spend too much one day/week/month, make sure you cut back the next one.

  2. Pay in cash. The idea that paying for things can cause varying pain levels was pioneered by a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon, Ofer Zellermayer, in the 1990s. Research has shown that paying cash for things is more painful. The more uncomfortable the process is, the less likely you are to buy something.

  3. Write checks. It will make you feel like everyone in line behind you is staring at you — and they probably are. Any time you make an experience painful, you will avoid it.

  4. Make lists. Don’t let yourself go into a store or visit a shop’s website unless you have something specific you want to buy. If it isn’t on your list, it doesn’t go into your shopping cart. That same advice goes for trying things on, too, if you like clothes. Once you see how well something fits and how great it looks, you are far more likely to buy it. The best way to avoid temptation? Don’t go there!

  5. Set aside a specific time, say once a week, and a specific place, like your kitchen table, for online shopping. You are less likely to feel pressure to buy or to buy emotionally when you are being methodical about your purchases, from having a list to only allowing yourself to purchase at a specific time.

  6. Avoid “auto-renew” whenever you can. According to a survey done by C+R Research in 2022, the average American has over $219 in monthly subscriptions. Nearly half of the study’s participants said they had forgotten about a subscription and were paying for something they no longer used.

  7. Be kind to yourself, especially if you aren’t consistently hitting your savings goals. See if you can figure out if something is consistently derailing you and view each slip as a chance to learn more about yourself. Building up your savings and your savings muscles is a long-term process.

With a few simple friction-creating changes, you’ll take powerful steps to redefine yourself as a saver.

Read the original article on Business Insider