Even my most disciplined clients can find themselves in situations where their smart decision-making seems to escape them. This reality used to catch me off guard. I remember the thrill of witnessing a client’s financial progress, their improved decision-making, and feeling an overwhelming sense of pride in their achievements. But then, the unexpected would occur. Those rockstar clients, the ones who seemed invincible in their financial choices, would suddenly make a decision so out of character that I’d be left feeling surprised, even disappointed.

It took some time, but I soon realized that such moments were not anomalies. They were, in fact, more common than I’d initially thought. These instances were not about the client suddenly forgetting all their learned behaviors but were more about unseen forces at play—spending triggers.

So, I shifted my perspective. Instead of approaching each coaching session with rose-tinted glasses, I began to wonder, “What are their triggers?” I stopped being taken aback by the existence of these triggers and instead prepared for them. Through the lens of this coaching concept, we both started to anticipate these moments, turning potential setbacks into proactive discussions. This approach, having the conversation about spending triggers ahead of time, often preempted the event itself. However, reality taught me that there isn’t always time for these preemptive conversations, especially when clients are new to coaching. But, as they say, better late than never.

The outcome? Clients began identifying their triggers in real-time, allowing them to reassess their thoughts and make informed decisions in those crucial moments. To assist my fellow coaches in this journey, I’ve broken down this concept into three distinct phases: the education phase, the application phase, and the commitment phase. For a deep dive into this coaching framework, I’d recommend episode 17.

Step 1: Education Phase

In the education phase, our initial step is to explore and unravel the mysterious world of spending triggers. Let’s delve into it systematically:

1. Introduction to Triggers:

I kick off this phase by initiating a dialogue about what triggers are. “I want to talk with you about something I call spending triggers,” I typically begin. Probing their initial response to the term, I might ask, “What do you think of the word ‘triggers’? Any initial reaction you care to share before we dive in?” Their reactions often vary, from acknowledging their plethora of triggers to associations with trending Instagram posts.

2. Defining the ‘Trigger’:

It’s essential to differentiate the terminology here. While the term “trigger” can allude to something that revives a traumatic memory in psychological contexts, in our discussion, it denotes an emotion pushing one towards spending temptations. These are usually subconscious urges, leading to sudden unplanned purchases.

3. Recognizing that Everyone Has Them:

Reassuring clients, I underscore that everyone, including me, has spending triggers. Sharing personal experiences helps normalize the existence of these triggers. “You probably have some spending triggers,” I emphasize, “but what’s important isn’t their presence, but the awareness of them.”

4. Practical Client Stories:

Sharing tangible experiences enhances comprehension. I once had a client who would buy a cat whenever she felt a certain emotion. Others might splurge on shoes, clothes, or experiences. The underlying emotion can stem from various states, be it happiness, sadness, boredom, or even busyness.

5. Diving Deeper into the Emotions

It’s vital to identify the emotions sparking these triggers. A purchase, made in the heat of the moment, might offer temporary relief. Still, once the emotional haze lifts, it often doesn’t align with the individual’s financial aspirations.

6. The Consequences:

Addressing the aftermath of succumbing to a spending trigger is crucial. Depending on the purchase magnitude, it might derail a future goal or the client’s financial plan, potentially plunging them into a vicious cycle.

7. Real-time Client Engagement:

To further enrich our conversation, I pose questions like, “Is there anything coming to mind for you right now? Can you identify with any of these examples?” Such engagement offers a valuable introspective moment for the client.

8. The Objective:

The primary aim here isn’t to suppress shopping desires but to encourage awareness. By recognizing these triggers, clients can make informed decisions, alleviating any associated guilt.

By the end of this phase, clients are well-equipped with an understanding of what spending triggers are, their repercussions, and the importance of self-awareness. This groundwork prepares them for the upcoming phases of the coaching process.

Part Two: Application Phase

In the application phase, we delve into the practical steps to recognize, understand, and navigate spending triggers effectively.

1. Identifying Their Triggers:

The primary objective in this phase is to pinpoint the client’s spending triggers. Through open discussions about their spending choices, we aim not to pass judgments but to unearth valuable insights. Encouraging self-reflection about past habits and decisions can often unveil instances of buyer’s remorse or self-doubt. We explore questions like: “Can you recall times in the last year or six months when you questioned a spending decision?” If they struggle to pinpoint such occasions, I offer familiar examples from other client interactions, drawing insights from the comprehensive resource of the financial coaching toolkit, particularly from “Growth Area 5“.

2. Deepening the Understanding:

Once triggers are identified, the next task is to delve deeper into them. By posing a series of questions, we aim to grasp the full spectrum of the triggering event – the context, emotions, and the subsequent results. Some questions to explore include:

  • What were the surrounding circumstances?
  • How did you feel during the purchase?
  • How would you describe your state of mind?
  • Was it a specific time of day, weekday, or weekend?
  • What exactly did you buy, and where?
  • Was a sale or discount involved?
  • Were you alone or accompanied?

Such questions illuminate patterns. It might be a specific time of day, a certain person’s presence, or even specific events like upcoming vacations that act as catalysts. Identifying these patterns helps in understanding the root cause and emotions linked with the triggers.

3. Planning and Re-strategizing:

After understanding the triggers, the final step is to determine how the client wishes to respond in future scenarios. The goal isn’t to suppress the spending but to be more conscious and deliberate. By identifying alternative actions or coping strategies, we empower clients to feel in control of their financial decisions.

In the application phase, we guide clients through a structured path, empowering them to not just identify but also navigate their spending triggers. This three-step process equips clients with the tools and awareness to better handle financial decisions when faced with triggers.

Step 3: Commitment Phase

Now, we dive into the heart of the commitment phase. This stage is crucial as it involves the transition from self-awareness to actionable steps.

  • Understanding Your Triggers: After identifying and understanding your triggers, consider what you want to do with this newfound awareness. Remember, spending triggers often arise from emotional responses rather than logical thinking. As we start to recognize them, some will be easier to manage due to heightened awareness, while others will take more practice and time.
  • Setting Your Goals: Begin by asking yourself or your clients, “What’s an ideal outcome for when a specific trigger happens?” This question often prompts varied responses. Some have a clear goal in mind, while others might be uncertain because they’ve always reacted the same way. It’s essential to let the individual define their goal. It might not always be about stopping the spending but perhaps planning for it.
  • Questions to Prompt Action: Delve deeper by asking specific questions:
    • “When you find yourself in a particular situation or feeling a certain emotion, what’s your ideal response?”
    • “What emotion is prompting the spending? And how can you achieve that feeling differently?”
    • “Can you delay your spending decision? Maybe go for a walk, call someone, or set a timer to wait before making a purchase?”
  • Replacing the Trigger: Explore alternatives. For instance, if someone spends on expensive cocktails when out, can they opt for sparkling water in a fancy glass instead? It’s about finding balance and solutions that align with individual values.
  • Commit to a Plan: Like Jill, who accounts for her trigger in her vacation budget, individuals can devise plans that cater to their triggers. They might not stop the behavior but plan for it instead. The primary goal is to offer support in creating a financial plan.
  • Open Communication: Encourage open dialogue. As a coach, express your wish to be consulted when a spending trigger arises. Explain that this isn’t about judgment but rather offering support and guidance.
  • Summarize and Reflect: Recap the discussions and commitments. Reinforce their understanding by revisiting the patterns identified and the strategies discussed. Then, ask for feedback on how they feel about the plan and their triggers.

In conclusion, the commitment phase revolves around not just understanding but taking proactive measures. Feedback is invaluable, helping in refining the approach and ensuring that the client feels supported and empowered. Remember, progress over perfection is the key!

As a coach, it’s important to think about what you learn and reflect on it so you can deepen your understanding. Think about your own spending triggers and what you need to learn so you can coach your own clients about this topic. When we share our own examples, we share our own reality.