Everyday we are bombarded with dazzling images of luxury items we simply “can’t do without” and offers we simply can’t refuse. All it takes is succumbing to one of these to wipe out an entire windfall. We’ve been programmed by our culture to seek out instant gratification. We buy things we can’t afford rather than plan and patiently wait until we’ve saved up enough to buy “it” (whatever it may be) responsibly. Thus our money is going out before it comes in.

It’s different for all of us – the trigger that makes us temporarily lose our sense of discretion, that makes us forget all we’ve learned about managing our finances, that puts us, for that one critical moment, “out of our right minds.” It may be a car. It may be a time-share. It may be status or companionship or the promise of reclaiming your youth. Whatever your trigger, unless you are aware of it, you are a victim to it, and will be time and time again.

Let’s play a little psychology game – read through this list slowly and notice what impulsive, emotional reactions you may have to some of them. Clothes. Shoes. Fashion. Jewelry. Cars. Vacations. Christmas Gifts. Pets. Self-Improvement Seminars. Charitable Donations. Family. Chocolate. Wine. Beer. Dining Out. Boating. Outdoor Sports. Books and games.

The crux is that nothing is inherently wrong with any of these things. On the contrary, they’re all valuable and, in some cases, essential parts of life – in proper moderation. And that’s the key. When we devote an imbalanced portion of our limited resources to any one of these types of things, we run the risk of putting our savings (and our future) in serious jeopardy.

If you’ve always lived “hand to mouth.” if you’ve never really felt like you had extra cash – “spending money” – that wasn’t already earmarked for some part of your regular monthly expenses, then you may not even be privy to your trigger(s). You may wonder, “Where does it all go?” You may ask constantly, “How come I never have any money?” even though you work full-time. If you find that your tax refund is gone before you’ve had it for even a day then surely there’s something going on in your spending habits that’s worth taking a serious look at.

Let’s try another little game, similar to the one above. In fact, feel free to use the above list to get you started. Here’s the question: if you suddenly came into a huge windfall – an inheritance, winning the lottery, etc. – what are the first five things you’d spend the money on? The first ten? Where in that list would you pause in spending for a moment so you could squeeze in some savings? Anywhere?

Imagine going through each of these items with your friends and family. Which items would they consider worthwhile and which ones would they consider extravagant and frivolous? Not that we’re saying you should judge your spending habits by those of your friends. Far from it. But getting a sampling of opinions from a variety of people that you respect and trust can start to give you a clearer, less emotionally-based, and yet still supportive perspective on your priorities.

Check out your checking account statements. How much money do you typically have left over at the end of the month after paying all your bills? Any? Or are you not even able to pay all of them in full the month they’re issued? Do you even bother to balance your checking account? If you do, great. If not, you need to start immediately.

To find out where your money is going, start with a simple budget. Careful budgeting can be done easily with the help of a simple to use software application like Budget Forecaster. This, along with responsible spending is all it takes to help you hold on to your hard earned money. And you will always know exactly where your money is going.