Use the HALT Method to Control Your Spending & Your Life

Are you familiar with the HALT method?

I recently learned about the HALT method as it is a saying from Alcoholics Anonymous and they use it to identify relapse triggers.

While I can’t speak on relapses and alcoholism, if a tool is useful for identifying situations and preventing a relapse with an addiction to alcohol, it’s something that we should understand. If it can help prevent drinking, it certainly can be used to prevent other undesirable behaviors – like binge eating, shopping, etc.

Today, I’m going to discuss the HALT method and how it might be best used to stop, or at least reduce, those behaviors.

Table of Contents
  1. What is the HALT Method?
  2. How Does HALT Work?
  3. HALT is Useful Elsewhere Too

What is the HALT Method?

What does HALT stand for? HALT stands for Hunger, Anger, Lonely, Tired.

While it’s an acronym, it is also an instruction – you need to halt (stop) and pay attention to the various daily triggers that may lead to a relapse.

  • Are you Hungry? This can refer to both actual hunger and a need for more food as well as emotionally hungry, where you need emotional support.
  • Are you Angry? Do you have feelings of anger, hostility, or resentment? Are you frustrated or annoyed? Emotional stressors can lead to unhealthy coping behavior – which is why “retail therapy” is even a term.
  • Are you Lonely? Human beings have an innate need to belong in a group and when we don’t, loneliness can lead to destructive behaviors.
  • Are you Tired? This one is probably the sneakiest because weariness can creep up on you during the day or it can be the result of weeks of stressors.

The beauty of the HALT method is in its simplicity – go through this checklist and see if you are currently experiencing any one of these well understood and easily identifiable feelings.

The challenge is reminding yourself to go through the checklist so that you can identify the triggers before your body responds to the triggers with a negative coping mechanism.

How Does HALT Work?

The purpose behind the HALT Method is to periodically check in on yourself to see if you are experiencing any of the four (or multiple) feelings that make up the HALT acronym.

When you increase your awareness of those feelings, you can address them using coping mechanisms that do not include retail therapy or alcohol.

If you are tired – take a nap.

If you are hungry – eat.

We all intuitively understand this, which is why those Snickers commercials were so effective, but rarely do we make it a practice to check in on ourselves throughout the day.

Identify what may be causing your to cope with spending and you will not only save money but you will address the actual situation that bothers you.

HALT is Useful Elsewhere Too

If you think HALT is useful for preventing destructive behavior, you might not be surprised to learn that checking in on yourself can have other benefits too.

By using the HALT method in medical care, there was a reduction in medication errors over a 2-month period by 31% as reported in this paper! 31%!

The paper’s Abstract:

Medication errors can have deleterious effects on patient safety and care. Interruptions, patient acuity and time pressures have all been cited as contributing factors in the incidence of medication errors. Yet, despite the number of different strategies that can be taken to reduce the incidence of medication errors, they still occur. The strategies often focus on refining systems and processes, depending on the root cause of the error. However, less recognised as contributory elements are human factors such as anger, hunger or tiredness. The aim of this quality improvement initiative was to reduce medication errors by 25% on a medical ward, through the introduction of the hunger, angry, lonely, tired (HALT) model to address the human factors associated with medication errors. Post-implementation, the HALT model appeared to have resulted in a total reduction in medication errors over a 2-month period by 31%. Mistakes related to human error were reduced by 25%, and those linked to communication and documentation errors by 22%. While this was a small-scale study, this is a significant reduction in medication errors. However, caution should be used when addressing other contributing factors associated with medication errors as using HALT alone will not address these.

HALT has the potential to improve job performance too – which is not terribly surprising.

We aren’t ourselves when we’re hungry. Or Angry. Or Lonely. Or Tired. 😊

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a forty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

>> Read more articles by Jim

Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank or financial institution. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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