I'm seeing a couple in therapy who went on three vacations this past year — to Hawaii, Colorado, and Florida — and they can't pay their bills. They are maxed out on most of their credit cards, and they have gotten into the rut of using one card to pay another. She has student loans from years ago, and he owes his parents, his friends, his dentist, his doctor, and the plumber.
When I confronted them about their overspending and asked why they are now planning to go skiing, they both became indignant. She said they work hard, really hard, and they deserve it. He said he needs vacations because his job is so stressful.
I said they were creating more stress by adding to their bills. They said I was wrong and I didn't understand.
I asked, "What if one of you loses his or her job?" His response, "We'll get another." She nodded in agreement.
I asked, "What about your doctor, and dentist, and the plumber? When will they get paid?"
She assured me they would get their money.
I said I doubted it because from my vantage point, I saw bankruptcy. Both of them shrugged, and I could see I was making no headway. Neither of them was going to stop spending.
How about you? Do you need to put the brakes on your spending? If so, there's no time like now, today, immediately.
One of the first things to do: Figure out what you can afford to spend above and beyond your fixed expenses. Set a number, be it fifty, a thousand or two thousand a month. If you're on the $50 plan and you want something that cost $100, this means you wait two months before purchasing the item.
A second tough task: Figure how much you are in debt with charge cards, home improvement loans, doctor bills, second mortgages, and loans from friends and relatives. Now figure out how many months or years it will take you to pay off these bills. If you're in debt $11,000 and you can afford to pay off only $300 a month, it will take you more than three years to pay off this debt. An eye-opening exercise to be sure.
Now come up with a list of excuses you use for spending money, like those of the couple I discussed earlier. Here are some favorites:
• I deserve it. I work hard.
• We'll go on a budget after we decorate the house.
• My husband doesn't watch what he spends, why should I?
• Life is boring if you can't shop or go on a vacation.
• Hey, it's on sale.
Next agenda item: What is the underlying reason you spend more than you can pay for? Do you use going to the mall and spending as a form of entertainment, a way to relax, or rid yourself of anxiety for a few hours?
If so, discipline yourself. Allow yourself to go to a store only when you truly need something, not when you want something. For entertainment and relaxing, hit some tennis balls, try a walk with a friend, go to a movie, or read a book.
If spending makes you feel better, what feel-good substitute can you come up with? How about visiting an old friend, making a special dinner, doing your nails, or working out?
Next on your to-do list: Write out what you really need. Include those items you feel are essential. Maybe a new toaster is in order because last week your toaster died. But can't you wait another few weeks for that toaster?
And do you really need another pair of earrings, another jean jacket, and another sweater? How much do you really need?
If you're a compulsive shopper, ask a friend to help you break this addiction. Write down everything you buy in a week, and give her your list. Writing the items down will make you more aware and more accountable for your spending.
Or make a pact that you won't go to any stores for six months. For groceries, maybe have them delivered.
Read the book Your Money or Your Life. It lays out a great plan if you are really serious about not continuing to overspend.
Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World,” “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide,” and “Thin Becomes You” at Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com.
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