Problem with emotional spending?
September 3, 2021 6:22 AM   Subscribe

Before you ask, I have brought it up in therapy; but it's a problem which is time urgent and I need to find ways to fix it and can't wait for 2 years of therapy to work it's magic on me. For the past decade, I've not managed to save a penny and have consistently been in my overdraft with credit card debt to the tune of 2/3k. I don't earn much, but what little I earn I spend. It's not a huge amount of debt, but I'm living paycheck to paycheck and it's not a comfortable situation at all. I have a problem and could do with some thought/advice on how to manage this situation?

This situation has a history whereby my Dad had access to my bank account til I was 23 and took a lot of my student loan money etc and money from my first job. My entire life has been lived under financial struggle - there were bailiffs coming to the house, my Dad tore the phone out of the socket to stop the phonecalls and asked us to lie for him if bailiffs came round. He would make me ring the bank pretending to be my older sister and ask for loans etc etc. It was financially abusive and I managed to get my own bank account after a big argument. I had developed a spending habit so he wouldn't have access to my money during those years.

That has never left me and I also spend when I am emotionally dysregulated, which is often. Stress at work, feeling of depression about the abusive family situation, regrets, grief , inability to stay in the present with my own emotions (see all my historical posts if you really want the details)- all creates a maelstrom which has little outlet but dissociation and emotional spending.

My sister bailed me out twice but the second time said that this is the last time she will help me and then I'll be on my own. She was really supportive but now, guess what I find myself in CC debt again plus having to pay back my sisters interest free loan. I cannot go back to her again.

I can definitely climb out of this on my own, but ONLY and I mean only, if I keep my spending to an absolute minimum - something I have found near impossible historically . I do not know what is wrong with me that I keep finding myself in this situation again and again despite the distress it causes me.

My mind actually boggles at how other people, no matter the ups and downs of life and the emotional distress they go through can consistently and rationally save up money and plan for the future. In a deeply terrible way, I am turning out to be like my Dad, who got us all into debt and ruined our credit rating through his inability to control his spending and impulsiveness. This time, I am doing it to myself.

Does anyone have any practical steps they could advise me in this situation? Any specific resources or links?
posted by Sunflower88 to Human Relations (32 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You will get really useful answers from other Mefites. I am someone who also has issues with emotional spending etc. I just wanted to say the MOST helpful thing I have done has been arrange for a number of direct debits to come out of my bank account at the beginning of every month when my paycheque comes in. This way, my mortgage, utilities and credit card all get paid automatically without my having to specifically remember to budget for it. It means that any further spending I do in the month cannot stop these important payments from going out. I also downloaded the Plum app which takes out money periodically from your account to go into a separate savings pot. I have saved a significant amount of money without even realising it with the help of this app. I highly recommend this kind of automated saving. It can make a big difference without you even realising it and leaves less money in your account for you to spend on non-essential purchases.
posted by unicorn chaser at 6:31 AM on September 3, 2021 [18 favorites]

Have you thought about managing your ability to spend rather than your need to spend? We have a detailed budget of what needs to get paid when, and it goes into a bill paying account in that amount -- there's no extra in there. The grocery budget goes onto an N26 card. Then we each get a monthly allowance, mine goes onto my Revolut card (so there's no overdraft) but it could be cash. Whatever is left over from your paycheque after all of that goes immediately into savings, which in your case should be in a credit union account with no debit card.

In terms of paying off your debt, that's what the bill paying account is for -- you can set up monthly payments to your bank, sister, etc just like other bills. Once the debt is paid off, you can put those debt payments into your credit union savings instead.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:34 AM on September 3, 2021 [7 favorites]

If you are working and have a direct deposit option for your paychecks, set up a savings account at a bank you do not do any other banking at. I like Barclays online savings but your use of the word bailiff makes me think you're not in the US, so your best option is probably different.

Figure out how much you need to live (rent + utilities + food + bills) scale it up by 10%, and then set up your direct deposit to put everything else into that savings account. Only spend what you have, don't touch the savings account.
posted by phunniemee at 6:35 AM on September 3, 2021

unicorn chaser's comment reflects a variant on one of the best strategies for saving money. Having all your money in a single, easy-to-access pool makes it very tempting to spend that money. It is a common strategy for investment and retirement savings to "pay yourself first", which means to take some money out off the top, just as though it were taxes, and make that vanish from the immediate awareness you have of your finances when you look at your checking account balance.
posted by jgreco at 6:36 AM on September 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

Hey, I just want to say that it was brave and sensible of you to come here and ask this. Good on you.

User-experience professionals work with a concept known as "friction:" something that gets in the way of your immediate goal. Often it's treated as a bad thing... but not always. Sometimes adding a little friction to an interaction it's easy to be thoughtless about can help us be less thoughtless about it.

So here's one suggestion for adding a little friction. When I was a churchmouse grad student, I had a little (physical, not virtual) red-covered ledger in which I wrote down every single time I received or spent money: how much and where/what it was for. I totaled everything up at the end of the month, and most months got a little happy charge out of having saved a little.

It wasn't fancy-schmancy like most budgeting apps are, and it didn't force me to categorize or judge my own spending -- but I think that's part of why it worked for me. I wasn't ready for the fancy-schmancy stuff. I just needed to keep tabs on things, and the ledger actually felt like friendly friction -- a little reminder in the back of my head that I'd have to write this down too.

May help, may not; worth a try?

I'm so sorry about the chaos and financial abuse from your family of origin. My parents exerted control through money, to the level of refusing to turn over transfer-to-minor accounts after I became a legal adult -- even though some of the money in them was money I myself had earned. I don't quibble over small birthday or holiday gifts of money from my father, but he's offered me loans (e.g. to pay off my house post-divorce) and just. No. Absolutely not.

I'm free of him, and I hope you can free yourself of your dad's financial legacy as well. I'm rooting for you!
posted by humbug at 6:52 AM on September 3, 2021 [8 favorites]

In a deeply terrible way, I am turning out to be like my Dad,

So, I don't really know how to advise you on saving any better than folks above, but I just wanted to say, you were a child and you absorbed what you were taught. This doesn't make you an abusive person like your dad; it just makes you someone who has to learn these skills later in life. You aren't stealing from children holy shit, you're just struggling to save and to manage your money, like many many many people.

I am so sorry--financial chaos in childhood can really fuck you up for a long time. (The reason I can't advise you well is because my childhood poverty and chaos pushed me the other way and I basically JUST learned how to spend money like, at 40.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:55 AM on September 3, 2021 [27 favorites]

After I started out on my own, I also piled up too much credit card debt. It's too easy to fall into that trap, and I totally feel for you.

Totally agree that splitting a direct deposit into two accounts, one that is only used for your fixed expenses like rent, utilities, and loan payments, and the other for discretionary spending. You should also have a payment on your credit cards as a fixed expense, and it should be much more than the minimum payment. Don't commit to an amount that leaves you no room for discretionary spending though, this will only set you up to fail. For as many of these fixed costs as possible, set them to autopay.

When I got out of my credit card debt, I went a cash budget for my discretionary spending. So when that was $120/month, I took out $60 per paycheck in cash, and if I wanted to go out to eat, buy a new shirt, or whatever, I could look in my wallet and immediately know if I could afford it. Sometimes, I'd start the pay period by putting a $20 away and work with $40, knowing I was trying to save up for something that cost more than $60. This is harder now that so much stuff is through phone apps and card only. If you have the second account setup, you can get the bank's app and check balances immediately if that works for you.
posted by advicepig at 7:00 AM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you can manage it, I would think about prioritizing getting rid of your lines of credit, one at a time, while building a small savings account. I know that's super hard. Having that credit available is risky, and it might be necessary to eliminate that temptation while you are going through therapy to address the root causes.

I'm sorry you have this behavior baked in from life experience... me too. I've been through collections hell and back, and still struggle with emotional spending, but it has gotten a lot better and I have been able to develop a solid saving habit in my 40s/50s.

Once you have a small savings account and have eliminated the debt, I also recommend using the sneaky saving techniques mentioned above. In my case, they include automatic 6% contribution to employer 401(k) or 403(b), and if your income increases over time, add in automatic contributions to an IRA every month. This is something you might be able to do after a while once you've eliminated the debt.

One more thing that I hate to mention. I used Dave Ramsay's book, Total Money Makeover, for motivation and structure. I used it as guidance but picked and chose which parts of it I wanted. I hated him and his horrible attitudes about people, but the specific techniques he outlined helped me eliminate debt. I would check this book out of the library, and see if it helps motivate you.

Be patient with yourself and know you are on a journey. Picture the time ahead when this will be an important part of your past.
posted by happy_cat at 7:02 AM on September 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

There a lot of good advice on how to save above, but I just want to add one thing in the being kind/patient with yourself department. If you make a budget, have money go directly into different accounts to pay bills, etc... it's a good idea to also give yourself a planned budget for fun things. Even if it's very small - an extra $10 a week to buy fancy coffees or to save up a few weeks and shop for fun. If you don't, you may end up feeling deprived and impulsively spend money you can't afford. It's great to see money pile up into savings, but it's also really nice to see money pile up that you're allowed to spend.
posted by tangosnail at 7:57 AM on September 3, 2021 [7 favorites]

When I want to buy something, or feel the urge to buy a bunch of stuff all at once, I make a list on a physical notepad. Then I go window shopping on various websites, and create wishlists. I have several on Amazon, for instance, kitchen gadgets, craft items, etc. I go through and add as many things as I think I would like onto the wishlists. Then I spend time looking at reviews, which helps, as a lot of stuff is just crap, and has its share of poor reviews.

As noted, it's helpful to have a certain amount in an account that's not tied to a debit card. I don't use credit cards, not even store cards.

If, after a week or so, or even a few days, I really find that I need something on a wishlist, and I can afford to pay cash for it, I will get it. But most times, I go back later and wonder why I wanted it in the first place (maybe I saw it on a cooking show, etc.). I have found that I can happily satisfy the shopping urge 99% of the time by adding something to a wishlist.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:00 AM on September 3, 2021 [9 favorites]

Just coming here to also recommend making it physically harder to make those quick impulsive purchases. Go to Amazon and wherever else you normally buy online from and remove your saved credit cards and addresses -- the 2 minutes it takes to re-enter the info it for each purchase might be enough time to give you time to reflect and not purchase. If you have your cards memorized, replace them so that you get a new one with a new number and expiry date. You can even go a step further and keep your cards in ice in the freezer -- you can still get it if you really need to, but it's a pain in the butt.
posted by cgg at 8:12 AM on September 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

Coming back in to say... Also, make it physically more of a hassle to use your credit card. Make sure you don't have it saved in your Apple Pay, or have it saved to autocomplete when you need to fill in payment information online.
posted by unicorn chaser at 8:12 AM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

I can help you address this from a practical perspective, but also want to acknowledge that there is a deep-seated emotional component to this work. It's great that you're already in therapy, which will target that component specifically.

Here is something I learned from the book Atomic Habits, by James Clear. He defines a Habit Loop which consists of CUE > CRAVING > RESPONSE > REWARD. The cue and the craving define the problem phase; response and reward define the solution phase. You currently have a habit loop that may look something like this:

Problem phase:
Cue: Moment of stress or emotional deregulation.
Craving: You want to feel the pleasure of something new, like clothes

Solution phase:
Response: Go shopping online and make a purchase.
Reward: Feel a rush, enjoy the novelty of the new thing. Spending money becomes associated with stress and emotional deregulation.

It's been said that we don't let a behaviour go until we know how to replace it. How might we do that? How could we deaden the cue, nullify the craving, change our response and get a better reward?

First, you need to come up with a replacement behaviour. When you feel a moment of stress, what could you to do instead of spending money? Whatever you decide, follow these simple rules for making it into a good habit loop:

For the Cue: Make it obvious
For the Craving: Make it attractive
For the Response: Make it easy
For the Reward: Make it satisfying

Now, do something similar for the current behaviour that you want to change (spending money):
Cue: Make it invisible
Craving: Make it unattractive
Response: Make it hard
Reward: Make it unsatisfying

For the clothing situation I described above, it could look something like this:
Cue: Work on reducing and managing stress so that it becomes less all-consuming (invisible)
Craving: Learn about fast fashion and the slave labour that goes into new clothing (unattractive)
Response: Limit access to internet, credit cards, or shops, etc. Make it a pain to purchase clothes. (hard)
Reward: Put in back of closet and limit use. Statement pieces and hard to wash items are great for this, too. (unsatisfying)

You can apply the good habit/bad habit models for anything you want to change. It's helpful to do both sides (promote the good AND demote the bad). You want to optimise the new replacement behaviour (obvious, attractive, easy, satisfying) and make the unwanted behaviour hidden, ugly, difficult and unrewarding.

This is all very intellectual advice, and it works different in practice. Thoughts and emotions are going to factor in at every step, which is what makes the challenge a challenge. It already looks like you're tackling this from multiple angles though, so that's good!
posted by iamkimiam at 8:14 AM on September 3, 2021 [6 favorites]

I just wanted to say the MOST helpful thing I have done has been arrange for a number of direct debits to come out of my bank account at the beginning of every month when my paycheque comes in. This way, my mortgage, utilities and credit card all get paid automatically without my having to specifically remember to budget for it. It means that any further spending I do in the month cannot stop these important payments from going out.

This is 100% what I did - except for some bills I did them as weekly debits. At the time I was temping so I was paid on a weekly basis - and for some of my bills, the one bill for the month would wipe out most of my paycheck for a week. So that's when I looked into trying to sign up for auto-paying portions of my bills on a weekly basis.

For some of these you won't be able to do this - my rent, a couple of my utilities, etc. But for my credit card it absolutely worked. What I did was:

1. Figure out how much you want to pay per month. For my credit card, I usually paid a little more than the minimum. So let's say that your minimum monthly credit card payment is $300 right now - I'd shoot for paying $325 a month.

2. Multiply that by twelve (for the yearly amount) and then divide that total by 52 (for the number of weeks per year). So for $325 a month: 325 x 12 = 3,900, and 3,900 divided by 52 = 75. So you want to be auto-paying $75 a week to your credit card.

3. Set that up as an automatic payment once a week, where it goes direct out of your bank account to your credit card. It happens without you having to think about it, like magic. Done!

This honestly saved my bacon when I was in my late 20s and had to keep trying to remember to pay bills. Sometimes I'd get scattered and forget, and this made sure that even when my life was hectic at least the bills got paid. I even set up automatic weekly transfers to a couple of savings accounts, one of which was indeed for fun things. And you can go small with these accounts - I still have a $10 weekly auto-transfer to an account I use for Christmas shopping every year.

The added bonus of the weekly approach is that it can also trick you into going further, because the amount is smaller and you find yourself thinking "Oh, I can do better than that." Like, a $325 once-a-month transfer may feel scary - but a $75 once-a-week transfer feels more dealable, just because $75 is a lot less than $325. And you may find yourself thinking "oh, $75 a week isn't that much, lemme bump that up to $80." And just by doing that you've upped your monthly payment by about $25 a month and you end up paying things down all the faster that way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:15 AM on September 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

Til Debt Do Us Part is a great show with Gail Val-Oxlade, a Canadian money expert. She helps people (mostly couples but her practical steps can be applied to anyone) assess their spending and debt and what to do about it. The key is to get rid of your credit and debit cards and set up "money jars" where you have a set amount of discretionary cash each week to spend in different categories (e.g. groceries, transportation, clothes, entertainment etc) and you write down everything you spend. It sounds like it'd be really hard to do but people on the show take to it quite well. Definitely watch her show, tons of episodes on YouTube:
posted by foxjacket at 8:24 AM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

I want to address a strategy for digging yourself out of the current hole in a way that allows you to transition from emotional to strategic spending while still scratching the shopping itch.

First off, sell whatever you can via the usual online and, COVID-permitting, in-person channels: eBay, Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace, garage sales, consignment shops, etc. It will feel good to get the guilt-laden purchases out of your home. Throw all proceeds at the debt.

The second step--which is only a good idea if it won't devolve into emotion-driven purchases--entails switching your hunting ground to garage sales, charity shops, etc. Only buy what you can resell for a decent profit (defined in advance) once fees, postage and other expenses are accounted for. Do the research. Develop an expertise in something you enjoy, whether it's pots and pans, shoes, art glass: whatever. Exert discipline. Track your progress. Consider imposing limits based on money, inventory space, time spent shopping, or whatever works to keep you on the straight and narrow. Gamify the results and direct all revenue towards debt. Be careful, but the good news is that mistakes, which are inevitable, aren't as damaging: the stakes are lower since the cost of goods is so minimal.

You can do this!
posted by carmicha at 8:27 AM on September 3, 2021 [4 favorites]

To put a name to what many others have suggested: reverse budgeting. In your case, you'd be paying off debt rather than saving first, but the idea is the same. Ideally schedule transfers to pay down your debts, then pay your bills, then you have more freedom with whatever is left.
posted by hankscorpio83 at 8:46 AM on September 3, 2021

Let me preface this by saying that other people's advice is probably better than what I'm about to say. This is not at all better than building good habits and being responsible. It also requires a lot of upfront spending, which if you're living paycheck to paycheck might not be possible. That said, it's something I successfully did to manage my spending at one point in my life. So: my advice is to pre-spend your money. And yes, some of that is auto-paying your bills, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about pre-spending your discretionary funds. And specifically, I'm talking about spending that money on a lot of gift cards. Yes, this sounds stupid. It might be. But again, I have done it and it worked.

Let's say you do your budget, and you determine you need $100/pay period for food. (That's probably not a realistic number, but it's easier to do math with.) Rather than leaving $100 in your bank account that doesn't have to be spent on food, buy a $50 gift card to the grocery store and a few $10 gift cards to your favorite cheap restaurants. If you need $20/pay period for gas, buy $20 worth of gift cards to gas stations. You can still include hobbies in your budget - mine included like $20/period for Barnes and Noble gift cards. If you still want to buy stuff from, e.g., Amazon, just less, you can buy a gift card for the lower amount. If a particular bucket goes dry, you just can't buy any more from that place until you get paid again.

The idea is that you're reducing the liquidity of your assets. You still have the same amount of money. You just can't spend it wherever you feel like. You can only spend it on the things you budgeted for ahead of time. Gradually (or maybe not so gradually - I only needed to do it for a few months), you build the habit of planning your spending. And when you get the urge to spend on something you didn't plan for, welp, you're out of luck, because you have no cash. That then forces you to think about whether you'd like to account for that purchase in a future budget. If so, great, it's probably a wise purchase and you're doing it responsibly. If not, you probably didn't need to buy it spur-of-the-moment.

Some important caveats: Don't buy all your gift cards to one place. If you budget $20 for gas and buy a $20 gift card to one gas station, but then your car is on E driving past another gas station, you're out of luck. Better to buy two $10 gift cards, one to each gas station. Try to avoid gift cards to stores that sell a lot of different things, like Target or Walmart. If you buy a gift card to Walmart as part of your grocery budget, you can end up spending your grocery money on clothes or Legos or hunting rifles or whatever. And don't spend all your spending money on gift cards. You still need cash/debit card to pay for unexpected things. This is kind of trial and error to get right, but if you're living paycheck to paycheck, maybe around 10% of your post-bills budget.

I don't think this is the case anymore, but back when I did this (2007, I think), it was possible to earn loyalty/reward points on the purchase of gift cards, and then again when paying with those gift cards. There are also crossover rewards, like when grocery stores give you discounts on gas and stuff.

It's probably not something that personal-finance people would really recommend, but it worked OK for me.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:48 AM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

I also love YNAB but I realize the initial costs might seem very offputting when you're worried about spending. However, if you go through their instructional materials, there's a small time clone of an older version that you could use on your computer for free: It doesn't have any automatic syncing but it might be useful to do a longer trial of the budgeting methods, and then if that strategy works for you you might eventually decided to go with the fuller featured YNAB.
posted by foxfirefey at 8:48 AM on September 3, 2021

You are now getting the cool perspective of knowing how your father felt from the inside. Growing up you saw his outside behavior and now you know the inside factors that drove it. This can be very powerful. It’s like you’ve got the Rosetta Stone here! What did he want? What are his hurts? What was he avoiding, what was he afraid of? What did he value? Those are likely the unconscious motivations driving you now. Bing, two years of therapy done!

I grew up to be my mom btw.

At first, horrified to watch the behaviors come out. Because I hated it so much in her. Then, compassionate towards her, and me, for the internal pain that drives the shitty behavior.

So. After thinking deeply and compassionately about your dad, Spend some time listening to your internal monologues. Hey, say them out loud. That was some of the best advice I got, to say that rumination out loud. “I suffered so much I deserve this” or “people will think less of me if I don’t have it” or whatever it is for you (for me it was “these fuckers don’t give a shit about me!” level resentment).

Think about the values that are driving your behavior. You’re trying to get some legitimate need met. But going about it backwards, because if buying that thing solved it you’d be done by now!

Good luck. 💗
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:57 AM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

By the way, after deeply getting to know my true self, I started to see how I was simply acting out the script of my mothers life, and trying my to bend my happy life into misery to re-enact hers. Once I saw that clearly I could drop her script with both hands and just live.

You are in the right direction asking the right questions with self reflection, bravery and maturity. So, not your dad in the end, even if your personality is similar. You will look back on this period of life soon enough.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:01 AM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Last comment! Take this personality test.

It’s the best one I’ve seen (recommended to me by a leadership coach) in identifying the unconscious motivations needs values driving your actions. Once you know your personality/ personalities, you can read how they’re expressed from the most healthy and adaptive to the most unhealthy and unconscious. Reading it was like another Rosetta Stone into myself.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:07 AM on September 3, 2021

Some countries have a ‘Citizens Advice Bureau’ where you can access budgeting advice online or in person, at no charge - as well as government websites with budgeting/debt tools that may be a starting point for you, no matter which country you live in. Here are some examples:
Debt and money; Tackling debt
Budget planner; Making a plan to be debt-free
posted by The Patron Saint of Spices at 11:07 AM on September 3, 2021

I'm sorry this has become such an emotional issue for you. Lots of people have money issues, I encourage you to cut yourself a lot of slack. I agree that budgeting/ planning helps a lot. Budget for entertainment/fun as well as utilities. I think personal finance blogs can be a great help because the community is supportive, this applies to reddit, too. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 11:44 AM on September 3, 2021

I am neither A doctor nor YOUR doctor, by earlier this year MY doctor (psychiatric NP to be specific) prescribed me naltrexone, which is more commonly used as an anti-alcohol-abuse medication as well as to reduce anxiety and binge eating, to curb impulse shopping.

I never ended up taking it because that wasn't actually the problem I wanted to treat (she was not a great listener), but I did do some internet searching out of curiosity and saw that it's been effective for that for other people.

It's an extreme measure, but if you're feeling like you need that, it might be worth seeing a psychiatrist for it or asking if your primary care doctor could prescribe it.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:17 PM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

There was a time when I had 80K of credit card debt. The reasons: I was unhappily married, and felt (subconsciously) that if I fix/renovate/change Every Thing in the house, I will become a happier wife. My husband wasn't abusive or anything like that. He loved me very much, and was very enabling. He too, perhaps, felt that that type of spending will make me happier. I was young and even though I knew in theory how credit cards work, I didn't know how much CC debt we are accumulating, as he handled the bills.

Then one day it came to a head and I saw our bills. We had 80K of debt, with 16%-24% interest. The monthly minimum (!) payments were something like $1,200, and that's all we could afford to do. I was horrified and absolutely clueless on what to do. I felt buried and doomed.

Then one day shortly after I was at the airport and stumbled onto the book Women and Money : Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny by Suze Orman. This book gave me all the tools and motivation to turn our situation completely around! I came home and told my husband that from now on I'm in control of all finances/bills. I've followed the plan outlined in the book to the T. We spent NOTHING. We stopped going out, we wore shoes till there were holes in them, we walked around with flipper phones on the cheapest call plan when everyone else already had smartphones, we kept the house warm in the summer and chill in the winter. We bought no new clothes except twice a year when absolutely necessary. As I worked with managing our debt, it became an obsession of sorts - to watch the credit cards paid off one by one. It became a quest! I sometimes took things too far, limiting our spending. I became the opposite of what I was before this book.

It took us 3 years, but we got out of that debt. Going through this gave me the discipline to live below my means for many more years to come. 15 years later, I'm just getting to terms with the idea that it's OK to dip into my savings when necessary.

The bottom line, I really hope that this or a similar book can help you. Please give it a try. It's not a big book but very motivating and with concrete advise. Your financial situation is not as bad as mine was, but even if it was, there is a way out. There's always a way out.
posted by LakeDream at 1:30 PM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

As for other immediate, practical measures, here are some things that helped me in the past:

- Make your usual online shopping sites harder to get to during mindless dissociation: Remove your saved payment info from them, then log out, remove them from your bookmarks, clear your browser cache, and remove them from your password manager. If you have the technical skills to do so, or know someone else who does, block the sites from being accessed on your home network entirely (a parental control app might allow you to do this more easily)

- Put the credit cards where you can't get to them. If you have someone you trust with your credit cards and your vulnerability, have them hold on to them. Also remove them from PayPal, Google Pay, Apple Pay, etc. etc.

- Don't keep your "extra" money where you can get to it. As soon as you get paid, pay your necessary bills and move the rest into a separate account, even like a savings account at the same bank. Alternatively, you could move the amount you need to pay the necessary bills to a separate account and pay from that, keeping only what you can afford to spend on things other than debt in your main account.

- IF you have enough to budget for a small treat occasionally, get cash out for it, and use only that when you want that treat (for me going for a walk makes me want to buy treats, so this helps reduce that)
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:53 PM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just wanted to add, for me, it ties back to looking at the Sears Wish Book, and making huge Christmas gift lists for Santa (aka my parents). Window shopping and fantasy from these things can be a great outlet. However, as time goes on, I have to say that what I remember the most from my life isn't things, but experiences. Just drives to nice places with people, or spending times making meals and enjoying them with people.

I also had my fair share of my Dad asking me to lie to creditors on the phone, or not answer the phone, due to my Mom or him spending too much on credit cards. The reason I don't have credit cards is because I worked customer service for a credit card company years ago, and read the statistics on monthly interest income for them, and also talking to people who took out cash advances and thought they would have no interest, and arguing with me over that. This was about 25 year ago, and after that job experience, I resolved to never have a credit card again, ever, even a store credit card.

My Mom used to tell me that if you were blue, to go window shopping. So that is why I do that online. I know I have the choice to buy things if I want, and I've made some mistakes in the past, but as I get older, I am more skeptical and discerning of what I will actually buy online. So don't beat yourself up too much, we all make mistakes and want that hit of buying something nice and having it delivered to our door (or buying it in person, of course). It's just that I've found out that small purchases, carefully curated and researched, give me a lot more satisfaction in the long run. I just got a lemon squeezer. Been seeing them on cooking shows for years. I finally decided to get one that was metal and coated, instead of plastic with a metal insert, for less than $10. After years of considering it (and using a regular squish the lemon onto the thing and twist it, then clean it out). You know what? It's fantastic! I love it! I feel really happy that I got it, I can afford it, and I don't feel guilty about it. I used it last night to squeeze lime juice. And no one is going to call me about it to say I owe them money over it, it's mine, all mine, forever after and years to come.

If you can't be kind and gentle to yourself, I will be: it's okay to make the mistakes you're making now, and you are smart and intelligent and self-aware enough to be asking this question, and you will figure it out. You can beat yourself up, yes, that's okay. And now you can stop and learn and resolve to do better, realizing that you might make mistakes along the way, but that's okay! Just go on YT and look at the Oprah stuff with people who are uber rich, being embarrassed over how much in debt they are. It's not just you. You can get past this, and we are all with you.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:10 PM on September 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Is there a reason you need to have credit cards? I realize that everyone takes it for granted, but given that most bills can be paid online direct from your bank account, and most in person shopping places take cash, what is having a credit card doing to benefit you? If there are electronic transactions you absolutely need to do online, you can get a debit card with limited overdraft, but that makes it impossible for you to rack up any real debt. Just simply not having credit cards might help you short circuit the part of your brain that uses shopping as an outlet, and prevents you from spending more money than you actually have. Think about whether cutting up all of your cards and then closing the accounts as you pay them off is something you'd be able to do so that the part of you who asked this question, the one who is looking out for you, can protect you from the part of you who is seeking something and not finding it in material possessions and shopping.
posted by decathecting at 2:19 PM on September 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

There's good advice above, but I want to urge you to be cautious in buying books of the Dave Ramsey ilk. Overspending is just...overspending; it's harmful financially, but it's not a litmus test for your morality and personal worth. Unfortunately, many of the religious writers on finance treat it as such. You're obviously so torn up with sadness and guilt about the situation, you don't need quasi-hucksters making you feel worse about yourself.

I will tell you this: 15 years ago I was flat broke, lousy credit score, etc. Now, my score is pristine and I have savings. Did I somehow become a better person in this time period? Nope! I just moved into a career where I could get a reasonably well-paying job. There are definitely practical steps you can and should take to help bring your spending within your means, especially if it's "emotional" spending on unsatisfying things, but capitalism is set up to coerce you into running a deficit.
posted by praemunire at 4:00 PM on September 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I just wanted to comment to thank each and every one of you for your comments. They have provided me with solace, hope and a source of both strength and practical ideas/strategies, that I can put into action immediately.
posted by Sunflower88 at 4:25 AM on September 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

I've noticed that "shopping for" and downloading free apps onto my phone sometimes scratches the itch to spend, although it doesn't cost me a cent.
posted by mama penguin at 4:39 AM on September 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

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