In Ruth’s post last week, she talked about how her journey out of debt has meant that she’s had to confront some character flaws within herself. She talked about how freeing – even in the midst of being difficult – that it’s been to recognize and overcome those character flaws as she works to gain control over her spending.
Man, can I identify with that one. It’s been just over three years now that we’ve been working on dumping our consumer debt. Many experts say that the accumulation of debt isn’t really about the money, and I would agree.
As I’ve worked to stay within our budget I’ve had to confront my own character flaws. I know we live in a world today where it’s not politically correct to call a person “flawed”, but personally, I know I have flaws and I want them gone as best as I can manage to “delete” them from my life. This is not about attaining perfection – at least for me – but more about living the best life I can.
During this last three years, I’ve learned (and am still learning) to see what my part was (my hubby has his own part) in the accumulation of our debt. I’m learning to identify spending triggers and the character flaws that have caused me to spend beyond our means. So I thought I’d share some of them today in order to help other identify their own spending triggers and hopefully get off the train that is living beyond their means.
The interesting thing that I’ve learned about my personal flaws is that they all stem from a poor self-image, so as I’ve worked to improve my self-image, the flaws have left the building – or at least shortened the frequency and length of their visits. 🙂
Flaw #1: Caring about the Joneses
For far too long I cared about what others thought regarding our money situation, and it led to me spending money that we didn’t have for the sake of keeping up my supposed reputation of being well off. We had the nice house, the new cars, and it looked like we were “doing well”. What we were doing was getting into debt.
I rationalized this by assuming we would eventually out-earn our debt, but as my blogging pal Brian so eloquently put it, “You can’t out-earn stupidity with money.” Click on the link to read why Brian knows of what he speaks on that subject.
Anyways, I had to get to the core of the problem, which was to stop caring about appearances. This was not an easy task – at least for me. At the beginning of our debt freedom journey, it was easy. I was super motivated and super desperate. But as the months went by my drive waned and I would occasionally fall into the old habit of wanting to spend in order to assure that others knew that we were doing well financially – which we still weren’t.
And even to this day there is a very small handful of people that I still want to impress, so it’s a work in progress. My #1 tip for overcoming this flaw? Learn to love yourself as God Almighty loves you: unconditionally. This too is a process, but once you get there, it’s an awesome place to live.
Flaw #2: Using Money to Soothe Struggles
When we began our getting out of debt journey, I wasn’t very good at setting boundaries in relationships. I allowed people to walk all over me, to treat me in a sub-par manner and to use me to lighten their own loads by taking on tasks that I had no bandwidth to take on so as not to get them angry at me.
This was totally my fault. And when I felt backed into a corner I’d search for relief in the form of spending. It didn’t matter what the spending was; going out to eat, buying new and shiny things, whatever. I just needed some type of band-aid to take away the violation I felt when I allowed people to treat me badly.
The fix? For me, it meant learning to set healthy boundaries; learning to not allow people to treat me badly, to say “no” when I didn’t have the bandwidth to take on projects, etc.
Flaw #3: Using Money to Ensure My Kids Didn’t Have to Sacrifice
This is one of those flaw that, although I rarely struggle with actual spending in this area, I often still struggle with wanting to spend in this area. My most recent struggle came just this morning.
The kids really want to be involved in a certain extracurricular activity – and I really want them to be involved in this activity. It’s a terrific activity that will not only allow them to have fun but teach them life skills as well. The problem? We simply do not have the money this month to pay for the activity for the kids.
In times past, I would have totally justified the expenditure and put it on credit. And I spent a long while this morning contemplating doing that same thing. I reasoned and justified, but in the end I knew I had to stick with our game plan: living within our means.
Why the struggle when it’s clear we don’t have the extra money this month?
Because as a kid who grew up ultra poor (as in struggling-to-have-food-on-the-table-poor) there is a part of me that doesn’t want my kids to ever have to experience that fear that can come from a lack of money.
In the end, I realized I had to teach myself that the best way to give the kids that gift is to dump our debt completely. It’s a matter of long-term thinking. And when DD2 woke up this A.M. and I shared with her that the activity was out of reach for the month of April, she was fine. In fact, she was much more concerned about me feeling guilty than she was about missing out on the activity. Isn’t that grand? Now that is a gift I’m happy to give her. And it didn’t cost me anything except for a dose of courage and discipline.
Flaw #4: Making Spending Decisions Based on What Others Spend Instead of on Our Personal Situation
For years I would justify spending purchases by telling myself things like “We spend SO much less on going out to eat/on clothes/on A, B or C than most people.” And while that statement may have been true, it didn’t negate the fact that we were spending more than we earned. Yet I let myself believe that it did. That our purchases were justifiable, acceptable and reasonable because the sum of our purchases was “less than most”.
The fix? I had to learn to live in reality. It doesn’t matter what we deserve to earn, what matters is what we actually earn. It doesn’t matter what we deserve to spend, it matters whether what we actually spend is in line with the cash that we have.
I had to learn that all of the “I deserve”‘s in the world weren’t more valuable than the gift of financial freedom and financial peace, which is something that we deserve much more than dinners out and new and shiny stuff. And in case you didn’t notice, that ties in with overcoming the other three flaws as well.
For me, it was all about learning to truly love myself so that I would make spending decisions based on how I could give myself “the best”. And “the best” wasn’t random purchases. “The best” was making a daily choice to manage our money in a way that allows us to have financial peace by becoming debt free.
And guess what: it’s working. 🙂
If you are or were in debt, have you thought about why you spend/spent above your means?
*Image Credit: Celestine Chua on Flickr