“How Can I Stop the Spending?”     

The man’s frustration was obvious as he struggled with his wife’s overspending habits. Regardless of how much money he brought home there was never enough to pay all of their bills. According to him, they were living in a money mess from paycheck to paycheck and the pile of debt was growing daily. Credit cards had already been maxed out and a second mortgage had been obtained months earlier. Tears welled up in the man’s eyes as he admitted, “I guess bankruptcy is the next step for us.” His next words reflected his hopelessness:  “But after bankruptcy she’ll just keep on spending, and the same problem will happen again.” Clearly, this couple was slowly drowning in a flood of debt.

Before going any further I need to clarify two aspects of indebtedness. First, the story just related involves an overspending wife. However, I’ve heard similar descriptions about husbands who were overspenders. The problem is not gender-specific; men and women alike share the capacity to spend more money than they make. Secondly, in this article I am not speaking of situations in which indebtedness is incurred due to sudden job termination or catastrophic medical issues. This type of indebtedness is regrettable but understandable.  I’m referring instead to the unhealthy pattern of overspending, the practice of spending more money than we have available to spend through which we incur debt and increase individual and family stress.

Overspending has apparently become a national pastime in our country. Government officials and elected politicians continue to practice a pattern of unbridled spending. Regardless of their rhetoric their practice maintains the message that overspending is allowable and indebtedness is acceptable. As a result of inadequate management our nation is now facing a pile of debt that threatens the health and safety of every citizen and every family. Our continuing travel down the Overspending Highway will bring many hardships related to breakdowns and collisions. The basic problem, however, is not a government issue; instead, the core problem lies in the heart of each individual person. Our hearts have been attacked by a serious “money infection” that can disrupt and destroy our lives at all levels of society. Aware of the threat, we need to investigate the infection, invite appropriate intervention, and make a concerted effort to invest in financial integrity. Through this three-part process we will be more equipped and encouraged to overcome our overspending.

(1) Investigating the Infection . . .

Most of us value our personal physical health. Accordingly, we stay alert for unwelcomed injuries and unanticipated infections. We know from personal experience that many infections can be dangerous if not deadly. Therefore, efforts are made to avoid infections if at all possible, and, if an infection does occur, we are quick to take remedial and curative action.

However, most people apparently do not understand the danger and damage that are inherent in the continuing practice of overspending. If they do understand the threat, they are for some reason ignoring the risks and are choosing to spend money they don’t have in order to gain something that is more important to them than financial integrity. A question both interests and intrigues us:  “Why are we so willing to forfeit something as important as financial integrity?” Further exploration of our “money infection” may provide some insight into our willingness to live a lifestyle with little or no financial integrity.

Perhaps a definition will help enlighten us. According to the *Baker Dictionary of Current Relationship Terminology (BDCRT), page 304, the basic infection under consideration is “Spenditis.” Here’s the description provided by the BDCRT.
“Spenditis”:  a systemic infection caused by the destructive behavioral pattern of spending money that is not available to the individual. Originating from the emotional Want Center in conjunction with the Anterior Selfishness Gland, the infection usually infiltrates all areas of personal and relationship life and can evoke intense emotional stress. The individual often experiences an emotional ‘rush’ when spending followed by periods of guilt, remorse, and self-depreciation. The compulsive spender usually suffers from feelings of psychological withdrawal when the capacity to spend money has been removed. The infection is often very contagious and can permeate entire families in a brief period of time. The pattern is maintained by the unhealthy belief that spending money will automatically fulfill one’s emotional needs and will provide continuing happiness. If the infection is left untreated, the individual’s health is placed in jeopardy, along with the health of all relationships in which the person is involved. Effective treatment can be achieved through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in which the individual changes specific beliefs and behaviors that involve the spending process. The prevalence of the infection is currently approaching epidemic proportions in American culture.”

As clearly stated, the “Spenditis” infection is a growing problem in our society and in our families. We are bombarded daily through the media with marketing practices that promote spending over saving. We are encouraged to “buy now” because we are enabled to “pay later.” We are urged to indulge our appetites in anything and everything that appears appealing, even though our indulgence invites indebtedness. Living from paycheck to paycheck and “maxing out” our credit are becoming synonymous practices for living the dream of indulgence and for maintaining a standard of living that far exceeds our capacity to pay. The frightening frequency of “declaring bankruptcy” testifies to the prevalence and power of the “Spenditis” infection. I’ve seen couples who would enter into bankruptcy, get their current debts cancelled, and immediately start the overspending process again with little or no concern about the losses incurred by individuals to whom they owed the money. Overspending has created a flood of debt in which we are drowning devoid of integrity but devoted to indulgence. . 
The “Spenditis” infection is clearly a major threat to both individual and family health. The problems that result from overspending impact individuals in terms of constant worry, disrupted sleep, physical symptoms, serious depression, and a plethora of related mental and emotional issues. The infection damages marriage and family relationships. Spouses argue about overspending, and without resolution the conflicts usually deteriorate into emotional separation and/or legal divorces. Sometimes both spouses share equally in the overspending and in the devastation. Such was the case of the Benders, a fictitious couple about whom I composed the following limerick.
                                   “The Overspenders”
                         There once was a couple named Benders
                           Who grew into huge overspenders;
                                So they drowned in their debt
                                And they learned with regret
                          That both were financial offenders.
                                                    -- Dr. Bill Baker (2011)
The children in these money-conflicted families suffer on multiple levels and are deprived of a positive example and the specific skills needed to grow into adulthood with a clear roadmap for financial integrity. The bottom line is obvious:  when the “Spenditis” infection is running rampantly, every individual, every family, and every society remains at high risk. The powerful danger and the potential damage of the “Spenditis” infection cannot be overstated.

In terms of physical health we understand the threat of bleeding. Our lives are in jeopardy when we continue to lose blood through some type of illness or injury. When a person is transported to the local Emergency Room with a severe bleeding problem, the attending physicians work very hard to stop the bleeding. The patient welcomes their assistance and appreciates their efforts to save his life. Similarly, the majority of us are “bleeding excessively” from the “Spenditis” infection. The diagnosis raises two vital questions. First, do we want to stop the financial bleeding? A “No” response means that the bleeding continues. A “Yes” response means that we do want to block the bleeding. That positive response raises the second question:  “How do we stop the financial bleeding?” We’ve learned from experience that the “financial bleeding” will not stop on its own. Nor will it stop merely by making a wish or mumbling a warning. The surgical procedure begins with our search for solutions. The process starts within the individual as he voluntarily invites the necessary interventions. 
(2) Inviting the Intervention. . .

Developed awareness and decisive action are required before the financial bleeding is blocked and financial integrity is increased. Expressed in another way, our problem is not insufficient money but rather inadequate management. We must learn to manage the money we have with workable wisdom and steady stewardship.

Wise stewardship of our money is a valued goal, the achievement of which involves at least four key components. These components can be considered through a four-step process I’ve developed that I call the“CASH Plan.” Each letter of the word “CASH” serves as an invitation for specific interventions that will encourage and equip us toward financial integrity.
C:  Causes (The Causes that Trigger my Spending)

Effective intervention begins with an awareness of the underlying causes that specifically trigger our overspending behavior. With rare exceptions our overspending is never a matter of actual need or necessity. Instead, we tend to overspend because of emotional problems we try to relieve or resolve through spending money that exceeds our income. Let’s explore briefly the eight “causes” that I’ve identified to be most common to compulsive overspending. Allow me to present these causes in the form of the acrostic “SPENDING.” The items are not listed in order of importance or prevalence, but rather in the order of the acrostic itself.  
(1)  S: Stress. Many people overspend because of high levels of personal stress.  Rather than learn techniques and tools for effective stress management they try to relieve their tension and anxiety through spending money on stuff that will hopefully provide an immediate comfort or cure. The stuff purchased often brings a sense of instant relief, but unfortunately the overspending feeds a bigger problem—indebtedness! The resulting indebtedness increases the overall stress to a new level that far surpasses the original level. The quick fix is tempting by desire but it is temporary in duration. Stress management makes better sense (and c-e-n-t-s!) than debt management! 
(2)  P:  Power.  A common cause of overspending is a push for power. The desire for actual control or the appearance of control is a driving force that pushes people to overspend. Closely associated with control is status, the perception of other people that we have power because of the many possessions we’ve purchased. However, this persona crumbles like Humpty Dumpty when we “fall off our wall” through repossessions and bankruptcy.
(3)  E:  Entitlement. Another cause of overspending is entitlement, the belief that we deserve a certain standard of living regardless of our weak efforts or our work ethic. We’re entitled to everything we want because the world owes us a happy lifestyle. “I deserve a break. I deserve a vacation. I deserve a nice house. I deserve the newest electronics.” This immature view of personal entitlement blinds us to the bleeding of our financial system. No matter the cost, we will get what we want, and why not? “We’re entitled to it!” Besides, someone will surely “bail us out” if we spend ourselves into deep indebtedness. Bail-outs are now a presumed entitlement from family members or government programs. 
(4)  N:  Neediness.  Many people feel inadequate and unimportant, a type of emotional pain perhaps carried over from childhood. To overcome these painful feelings we overspend to comfort and compensate. However, the money we spend and the stuff we acquire usually provide only superficial and temporary relief for our pain. At some point our overspending creates a new level of neediness that compounds the pain already present.  
(5) D:  Dependence.  Overspending usually goes hand-in-hand with any type of emotional or physical dependence. The specific dependence or abuse may relate to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sexual behavior, hobbies, or various other activities of life. When we become physically, emotionally, or psychologically dependent upon a pattern of behavior that requires money for sustainment, we place ourselves in the quicksand of indebtedness which sucks us down to financial and personal ruin.
(6)  I:  Indulgence.  The pursuit of pleasure pulls people toward overspending. The pursuit is culture-driven as media and marketers correlate success with satisfaction and adulthood with amusement. The fulfilled life is the fun-filled life. Therefore, indulge yourself and overspend as needed to achieve pleasure intoxication.
(7)  N:  Negligence.  Another cause of overspending is sheer negligence. We fail to monitor our money and assume that we have dollars to spend. Unaware of the balance in our checking account or the burden of existing debts, we deceive ourselves into believing that there is plenty of money available to us. Preferring ignorance over integrity, we blind ourselves to the bleeding.
(8)  G:  Guilt.  The power of unresolved guilt pushes many of us to overspend. Through spending we may be trying to assuage inner guilt due to past mistakes and transgressions. Through gift-giving we may be trying to compensate for past failures about which we feel guilty. The presence of unresolved guilt makes us vulnerable to the unhealthy practice of “guilt-tripping.” We allow people to “guilt-trip” us into giving them money or buying them things when we cannot afford to do so, and the consequence for us is increased indebtedness and added stress. 

You can probably think of other causes for overspending beyond the eight items already presented. These causes provide the “fuel” that keeps us driving along the Overspending Highway. It is imperative that we identify the fuel sources and eliminate them as much as possible. The removal or reduction of these common causes will constitute a significant part of the intervention toward financial integrity.
A:  Appraisal (The Appraisal that Tracks my Spending)
Effective intervention continues with appraisal, the recognition and evaluation of our personal spending patterns. This appraisal hinges upon our willingness and ability to track our spending. If we don’t know where our money goes and how it is spent, the financial bleeding will continue and financial integrity will never be achieved. Therefore, we must track our expenditures carefully, including all payments made through checks, debits, credit cards, and cash. Without fail we either get a receipt or we record the payment. Every expenditure is entered into some type of computer software program (such as Quicken, for example) or into a book format such as the Dome Simplified Home Budget Book.

As the information is gathered over a period of time and placed into appropriate categories, we become increasingly aware of how our money is being spent. That knowledge allows us to relate any overspending to the eight causes explored earlier. Through the appraisal process we try to identify the causes that trigger our overspending patterns. Any resistance to tracking our spending should be explored and resolved to the fullest extent possible. Furthermore, this appraisal is extremely important as we move into the third component of self-control.
S:  Self-control  (The Self-control that Trains my Spending)

People train themselves to overspend. To change the pattern we must “retrain” ourselves to develop and practice healthy spending habits. Using the information gained during the Appraisal component we develop a “spending plan” that is consistent with our income. Once the plan is completed and set in place we commit ourselves to working the plan. This process requires personal self-control. On a day-to-day basis we discipline ourselves to practice self-control; we follow the “spending plan” regardless of what we want or think we should have.

What is involved in financial self-control? Simply, we must never spend money that exceeds our income. We must say “No!” to temptations that involve unapproved spending. As we develop our self-control we may decide to use cash instead of debit/credit cards if the use of plastic interferes with our awareness of the cumulative amount of money being spent. Most of us would probably benefit from “plastic surgery”—cutting off our credit cards! We would also benefit from developing and practicing specific “Personal Policies” about spending. For example, you could invoke a “24-hour Personal Policy,” meaning that a purchase over a preset amount must be delayed for a minimum of twenty-four hours to allow for additional consideration. Or, another policy could require that you have consultation with your spouse and/or the agreement of your spouse (or an “accountability partner”) before significant purchases are made. These delay strategies are designed to stop impulsive spending and to help us conquer our tendencies toward instant gratification. The development and usage of self-control will allow us to follow our “spending plan” effectively and, as a result, we will be making progress on the Financial Highway toward financial integrity.
H:  Help  (The Help that Treats my Spending)

Overspending is an unhealthy behavioral pattern that merits treatment. The term “treatment” suggests repair, remediation, healing, and help. We could get help (or “treatment”) on two levels: personal and professional.

Personal treatment involves my efforts to help myself to the best of my ability. In Level One we try to access all of the wisdom we’ve gained to this point in our journey in life and to apply that wisdom in the area of personal financial management. You may be able to stop your overspending on your own. If so, congratulations on a marvelous accomplishment!

Professional treatment involves the assistance of resource people who are educated and trained in a particular discipline or field of study. We obtain treatment from medical professionals when we are suffering from an injury or illness. We seek help from mental health professionals when we’re struggling with mental and emotional problems. We enter into family counseling when our relationships are in trouble. We even take our automobiles to professional mechanics when problems arise. Likewise, we may need Level Two (that is, professional treatment) to overcome our overspending. A trained therapist may be able to help us identify and resolve the causes of our overspending and develop the self-control necessary to the process of wise financial management.

Other resources are also available to us. Many books written by money management experts could provide valuable tips and tools for our usage.  Classes and seminars on money management are usually available in local community settings. Internet courses and resources are available online to us. Most metropolitan areas have Consumer Credit Counseling Services for public assistance. In some areas a Twelve-Step program is available through local Debtors Anonymous support group meetings.
If you’re currently struggling with overspending, I encourage you to take your first step toward financial integrity. Make a clear decision to stop the overspending! Use your Level One personal knowledge and skills to achieve your goal. If you are unable to overcome your overspending by yourself, go to Level Two: seek professional assistance! The combination of your personal efforts and the assistance of appropriate professionals will hopefully result in your victory over unhealthy spending habits and the attainment of financial integrity. 
(3) Investing in Integrity . . .

As we travel along the Highway of Life we come to numerous intersections, and we have to make choices about direction and destination. The Financial Highway has an intersection in the form of a “Y.” One road ahead leads to financial ruin; it’s the Road of Overspending. The other road leads to financial integrity; it’s the Road of Stewardship. If you’re at that intersection, you have a choice to make. Which road will you choose?

The practice of overspending contradicts the presence of financial integrity. Healthy financial management requires a high level of personal integrity regarding the stewardship of money. The idea of integrity may bring a number of thoughts to your mind. The word “integrity” may suggest personal values such as honor, dedication, and trustworthiness. But the term also relates to the ability of an object to fulfill its basic function or purpose. For example, if a ship has high integrity, its hull will stay intact and will allow safe passage. Conversely, if the ship’s hull is compromised in some way, the ship’s integrity is threatened—and the ship could sink. On April 15, 1912 the acclaimed “Titanic” suffered such a fate on its maiden voyage from England to New York City after striking an unexpected iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. When hull integrity was lost, the ship could not fulfill its purpose and its sinking would represent for decades to come the tragedy of maritime disaster. Our goal is to construct a “financial ship” that possesses strong integrity. We want our ship to stay afloat in the midst of turbulence. We don’t want our “ship” to sink in the waters of indebtedness.

Integrity is determined by two things:  our beliefs and our behaviors. First, to attain integrity we may need to change our beliefs about money, specifically about the use of money to resolve unhealthy emotional issues. Our beliefs about “needs” merit attention in that the majority of our “needs” are probably “wants” disguised as needs. Our beliefs about entitlement need major revision. Secondly, we may need to change our behaviors, particularly those that relate to our standard of living, our practice of financial stewardship, and our development of self-worth. As we strive to cultivate and activate healthy beliefs and behaviors about spending, we will be making an important investment in financial integrity. The long-term benefits of that integrity will far outweigh the sweat and tears incurred in reaching that destination. 
Concluding Thoughts . . .

In this article we’ve examined the unhealthy practice of overspending. We’ve looked at possible causes and potential solutions. The CASH Plan provides a four-part process for moving toward financial integrity. Overspending poses a serious threat to individual and family health. In contrast, financial integrity promotes individual and family health. If our current pattern of overspending is not curtailed or stopped altogether, our future looks bleak as we travel the Financial Highway. Thankfully and hopefully, the development and practice of financial integrity will remove the dark clouds and replace them with clear skies and safe travel.

I wish you well in your journey toward financial integrity. And, as always, I wish you the very best in all of your relationship travels.

                                                                                                           (Blog# MT1504)
*BDCRT:  The Baker Dictionary of Current Relationship Terminology is a fictional book developed by the author for the purpose of providing helpful definitions for terms used in his articles. Understandably, the book is not available in local bookstores.


Impulsive spending:  The practice of overspending is often increased by impulsiveness. Dr. Baker has published two articles about self-control and impulsiveness on this website. To view the articles just click on the titles given below.
                 “Self-Control:  Battling Impulsiveness”
                 “Self-Control:  Beating Impulsiveness”

Video:  To view a short video of a television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses the CASH Plan as a part of  "Overcoming our Overspending," click on the image to the right or just click here.

(To listen to an audio version of this blog entry, click the Play button below.)



                     (Blog# MT1504)


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