I’ve got a confession to make. Katie and I suffer from an addiction. It’s called spending. Before you judge us addicts too harshly though, let me tell you a bit about it. You just might be in the same boat.
Here’s some common signs of a drug addiction
- You’ve built up a tolerance for drugs
- You use drugs to avoid or relieve negative feelings
- You’ve lost control over your drug use
- Your life revolves around drug use
- You continue to use drugs, despite knowing it’s hurting you
Calling our financial past an addiction may be a bit dramatic, but I think there’s a lot of parallels between addictions and the money problems we struggled with. What I’ve been able to learn about the diagnosis and treatment of addictions applies really well to the problems of our financial past and how we got through them. Let me break it down a bit.
1. You’ve built up a tolerance for spending
I remember when Katie and I were first married, we used to go on one bigger shopping trip each month. I can fondly recall standing at the cash register together and guessing what the total was going to come out to. Back then, you could pretty much guarantee it’d be less then $150 bucks. And you better believe we felt the pain of forking out every one of those dollars!
A few years later that $150 was more like a standard grocery trip that we’d make several times a month instead of just once. The pain? It wasn’t so bad anymore, we’d built up a tolerance. Little by little we’d grown used to spending more and more while thinking about it less and less.
2. You use spending to avoid or relieve negative feelings
So many times when we set out to create “the perfect budget” for the new year, we’d lay things out so there was pretty much zero wiggle room. At first we’d be excited about finally getting things under control. But never going on dates, and never getting anything for ourselves would inevitably catch up with us—we’d start to feel the pain of withdrawal. Sure enough, there’d be a breaking point that we’d hit, and we’d usually end up going on a spending binge to try and relieve the feelings we had from a spending fast.
3. You’ve lost control over your spending or use of debt
Despite our budgets, we found ourselves spending more than we planned, and more than we had. We’d borrow money for school, but spend it on more than just tuition and books. In the midst of taking on student loans, we purchased a $19,000 car we had convinced ourselves that we could afford. We genuinely wanted to spend our money wisely, but we felt powerless and out of control.
4. Your life revolves around spending
Going to the mall was a horrible idea, but we did it anyways. I spent countless hours trying to figure out how we were going to get the money to feed our fix through to the end of the month. I also schemed for months to figure out how we could “afford” to buy a house that we simply couldn’t afford. No matter what it was for, my mind was always spinning to figure out how to get more of the money that we wanted to spend.
5. You continue to spend, despite knowing it’s hurting you
We weren’t completely stupid—or maybe we were—we could see the bank balance going down, and the loan balances going up. We knew it was hurting us. But I’d show up at the financial aid office requesting another pile of -drugs- debt each quarter. I knew we were drowning in debt, but I just wanted to keep spending. If I didn’t have the money, I’d just use someone else’s.
I fit the description
As I look down that list and take an honest look at myself and my behavior, I’ve gotta say that the common signs (when changed from drugs to spending or debt) sound all too familiar.
Katie and I were mired in our spending addiction, it felt like we’d tried to beat it so many times, but never really got anywhere. But that one time…that one time was different. We broke through. We sobered up. We started getting real with our money.
“We admitted we were powerless over [spending]—that our lives had become unmanageable.” -AA.org
Stay tuned for next week when I’ll start digging into what we did to get real, and how we started to dump our addiction.