“We only got four minutes to save the woooorld”….
Sorry for using the horrendously awesome Madonna/Justin Timberlake song as the title for this post, but it got stuck in my head while I was writing and I thought it worked ….so there ya go.
A lot of people have asked me how I (finally) became more cognizant of my finances and was able to break the addiction I used to have for shopping. I have to give a lot of this credit to my therapist at the time who assigned me some “homework”: each time I went to the mall and wanted to buy something I had to take out a small notebook and write how I was feeling in that moment and what had happened to me earlier in the day. In reviewing the notes we saw that I was most likely to shop when I was upset but even more so, when I wanted to “reward” myself or celebrate for something- a great grade on a test, an excellent audition…I even bought myself a present when I paid my bills on time. I didn’t realize how sad that sounded until I typed it out just now.
Once you are aware of what is going on it is so much easier to figure out how to fix the problem. I know it sounds so easy to actually stop and think about how you feel before you do something on impulse, but if it were easy we’d all be walking around much more level headed and with far fewer problems. Having my therapist hold me accountable for what I was actually feeling in those moments was a real game changer for me. I still attempt to impulse buy, because there will always be bad days and good days and happy feelings and overwhelming moments. If I feel like I’m going to buy something that isn’t a good idea I go to the bathroom first before I go to the checkout counter. This usually takes about four minutes or so. If I actually make it out of the store with the item and I feel the tiniest bit guilty I hide the present from myself. If after a day or so- I still feel guilty, or worse-forget I bought it in the first place (Which is super easy once you place something out of your line of vision) then I take the items back at the earliest opportunity.
I’m not perfect- but I’m no longer in debt, and I feel much more in control these days. It is RARE that I actually just go in and buy something and not take it back. I can’t even think of buying an item full price without a coupon.
Another thing I do every day that also takes…you guessed it! Four minutes! is spend some serious time in front of my computer with my online checking/credit/savings accounts. I have a Learnvest account (which is like the Mint.com software, except for ladies) that breaks my spending out. Taking the time to move the transactions into the folders not only lets me know where I am in the budget but reminds me of what exactly I’m spending money on. If you don’t have it you should definitely sign up.
Learnvest has helped me stay on top of my finances, but sometimes moving a transaction across the screen isn’t enough. John over at Married with Debt offers an awesome (AWESOME! I say) excel sheet that has all of your debts and the interest rate lined up on the first page and then the second page is where you list all of your daily spending. I am writing a more detailed post on how this spreadsheet has helped me for later on in the week, but lets just say that having to type that you ate out at Wendy’s five times this month and how much it cost you as a line item is a whole other level of shame, and a whole other level of accountability. Kindof like my old therapist.
If you feel like you are going to be embarrassed to atone for those sins later-you’re going to be less likely to go out and spend again.
So the long drawn out point of this post is- you should take at least four minutes every day to check in with your finances and with your emotions. Or at least…. one or the other, because I know we all get busy. It’s the first and most important step for getting and staying on track.