Americans are up to their eyeballs in credit card debt — to the delight of lenders everywhere. The average household with debt now owes nearly $9,000 on their revolving credit card balances. And they pay more than $1,000 a year in credit card interest for the misery.
The majority of card-carrying Americans (more than 60 percent revolve their balances) can’t seem to say “no.” Temptation is everywhere. And pressure. Pressure to keep up, to have what they cannot pay for and to get it all while the gettin’ is good.
The problem is that we are short-sighted. We make spending decisions based on emotion rather than calculated reason. Why else would any sane person walk into Costco needing only milk, eggs and cheese and walk out with a lovely piece of Waterford Crystal, too? It’s that sense of urgency, together with the ability to have it now and pay for it later, that’s given us a new label: Overspent Americans.
There are some who blame their shopping addiction not on their inability to say “no” but rather on a medical affliction — acute anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, supposedly treatable with a prescription for a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor.
I’m no doctor, but treating a spending problem with medication sounds a lot like loading up a bratty child on tranquilizers to make him behave. Supernanny would not approve.
If you ever watched an episode of the TV show Supernanny, you know a little something about the “naughty corner.” It’s a place where a misbehaved child who fails to heed the one obligatory warning must stand for one minute per year of age. The naughty corner requires the offender to be physically removed from the conflict to think about his behavior. Of course, on the show, “reflection” is more like wailing and gnashing of teeth, but that made for good TV. Remarkably, the naughty corner always won just in time for Supernanny to speed away to help another family in crisis. If you struggle with spending more than you can afford to repay in a single month, maybe it’s time to find yourself a naughty corner — a place to go when you’re tempted to spend compulsively. Give yourself a single warning, and then step into the naughty corner for a much-needed “time-out.” Ask yourself these questions:
• Do I need it?
• Is this a planned purchase?
• Will this really make my life better or just add to the chaos and clutter?
• Don’t I already have something that will do just as well?
• Do I have the cash to pay for it now?
• If I pass up the purchase, how will I feel a month from now?
• Am I willing to sleep on my decision for 48 hours?
Just those few minutes (if you adhere to the age rule, you might get a nap out of the deal) will put the brakes on out-of-control spending. And I’m going to make a prediction: At least nine times out of 10 you’ll walk away empty-handed — and happy about it.
Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com and author of 24 books, including her 2013 release, “The Smart Woman’s Guide to Planning for Retirement.”
You can email her at email@example.com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. To find out more about Mary Hunt and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.