Why Do We Spend Beyond Our Means?

More specifically, why do I spend beyond my means?  Because many people don’t; I’m certainly not going to pretend that everyone lives in a delusional state of spending denial.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this question; what makes me spend, spend, spend.  After reading an article titled “Is Debt Your Destiny?” on MSN Money, I decided to really think about the core issues.  This is what I came up with:

I’m Impulsive

I suppose this would be the time to tell you that I’ve suffered from depression for years and have dealt with eating disorders and self-injury.  Throw in some casual drug use and you’ve got yourself a loose cannon.  A loose cannon with a credit card!

I’m not trying to make light of depression.  It’s just that I have dealt with it for so long that I have to have a sense of humor about It.  For the bulk of my twenties, I would have spurts of extreme impulsiveness and shop for hours, only to come home and leave the bags in the car, an afterthought.  I’ve shopped to avoid thinking about something painful, a distraction.  Shopping can be an addiction.  Hell, if gambling can be an addiction, you can bet shopping is.

That said, it’s important to distinguish between a compulsive addict, and your run-of-the-mill irresponsible consumer.  For the record, I place myself in the latter category.  But, there are underlying issues, and I suspect this is true for many people in debt.  This will be the most difficult hurdle for me, to be frank.  But, I have high hopes.

The Buts

“But, I’m only young once.”

“But, I will be making loads more money in a few years, I can pay it off.”

“But, I might miss out.”

I hate The Buts.  Seriously.  If I could murder The Buts with my bare hands, I would.  The Buts sneak up on you when you least expect it, and envelope you in a warm, whispering haze, “but but but but but but but….”

For me, it started when I was working retail in college.  I had a really great gig at a high-end boutique and soon after starting hit it off with my boss, who is 45 years older than me.  She’s fabulous.  She’s totally Shirley McClain in The Apartment, all short pixie and ballerina flats.  She has impeccable taste and a youthful spirit.  And she loves fashion.

“Penny, if you ever consider having a face lift, don’t wait until you’re in your 60’s and some doctor pulls your face back as tight as a football.  Get a light one in your fifties and let it be.”

“You’re only young once, Penny.”

“I remember when I was your age; I wanted to wear all of the beautiful clothes and I had such a lovely figure.”

God love her, but she kind of fucked me in the head with The Buts.

Ignorance Is Bliss

Fingers in ears?  Check.

“LA LA LA LA LA LA I’M NOT IN THAT MUCH DEBT LA LA LA LA!”

Yep, that’s pretty much it.

Embarrassment

This is a common one for most folks, I think.  The proof is in the silence; how many people do you talk with about your personal finances?  Do your friends know how much credit card debt you have?  How hard it is to say, “I can’t afford it”?

Harder than it seems, for most.  Especially when you’re single and you are looking for mates, hanging with friends and networking.  It’s hard.  Trust me, I know.  That said, it’s also the easiest hurdle to overcome because once you say those four little words, it’s out there and you can deal with it.  And, you never know, you may get, “yeah, I can’t really either” as a response.

Generosity Overload

If you ask any of my friends or family members to describe me, the word generous would probably pop up in the list.  Which is ironic because I am also incredibly selfish.  I can say, with certainty, that I am generous to a fault.  No such thing, you say?  There is when your generosity is paid for with your credit card.  I treat friends to dinner, I give them things of mine they love, I pay for flights, I throw celebratory parties.  When I daydream about winning the lottery (I know you’ve had this fantasy at least once) the first thing I think of, after paying off my debt, is what I could do for my friends.  I could pay for their schooling!  Help them start a business!  Take them on a fantastic trip!

None of these things are inherently bad, of course.  But when you’re funding countless dinners, drinks and coffees with a credit card, it’s not only bad, it’s stupid.  The funny thing is, I’m not generous with my friends so they’ll like me; I am generous because I love them and I love to do things for them.  Moving forward, they can expect more cards and more phone calls (after peak hours, of course).

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