‘Retail therapy’ – spending money to make us feel better – has become an acceptable cultural ritual. We joke about it and by doing so, normalise it. It is dangerous. People often have very dysfunctional relationships with money. In my opinion, much of the behaviour that people display when their spending spins out of control looks like addiction.
According to www.psychiatry.org addiction is ‘a complex condition … that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.’ Does it make you uncomfortable if I replace the word ‘substance’ with ‘money’ and ask you how true this is for you?
Here is a list of symptoms of addiction as it appears on the brilliant website www.webmd.com that
I have modified only slightly to replace ‘drug’ with ‘money’.
- You keep spending money when you no longer need to.
- You need to spend more and more to get the same soothing effects.
- You feel strange when the shopping high wears off. You may be shaky, depressed, sick to your stomach, sweat, your heart may race, or you may develop headaches.
- You cannot stop yourself from spending money, even if you want to. You are still spending it even though it is making terrible things happen in your life, like trouble with friends, family, work, or the law.
- You spend a lot of your time thinking about money: how to get more, when you’ll spend it, how good you will feel, or how bad you will feel afterwards.
- You have a hard time giving yourself limits. You might say you will only spend ‘so much’ but then cannot stop. Or you spend it more often than you meant to.
- You have lost interest in things you once liked to do.
- You start taking risks.
- You borrow or steal money.
- You hide your spending or the effect it is having on you.
- You avoid or have trouble getting along with co-workers, teachers, friends, or family members. They complain about your actions or how you have changed.
- You sleep or eat too much or too little.
- You have a new set of friends with whom you go on shopping sprees and go to different places where you spend money.
- You go to more than one financial institution to borrow money to cover already existing debt and obtain more credit.
- You manipulate friends and family to pay for things by ‘forgetting your wallet’ or using other excuses.
- You raid your child’s piggy bank or look for money in your partner’s car/bedside table/wallet/clothing.
Scary but (a little bit) true?
If you recognise some or all of the above, it might be time to examine your relationship with money. There are a few things you can do:
1. Speak to a professional
Seeing a counsellor is a great and very important start as how and why we spend money is often related to what we’ve been raised to believe about money, what we’ve observed from the adults who looked after us and our own experiences of meeting our own needs.
For the above to have longer-lasting effects you do need to know exactly where you stand with your finances. At NFS we strongly advocate for using a multi-disciplinary team. Speaking to a suitably qualified Financial Advisor can help you find out exactly where you stand and what your options are. They may then put you in touch with other professionals, like a tax practitioner or accountant. Just taking this step alone will make you feel more in control.
2. Phone a friend
Changing habits are difficult and scary! You may even experience withdrawal symptoms and all sorts of strong emotions. Enlisting the help of a good friend who will hold you accountable whilst supporting you may help you feel less alone and more likely to stick to your plans.
3. Track your spending for a month
Are you still sitting on the fence? Keep a record of what you buy and allocate these expenses to a set of categories, such as grocery necessities; grocery luxuries; entertainment; children; and education. Spend some time coming up with categories that make sense for you. Are there any that you missed? Before you start the tracking of these, make an educated guess about how much of your income you tend to spend on each category. Review these at the end of the month. You may want to do this every three or four months.
4. Review your bank statements
When last have you gone through your bank statements? Do you know what each debit order is for? Do you use and need every monthly subscription? Are these still the best options for you or has your situation or needs changed? When do you need to renew the contracts on your electronic devices?
5. Revisit your budget
Is your budget something you worked out in January and then, like a new year’s resolution, forgot? Review your budget now. If you share your budget and expenses with others in your household, remember to include them in the processes of drawing up the budget, monitoring your joint expenditure and evaluating your budget every few months.
Two remedial strategies
Here are two things you can try to gauge and fine-tune your spending habits. It may help you to pause and think about how and why you spend money, rather than simply reacting to every impulse.
1. Tell yourself to H.A.L.T! before a transaction
Ask yourself: ‘am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired?’ Many people find that they spend money to try to fill a gap, meet a need or deal with something unrelated to the purchase at hand. Ask yourself why do I need this? If you do need it, do you need it NOW and is this the best place to buy it or is this the best price? If you do not need it or can get it later, ask yourself what DO you need? Is there a better/healthier/more productive way to meet this underlying need?
You can even use this to plan ahead – make sure you are not hungry, angry, lonely, or tired before you go shopping!
2. A Monetary Detox: have regular no-spend weekends
Research shows that people tend to waste the most money over weekends, particularly payday weekends. What will happen if you say to yourself that you are going to ignore your salary until after payday weekend? (Quickly check in with yourself – did your heartbeat change? Did your palms start to sweat? Did your breathing change?)
The success of such weekends depends on your planning, especially if going out and spending money is your favourite sport. These weekends should not be viewed as a ‘financial crash diet’. If experience it as punishment your Inner Rebel will come out and, well, rebel!
Take some time to think about the things you used to enjoy that you have neglected. Are there DIY projects you started and never finished? Are there books you have bought, but never read? When last did you cook a real meal from scratch? Or baked? Or gardened? Or played with your dog? Or your kids? Your spouse?
Here you may want to use HALT again. Do things that nourish your soul – hunger is not just physical. What stokes your passion?
Are there things and people that you are avoiding because important conversations need to take place? Can you figure out a strategy to help you express your emotions to others like anger? Frustration?
Loneliness can drive you to the Mall where you can at least aimlessly walk around and feel part of a crowd. It may be the most difficult emotion to confront – are you actually really lonely? How can you reconnect with others? Is there a hiking group you can join? Could you become involved in the local Rotary Club or volunteer at an old age home?
Lastly, there is being tired. Sometimes we are so tired that we do not even realise we are tired! Of all the things we are willing to sacrifice on the altar of the rat race, sleep tops the list. We often equate our worth with being ‘productive’ or ‘busy’. Who are you when you are not busy?
See how long you can do nothing! See what that makes you feel and what thoughts and memories come up for you. Ask yourself what it is that you need, deep down. Think about how you can gift this to yourself.
Maybe you can invest the money you have saved on these ‘no spend weekends’ to fund a career-altering course or a trip to a game reserve, or towards the tools and materials for that project you so want to tackle during your next set of ‘no spend weekends’!