Saturday, March 26, 2011

Get Outta Debt (aka...stop having fun?)

Isn't it so pretty and colourful - Canadian Money!!
For me, money has always been a means to an ends.  Unfortunately, that motto has created nothing but debt.  I have had the same $10,000 in debt for the past ten years, at least.  It's not a lot, I get that.  Of course, there have been many set backs - becoming a single mom, getting laid off from one job or another - but there comes a time when all those things just become excuses.  My debt is pocket change for others.  But it just sort of lingers.  Every time I pay some down, I spend it on something else and bingo bango...I'm back up to the same ten grand.  My credit cards are at their limit, I'm always in overdraft, and I impulse buy All. The. Time.

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. 

I'm going to pause a second while that sinks in. 

Think about many times do we do the same thing over and over and over and expect the outcome to be different than it was before?  I've been doing it for 10 years with my finances alone.  Not to mention my weight issues (yet another story for another day).

I decided that I was done with being insane.  I admitted to myself that I could not manage my finances on my own.  I needed help.  I admitted defeat.  I had no idea how to get out of debt on my own.  I didn't even know where to start.  I guess it all sounds simple.  Stop buying the Coach purse, the jewelry, the make-up.  But what do you do when you just can't stop?

You declare bankruptcy so you can start all over again without any consequences.

Just kidding.  Seriously.  But that is funny, right?  Am I right?  Some people just don't get my humour.

I called a credit counselor.  I started at, a non-profit business that helps people get out of debt.  Initially I thought they would just be able to help me get the credit card companies to lower/eliminate the interest rates so I could start paying off the actual debt and not just waste my time paying interest.  The wake up call was when I got my one bill that said, "if you keep paying off *** each month you will pay this credit card off in **31 years**.  The unfortunate part of this avenue, however, is that they cut up your credit cards and you cannot get another one until your debt has been paid off in full.

Yikers.  I'd be done paying off my credit cards when I was 65 years old.  Would my Coach purse still be fashionable in 31 years?  Would pink still be my favourite colour when I was 65?  Did I even consider asking myself that question when I impulsively bought the purse on e-bay?  Absolutely not.  Didn't even cross my mind, to be honest with you. 

I swallowed the lump in my throat and made the call.  We went over my budget -

NMD:  "Do you need to spend $100 a month on make up?  Could we lower that?  What about tanning?  Is that an essential part of your life?  Could we eliminate that?" 

Me:  "I guess so..."

NMD:  "Do you have any assets?"

Me:  "Does a Coach purse count?"

NMD:  ""

Me:  "Then no..."

She was actually very, very helpful and very, very non-judgemental.  She laughed at my silly, self-deprecating jokes, and actually understood my spending habits...

NMD:  "Did you find that when you quit smoking you started spending more money?  Because I totally did.  I would justify it as a reward for quitting...I deserve this."

Me:  "Yaaaaaa, totally."  In awe.  Even credit counselors have to fight against the desire to spend, spend, spend.

In the end, we did not consolidate or request that the interest stop on the credit cards (although that is still an option if, in 6 months, I find I'm nowhere near my goal.)  What we did instead, is set up a budget.  We set up goals and I was given helpful tools as how to achieve them. 

Here, are some very simple ideas that I had no clue even existed.  With these elementary tools (and a little bit of self control) I will see my debt vanish within the next two years. 

1.  Set up more than one account - You need a saving account that your paycheck is deposited into.  This was completely news to me.  Why would you put your cheque into a savings account and not a chequing account?  When you get paid, you automatically take out enough money to cover half of your bills and put it in your chequing account.  This way, every time you have a bill to pay, you have the money in your chequing account and you will not default on those payments (ie:  rent, car payments, insurance).  Another account is set up as a true savings account, like a TFSA (Tax Free Savings Account - I don't know what you Americans have as an equivalent) that you have no access to.  As can put money in, but it is very difficult or a hassle to get money out.  Your original savings account is where your groceries come from, your gas, your essentials...head appointments are not essential...

2.  Make even, consistent payments - If I get a little bit more money (from overtime, etc) I tend to put a huge lump sum payment on my credit card.  The only problem is that I misjudge how much I will need for the essentials and then have to go back into my credit cards to pay for necessary items like a manicure, ahem...groceries.  Instead, budget (there's that word again!!) for consistent payments that equal more than your minimum payment.  For example...budget to pay $100 per month, every month on credit card A.  If you get a large lump sum of money (a tax refund, for are great for tax refunds, btw...the little dependents that they are), you have the choice to put some of it on your card, but whether you do or're still making the consistent payments and you have a timeline.

3.  Still do *fun* things - You're in debt, you're not dead.  If you stop spending money completely on fun little things, first of all - your miserable, and what's the fun in that?  Budget for a manicure once every 3 months or a movie night once every so often.  What you're avoiding by doing this is a binge buy, where you just can't stand the monotony and the hangnails anymore and all that hard work is gone and your credit cards are maxed out once again.  That bonus from work?  Use some to pay off the card, use the rest for a trip to Disneyland (why thank you, I think I will!!)

4.  Put your credit cards on ice - Literally.  Put them in a block of ice.  It's impossible to use it if it's sitting frozen in your freezer.  The principle behind this is that you either have to chip the ice away or wait for it to melt to use it, and hopefully by then you've talked yourself out of the purchase.  Or give it to a family, I gave it to my hold onto it so you do not spend it.  Of course, this means you have to close your paypal account and remove all on-line accounts that you could spend on impulse. 

5.  Learn to say "No" - Willpower.  Rationalize the purchase.  Do I really need this?  $250.00 can feed a healthy adult for a month, $100.00 for a child.  If you're spending much more than that, evaluate what you're buying.  Healthy food or junk?  How much food are you wasting or throwing away?  Do you need the two tubs of ice cream?  Will one suffice?

I'll continue to blog about my debt management.  Will I need to go back in six months and consolidate the credit cards and lose them all together?  Will I gain the will power to do it on my own?  Oh, the suspense is KILLING me...

Hopefully, I'm not just getting myself out of debt.  Hopefully, I'm also giving my son a healthy respect for money, and teaching him how to respect money and finances.  Fingers crossed. 


  1. Great idea to manage the spending habits especially if your a compulsive shopper! I always set up a budget, but found that too depressing, so I call it a spending plan: "This is what I'm going to spend my money on after necessities and savings"!

    Here's another trick for those who have a challenge managing credit cards:

    If you make a purchase, transfer the amount from your bank account to your credit card so that you start learning to manage your cards. Sometimes we need to be reminded that credit cards are for convenience (instead of carrying around cash)

    Learn to pay for purchases as you make them, or paying your credit card balance every week is a good way to avoid maxing it out. As you see your bank balance go down with every purchase, you're very aware of where your cash is going.

  2. a spending plan? i LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that idea.