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You have been on a spending spree using cheap money to upgrade your lifestyle. Wherever you go, people tell you that interest rates are at historic lows, and you must look for opportunities to spend, before rates start rising.
Your key buys include a car, furniture, appliances, home renovation. You are flattered that invitations to apply for credit cards keep rolling in. People tell you that you need good credit to get more credit, but even with rising debt, finance companies continue to offer more credit to you.
Folks compliment you on your lovely home and car! Your invisible debt masks the reality, even to you! That’s why, at this stage, still, life seems good to you, with credit so easy.
You ignore advice to work with a budget, and you keep spending because you must take these amazing deals. How can businesses afford to give so many, no-money-down deals on such a wide variety of items? Imagine, zero payments for two full years; wow! Really, you are happy as long as these great bargains keep coming your way.
Two years later, you are stunned when you start getting letters telling you that you must begin repaying these loans. How could you owe $40,000? You did not think your spending was excessive! The monthly payment requirement for each item was reasonable. How could your total spending, two years earlier, be so much?
Still in disbelief, you decide to check all those loan documents you signed, and you meet your first major challenge. Where did you place those contracts that you signed? You are in shock; how could you misplace them?
Does this situation sound familiar? It is quite common, and suggests three issues that I will look at briefly:
- Uncontrolled spending
- Lack of accountability
- Absence of a retrieval system
1. Uncontrolled Spending
Uncontrolled spending is the most frequent reason folks drift into debt. Even so, it is the easiest to fix, if you accept responsibility for your actions, and decide to change. However, you need to be disciplined and patient.
Studies show that 60-70% of buys in supermarkets are impulsive, unplanned. As well, the longer a shopper stays in a store, the more he or she will buy. That’s why it is essential you plan your shopping trips, and shop with a list, always.
Start with your groceries. Create a master list of grocery items you buy regularly. On the list, show prices, and if you buy from different supermarkets, indicate the name of each beside items on the list. Weekly, or whenever you buy groceries normally, prepare a specific list for that trip; take the list with you and stick to it. To train yourself, in the early stages of implementing this system, if while at the store you forget items you wanted, stick to your list; be prepared to make extra trips. You will be glad when shopping only with a list becomes instinctive!
Between grocery shopping periods, use a magnet to keep a blank paper on your fridge. As items are depleted, or as you remember them, write them on the list. Each time before you go to buy groceries, review the list with your master list, and then prepare a list for this trip.
Extend this method to all your shopping. You will notice you will lower your spending significantly, if you follow this process. Later, this will lead to regular use of a spending plan or budget.
2. Lack of Accountability
Credit is easy to get. Credit is seductive, and people spend impulsively. This is a bad combination that will trap you. So, asking a trusted person to hold you accountable to follow the above procedure could be an essential step for you to take control of your finances.
You can decide how much details of your finances you will share with this person. However, merely giving that person the right to ask you how you are doing at agreed intervals, is fine.
3. Absence of a Retrieval System
Notice I did not mention a “filing” system. You want a simple system that you can get at your key documents quickly. To develop it, ask three questions:
- What receipts and invoices I might need later?
- Why might I need them?
- What key word or words might I use to recall where I stored the item?
Suppose you buy a computer, where will you put the receipt so you can find it quickly if you needed to return it shortly after buying it? Do you file it by the supplier’s name? Bills? Computer? Where? To answer this, try to imagine that you need to find the bill now. How might you think about it? Each household should develop a simple retrieval system. To start, I suggest an accordion folder with seven slots for these items:
- Church & Charities
- Computers & Accessories
- Furniture & Appliances
- Home Repairs & Maintenance
The three fixes suggested above are difficult lifestyle changes, not easy financial juggling or engineering. Surely, they require discipline, but the rewards are great and can be lasting: debt freedom, family harmony, and peace of mind!
Copyright (c) 2011, Michel A. Bell