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Archive for April, 2016

Don’t get caught in a cyclone of overspending – exercise some control in your life.

I’m seeing a couple in therapy who went on three vacations this past year — Hawaii, Colorado, and Florida — and they can’t pay their bills. They are maxed out on most of their credit cards, and they have gotten into the rut of using one card to pay another. She has student loans from years ago, and he owes his parents, his friends, his dentist, his doctor, and the plumber.

When I confronted them about their overspending and asked why they are now planning to go skiing, they both became indignant. She said they work hard, really hard, and they deserve it. He said he needs vacations because his job is so stressful.

I said they were creating more stress by adding to their bills. They said I was wrong and I didn’t understand.

I asked, “What if one of you loses his or her job?” His response, “We’ll get another.” She nodded in agreement.

I asked, “What about your doctor, and dentist, and the plumber? When will they get paid?”

She assured me they would get their money.

I said I doubted it because from my vantage point, I saw bankruptcy. Both of them shrugged, and I could see I was making no headway. Neither of them was going to stop spending.

How about you? Do you need to put the brakes on your spending? If so, there’s no time like now, today, immediately.

One of the best and first things to do: Figure out what you can afford to spend above and beyond your fixed expenses. Set a number, be it fifty, a thousand or two thousand a month. If you’re on the $50 plan and you want something that cost $100, this means you wait two months before purchasing the item.

A second tough task: Figure how much you are in debt with charge cards, home improvement loans, doctor bills, second mortgages, and loans from friends and relatives. Now figure out how many months or years it will take you to pay off these bills. If you’re in debt $11,000 and you can afford to pay off only $300 a month, it will take you more than three years to pay off this debt. An eye-opening exercise to be sure.

Now come up with a list of excuses you use for spending money, like those of the couple I discussed earlier. Here are some favorites:

I deserve it. I work hard.
We’ll go on a budget after we decorate the house.
My husband doesn’t watch what he spends, why should I?
Life is boring if you can’t shop or go on a vacation.
Hey, it’s on sale.

Next agenda item: What is the underlying reason you spend more than you can pay for? Do you use going to the mall and spending as a form of entertainment, a way to relax, or rid yourself of anxiety for a few hours? If so, discipline yourself. Allow yourself to go to a store only when you truly need something, not when you want something. For entertainment and relaxing, hit some tennis balls, try a walk with a friend, go to a movie, or read a book.

If spending makes you feel better, what feel-good substitute can you come up with? How about visiting an old friend, making a special dinner, doing your nails, or working out?

Next on your to-do list: Write out what you really need. Include those items you feel are essential. Maybe a new toaster is in order because last week your toaster died. But can’t you wait another few weeks for that toaster? And do you really need another pair of earrings, another jean jacket, and another sweater? How much do you really need?

If you’re a compulsive shopper, ask a friend to help you break this addiction. Write down everything you buy in a week, and give her your list. Writing the items down will make you more aware and more accountable for your spending. Or make a pact that you won’t go to any stores for six months. For groceries, ask someone else to do it. You in turn can watch their kids.

Remember the old advertisement, “Buy now and pay later”? Unfortunately it’s true.

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When Jack was a young man, he was a bad stutterer.

“I had a job, but I felt that if I couldn’t communicate verbally, it would hold me back,” said Jack. So 30 years ago Jack searched for the best speech therapy school in the United States.

“I wrote letters, made phone calls, talked to local speech therapists,” Jack explained. The good news was, I located the school, The Institute of Logopedics in Wichita, Kansas. The bad news — the minimum treatment course was three months.

“I had been married about a year and a half and I had just taken a different job. My wife was pregnant with our oldest daughter. I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t feel I had any other option.”

“I went, but I went with a real bad attitude. None of my friends stuttered. None of them had to go to Wichita. Why me, God?”

When Jack got to the institute, things got worse. “They treated every imaginable defect,” he said. “Lots of accident victims, stroke victims, children with cerebral palsy. Their ages ranged from 6 to about mid-seventies. It was the first time in my life I had been around a lot of handicapped people. It was real uncomfortable for me to be around those folks, and it added to my sense of feeling sorry for myself.”

At the start of his last week, Jack was waiting outside his therapist’s office when a 7-year-old boy with cerebral palsy came out of the office with his football helmet on. “The CP kids had to wear football helmets from the time they got up in the morning to the time they went to bed so they wouldn’t hurt themselves,” he explained.

On Jack’s next-to-last day his therapist asked if he’d come to his next session a little early. “I got there early,” said Jack. “I was standing in the hall waiting, when this 7-year-old kid walked out with the therapist. The therapist gently pushed the boy toward Jack and motioned for Jack to listen to the boy. “The kid looked at me and said, ‘Hello, Jack.'”

Although the words were somewhat garbled, Jack understood and replied, “Hey, that’s my name. I didn’t know you knew how to talk.” “The kid puffed up like a toad, beamed, and struggled off down the hall,” Jack said.

When Jack went into the therapist’s office, the therapist asked, “What do you think is the longest block you’ve ever had before you could talk, Jack?”

Jack replied, “About 30 seconds.”

The therapist came back sharply: “Well, the longest hesitation I’ve observed is only about five seconds.”

Jack said, “I knew what he was saying. It was like he had punched me in the stomach — it was a revelation. That was some therapy session, and it didn’t have anything to do with fluency. I realized I had been feeling sorry for myself.”

The therapist then explained, “That kid, Robert, he’s been working here for two hours a day, for the last six days, to be able to say, ‘Hello, Jack.'”

“It turns out that kids with cerebral palsy often don’t live as long as others do,” said Jack. “And Robert was no exception. When I found out that he died, the saddest thing for me was that he never knew what he had done. This kid who was in my life for a day changed my life forever.”

“Robert didn’t have much of a vocabulary. And ‘feel sorry for myself’ were words that definitely weren’t in his.”

For most of us it’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves when life isn’t fair, or someone disappoints us, or something doesn’t go as planned. When you start to feel sorry for yourself, think of Robert and  his struggle to say, “Hello, Jack.”

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