Discovering that your paycheck won’t cover even minimum debt payments. Buying a house, or being unable to buy a house. Feeling suffocated by the (costly) clutter in your life. Wanting to stay home with the kids but fearing you can’t afford it.
All these defining moments turned spendthrifts into thrift-thrifts.
A couple of years ago I wrote a Smart Spending blog piece about what a reader called “a-ha!” moments. The reader, posting as “Bigdreams,” solicited such stories in a Smart Spending message board thread.
Some “moments” are epiphanies. Some are slowly dawning realizations. Readers variously described the experience as a slap in the face, a kick in the butt, a good hard look at oneself, a God-given wakeup call, the sudden glimpse of a bleak future.
However they arrive, a-ha! moments carry the same basic message: Something has to change.
Bigdreams was a former recreational shopper who’d taken to frugality. Shopping had once produced “quite a high” whenever good deals were found.
Then came the a-ha! moment: “(Where) was the money that I had saved?” Bigdreams lamented. “I didn’t take the savings and bank it. I just spent it somewhere else.”
Minimum-wage lunches, costly spa visits
Other readers could relate to Bigdreams’ financial bad dream:
“Sunset Hiker” was startled by a credit-card statement that categorized purchases. The number of entries in the “retail” section shocked Sunset into acknowledging “that I was buying more often than I’d thought.”
Watching a co-worker buy lunch out, “Scoop358” had a minimum-wage a-ha! moment. “That’s when it occurred to me to connect the money I spend to the wages I make. … Lunch is not equal to one hour of miserable work at this place.”
“Ibrake4garagesales” spent $345 on a three-day cruise. Once on the water, she wound up dropping $270 in the ship’s spa. “I felt dumb when I compared the (fare) against a 60-minute massage and nice-smelling products.”
When “Lynn D” had to move out of her place temporarily, she brought along only a few basics items of clothing. Guess what? No one noticed the fashion reruns. As a result, Lynn didn’t buy any new clothes for six months. (Why bother?)
Parental examples, Christmas (credit) cards
As a child, “Jestjack” watched his parents paying off endless auto loans. These days they’re in hock to credit cards. Object lesson: Jestjack carries no consumer debt and hasn’t had a car loan for more than two decades.
Reader “Whatever1” was only 9 years old when he figured out his parents wouldn’t need to argue about debt if they stopped spending foolishly. He has never had a credit card or a car payment, and in less than seven years had paid off most of his mortgage. Back at the old homestead, though, “my parents are still fighting the same fight and living the same way.”
“Roseofclair” found her epiphany one Christmas, after running up credit cards and lying awake worrying about them. That gave her a built-in New Year’s resolution: Paying down the cards. The corollary: She paid cash for the next year’s holiday. (Who says there are no Christmas miracles?)
A lost debit card brought “Kamikaze1” up short. After the second day, “I realized I had saved about $30 by not using (it).” When the replacement card showed up, the reader decided not to carry it.
Had a wakeup call yet?
All right, readers: What was your a-ha! moment? Was it when you…
- Had your first child?
- Made your first student-loan payment?
- Added up the month’s NSF fees?
- Found yourself dodging creditors?
- Lied about the family finances?
Or maybe you’ve had the moment and ignored it. If so, here’s your chance to acknowledge reality. Post your epiphany here.
Those who’ve faced and conquered those budget dragons: Please share your stories. Feel free to post any suggestions you have: debt repayment strategies, free budget software, credit counseling, whatever.
Confession is not only good for the soul, it might be just the face-slap/butt-kick/bleak-future glimpse that you need to take back the reins.