Debt Repayment and Self Image

In Ruth’s post last week, she talked about how her journey out of debt has meant that she’s had to confront some character flaws within herself.  She talked about how freeing – even in the midst of being difficult – that it’s been to recognize and overcome those character flaws as she works to gain control over her spending.

Man, can I identify with that one. It’s been just over three years now that we’ve been working on dumping our consumer debt. Many experts say that the accumulation of debt isn’t really about the money, and I would agree.

As I’ve worked to stay within our budget I’ve had to confront my own character flaws. I know we live in a world today where it’s not politically correct to call a person “flawed”, but personally, I know I have flaws and I want them gone as best as I can manage to “delete” them from my life. This is not about attaining perfection – at least for me – but more about living the best life I can.

During this last three years, I’ve learned (and am still learning) to see what my part was (my hubby has his own part) in the accumulation of our debt. I’m learning to identify spending triggers and the character flaws that have caused me to spend beyond our means. So I thought I’d share some of them today in order to help other identify their own spending triggers and hopefully get off the train that is living beyond their means.

The interesting thing that I’ve learned about my personal flaws is that they all stem from a poor self-image, so as I’ve worked to improve my self-image, the flaws have left the building – or at least shortened the frequency and length of their visits. 🙂

Flaw #1: Caring about the Joneses

For far too long I cared about what others thought regarding our money situation, and it led to me spending money that we didn’t have for the sake of keeping up my supposed reputation of being well off. We had the nice house, the new cars, and it looked like we were “doing well”. What we were doing was getting into debt.

I rationalized this by assuming we would eventually out-earn our debt, but as my blogging pal Brian so eloquently put it, “You can’t out-earn stupidity with money.” Click on the link to read why Brian knows of what he speaks on that subject.

Anyways, I had to get to the core of the problem, which was to stop caring about appearances. This was not an easy task – at least for me. At the beginning of our debt freedom journey, it was easy. I was super motivated and super desperate. But as the months went by my drive waned and I would occasionally fall into the old habit of wanting to spend in order to assure that others knew that we were doing well financially – which we still weren’t.

And even to this day there is a very small handful of people that I still want to impress, so it’s a work in progress. My #1 tip for overcoming this flaw? Learn to love yourself as God Almighty loves you: unconditionally. This too is a process, but once you get there, it’s an awesome place to live.

Flaw #2: Using Money to Soothe Struggles

When we began our getting out of debt journey, I wasn’t very good at setting boundaries in relationships. I allowed people to walk all over me, to treat me in a sub-par manner and to use me to lighten their own loads by taking on tasks that I had no bandwidth to take on so as not to get them angry at me.

This was totally my fault. And when I felt backed into a corner I’d search for relief in the form of spending. It didn’t matter what the spending was; going out to eat, buying new and shiny things, whatever. I just needed some type of band-aid to take away the violation I felt when I allowed people to treat me badly.

The fix? For me, it meant learning to set healthy boundaries; learning to not allow people to treat me badly, to say “no” when I didn’t have the bandwidth to take on projects, etc.

Flaw #3: Using Money to Ensure My Kids Didn’t Have to Sacrifice

This is one of those flaw that, although I rarely struggle with actual spending in this area, I often still struggle with wanting to spend in this area. My most recent struggle came just this morning.

The kids really want to be involved in a certain extracurricular activity – and I really want them to be involved in this activity. It’s a terrific activity that will not only allow them to have fun but teach them life skills as well. The problem? We simply do not have the money this month to pay for the activity for the kids.

In times past, I would have totally justified the expenditure and put it on credit. And I spent a long while this morning contemplating doing that same thing. I reasoned and justified, but in the end I knew I had to stick with our game plan: living within our means.

Why the struggle when it’s clear we don’t have the extra money this month?

Because as a kid who grew up ultra poor (as in struggling-to-have-food-on-the-table-poor) there is a part of me that doesn’t want my kids to ever have to experience that fear that can come from a lack of money.

In the end, I realized I had to teach myself that the best way to give the kids that gift is to dump our debt completely. It’s a matter of long-term thinking.  And when DD2 woke up this A.M. and I shared with her that the activity was out of reach for the month of April, she was fine. In fact, she was much more concerned about me feeling guilty than she was about missing out on the activity. Isn’t that grand? Now that is a gift I’m happy to give her. And it didn’t cost me anything except for a dose of courage and discipline.

Flaw #4: Making Spending Decisions Based on What Others Spend Instead of on Our Personal Situation

For years I would justify spending purchases by telling myself things like “We spend SO much less on going out to eat/on clothes/on A, B or C than most people.” And while that statement may have been true, it didn’t negate the fact that we were spending more than we earned. Yet I let myself believe that it did. That our purchases were justifiable, acceptable and reasonable because the sum of our purchases was “less than most”.

The fix? I had to learn to live in reality. It doesn’t matter what we deserve to earn, what matters is what we actually earn. It doesn’t matter what we deserve to spend, it matters whether what we actually spend is in line with the cash that we have.

I had to learn that all of the “I deserve”‘s in the world weren’t more valuable than the gift of financial freedom and financial peace, which is something that we deserve much more than dinners out and new and shiny stuff. And in case you didn’t notice, that ties in with overcoming the other three flaws as well.

For me, it was all about learning to truly love myself so that I would make spending decisions based on how I could give myself “the best”. And “the best” wasn’t random purchases. “The best” was making a daily choice to manage our money in a way that allows us to have financial peace by becoming debt free.

And guess what: it’s working. 🙂

If you are or were in debt, have you thought about why you spend/spent above your means?  


*Image Credit: Celestine Chua on Flickr 


17 comments on “Debt Repayment and Self Image

  1. It’s hard to divorce all money decisions from what others are doing, even if you aren’t out to impress or “keep up.” After all, we’re all influenced by our culture, our friends, and our families. However, it’s great to become more aware of those influences and how they affect us. I agree that it’s tempting to spend to protect or help our kids, and in some cases that’s great, but in other cases we need to let them figure things out a little bit and remember how good “suffering” (in a relative sense) has been for us. Great post!

    1. Exactly!! Understanding that our money is finite has been terrific for our kids on so many levels. It’s taught them to plan for the future, to avoid debt and to remember that we are here to serve others and not ourselves. Lessons well-learned!

  2. Money is something that is deeply personal to each person/household/etc. As such, advice or situations can never be given as a blanket solution, and these types of posts illustrate that complexity.

    1. So true! This is why I love sharing my personal struggles in hopes that others might glean some wisdom regarding their own, no matter how different they are.

  3. It sounds like maybe you are also trying to make the little girl Laurie inside of you feel better too. Maybe when you were a kid, you felt badly because you didn’t have what you saw other kids had? So when you grew up, you started acquiring things that would make you feel the way Little Laurie would like to have felt? All I can say to that is, if it did make you feel good for a time, maybe that’s something to look back on a little fondly. It definitely wasn’t the worst way you could have self-nurtured. I’m glad you got hold of it and are headed in the right direction. “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” And He is definitely with you Laurie! 🙂

  4. We fell into “we work hard, we deserve it” trap and we don’t want the kids to sacrifice to live beyond our means, way beyond for years. When we final woke up we realized these were just silly excuses we were telling ourselves. A lot of the crap we bought over the years we really didn’t need and when we cut back the kids were just fine. They learned to adapt. They are a lot more resilient than we we give them credit for.

    So much of money is the mental piece, the inner peace, once you get there it gets easy.

    1. Awesome comment, Brian!!! I never tire of hearing your thoughts and your wisdom on this debt stuff. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. Emotional spending is a big one, for me at least. It used to be a lot worse when I was in college (a million years ago!), and now I have it (mostly) under control. Now when those feelings burst to the top, I watch a tv show or I clean. Saves me money 🙂

  6. That item #2 has been significant for me as well – and it’s one I need to pay closer attention to. I have a real aversion to conflict, and so if there’s a chance of finding peace through an expenditure, I’ll so often spend. When I actually have resisted that urge and have allowed the conflict to unfold, nobody has died : ) The dreaded “What if we/they get into an argument? What if she/he gets angry with me?!” does not have such an awful answer after all. We’re tougher than we realize, I think.

    1. I think you’re right, Ruth! We are tougher than we realize!! It’s been very eye opening for me, figuring out why I was spending like I was and then working to heal the deeper wounds. Life is much more peaceful now, praise God!

  7. I can most identify with 1 and 3. For me, there’s a disconnect between my perceived culture and class (professional, upper-middle-class-ish), and the reality of our financial situation. Sometimes I forget, okay, ignore, the numbers, and allow myself to be motivated more my the perception.

    1. “For me, there’s a disconnect between my perceived culture and class… and the reality of our financial situation.” OH my gosh, Amy – I SO understand that struggle. Moving to the country and getting out of the situation has really helped a lot, but I realize that this is not what everyone wants to or can do.

    2. VERY interesting point about perceived class and financial reality, Amy. Like Laurie, I can definitely relate. Hmmm . . . Good fodder for a post here I think.

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