I put out a call on Yakezie for guest posts while I prepare for my preliminary exam, and Andrea Whitmer volunteered a post for today! Andrea is a single mom and full-time freelancer who writes about everything from finance to parenting at So Over This. She’s a big fan of learning to make better life decisions while maintaining a sense of humor. Thanks Andrea and I hope everyone enjoys the post!
Until a couple of years ago, I was the world’s worst spendaholic. If I wanted something, I bought it, whether or not I could afford it. I accumulated tons of clothes, shoes, jewelry, and handbags, all while deluding myself into believing I deserved them. From credit card debt to payday loans to bankruptcy, I managed to ruin my credit by the time I was 23 years old.
Now that I’ve escaped the trap of living beyond my means, I struggle with being overly aware of the spending habits of other people in my life. When a friend posts a picture of her new shoes on Facebook, I immediately wonder if she bought them with credit. When someone invites me to dinner, I ask repeatedly, “Are you sure it won’t mess up your budget?” And, most embarrassing of all, I have been known to turn down invitations to go shopping – not because I can’t control myself, but because I know the other person can’t. Funny how I went from overspending to being the money police in just a few years!
I have vivid memories of family members (especially my parents) and friends trying to help me get my spending on track. Even worse, sometimes they loaned me money to pay bills or buy groceries after I’d spent my entire paycheck on junk. When I see my friends’ loved ones doing the same for them, it hurts my soul – not because my friends don’t need help, but because the type of help they’re getting enables them to maintain their bad habits, just as it did for me.
Here are three ways you can help someone who spends too much without encouraging them to continue overspending.
1. Offer to help them go over their income and expenses.
From ages 18 to 27, I never once sat down and figured up how much money I had coming in versus how much went out. I didn’t balance my checkbook. I didn’t even open my bank statements. I knew deep down that I was spending too much, but I was too scared to find out how bad the problem was.
When my dad sat down with me and made me gather up all my bills, paycheck stubs, and receipts, it was like a lightbulb went off in my brain. For some reason, having him there to help me organize the chaos made it easier to face what I’d done. Once I knew exactly how much I had left over after bills, groceries, and gas to go to work, I was better able to stick to that amount without going over.
2. Never, ever, EVER give them cash.
Early in my adulthood, I went to my parents to “borrow” money every time I bounced a check or spent too much money. While I was good about using the money for what I needed – I didn’t spend grocery money on new clothes, for example – I also didn’t learn anything about changing the way I dealt with my finances. It seemed far too easy to make the same mistakes over and over when I knew I had my parents to cover me.
If you really want to help out a friend, help them directly. For instance, if they need groceries, don’t give them money; take them to the grocery store. If they can’t pay the electric bill, go with them to pay it. When my parents started doing those things, I was so humiliated I began looking for ways to avoid asking them for help (i.e. learning how to manage my finances better).
3. Don’t lecture if they aren’t ready to hear it.
I lost my relationship with one of my best friends because of my reaction when she tried to talk to me about my spending problem. In hindsight, she went about it the wrong way – she waited until she was too frustrated to be objective – but I still wasn’t able to process her assessment of me as selfish and irresponsible.
Instead of sharing unsolicited opinions, do your part to stop enabling the overspender in more subtle ways. If a friend wants to go shopping, say something like, “You know, I love spending time with you, but maybe we should rent a movie and hang out at my house.” That sends the message that you don’t want to participate in the madness without risking a big argument.
Do you have friends or family members with a spending problem? How do you handle it? Have you ever loaned money to a chronic spender and regretted it?