Why Can’t We Keep Our New Year’s Financial Resolutions?

Did you start out the year like many of us, saying “I’m going to lose weight, get to the
gym more, reduce my debt, spend less and save more”… and have you already fallen
off the wagon? Why do we make the same resolutions every year but are continually
not able to stick with our goals?

And please don’t say we don’t want it enough. There isn’t a person out there who
wants to be in debt or scared that they haven’t saved enough money. I’ve never met
a person who wants to end up as a bag lady or working until they die as a greeter at
Walmart (not that there’s anything wrong with that)! No more than anyone wants to
be overweight or unhealthy.

So why can’t we stick to our plans and goals? My belief after 25+ years of counseling
people around money issues, is that we all have deep seated emotions surrounding
and defining our money lives. And until we address those issues, we are destined to
repeat the same patterns over and over again.

So if your goal was to reduce, pay off debt or save more, and you haven’t been able
to achieve this, ask yourself, “What’s behind your over spending?” Perhaps you
were raised without much and now that you are working and making a good living,
you feel like you deserve to have what you want. Perhaps shopping is a way you
reward yourself for all your hard work. On the other hand, maybe you are married
to someone who overspends, and you feel like no matter what you do, you can’t get
ahead. So if you can’t beat them, join them!

Maybe you believe that overspending enhances your happiness, and what if you
died tomorrow, think of all the spending you’d miss out on! It’s different for every
person, but trust me on this; behind overspending and not being able to stick to a
budget, there exists some emotional feeling fueling the behavior.

Gratefully, I am not an over spender. Never have been, never could be. But I have
bordered on what I call being a compulsive saver. Most people think, “Well that’s a
good problem to have”, and in some ways I’d agree. I’d rather be an over-saver than
an over-spender. But my belief system holds true. Behind all compulsive savers,
there are emotional forces fueling the saving.

In addition, don’t think for a minute that being an obsessive saver can’t cause you
problems; especially if you are in a relationship with someone who doesn’t share
your same belief system around money. Many relationships have ended over
couples not being able to agree about money.

I’ve seen savers who are close to money hoarders, who lose friends over the fact
that they count pennies between each other. I’ve seen compulsive savers deny
themselves the enjoyment around the wealth that they have created. So what
emotions lie behind extreme savings? Usually, there is a deep fear of never having
enough money.

In my case, my father was an immigrant to this country and while we were growing
up, we never had some of the nicer things my friends had. In fact, I thought we were
poor, but it turns out we were middle class. But instead of going off in the direction
of over spending (which could have happened), I took on my parents’ fear of not
having enough money. In many ways I mirrored their behavior.

But here’s the difference; I’m not an immigrant. My husband and I earn a very nice
combined income, and I work hard. I’ve been focused on saving for the majority
of my life. Yet I’m married to a man who has pined for a lake house or mountain
house for as long as I’ve been married to him (and that is over 23 years)! Now in
all honesty, for the first 10 years of our marriage, we could barely afford our first
house, but after the first 10 years it was doable. Yet I resisted over fear of spending
the money.

I had to do some hard work on myself; to let go of the fears that my parents planted
deep in my psyche, that I should not spend, but save, save, save. It didn’t happen
overnight but I’m happy to report, that I really don’t worry about money (much!)
and we are embarking on the purchase of a lake house property.

I’ve chosen to BELIEVE the financial plan I update for myself annually, which says
we are OK. We are on track if not ahead of a decent retirement, not too far down the
road (if that be our choice).

You too can overcome your financial behavior if it needs to be fixed. Is it going to
be easy? Not likely! But start with looking deeper at your patterns and take a good
honest look at what drives your behavior. This self honesty is the starting point to
change! You can do it…I did!

Happy New year!

What Do Your Holiday Shopping Tendencies Say About Your Personality?

Being a lifelong student of human behavior, especially when it comes to money, I thought I would blog about the varied types of holiday shoppers that I’ve witnessed over the years. And I’ve got to believe that there are some undeniable personality traits inherent in these shopping tendencies.

First, let’s start with the type who shuns holiday shopping altogether. Those folks often use the staunch principle that we shouldn’t let commercialism take over the true meaning of the holiday and therefore they are opting out of shopping. Interestingly when it’s a bachelor, we cut them some slack saying,  “oh well, what can you expect”? (The same pass applies to wedding gifts). Yet, if a woman takes that approach, we are less easy going about it. So, are they cheap or simply bah humbugs? Or maybe they really can’t afford the excess money and are embarrassed to admit it? This one I haven’t really figured out! I’ve got to say; sometimes I am jealous of them!

Then of course you have the shoppers whom I would hold out as the most responsible of holiday shoppers. They write out a detailed list with a budget for each item. They think in advance of some ideas for each person on the list, so they don’t wonder aimlessly through the stores thinking of ideas. They spread the increased expenses over several months so it doesn’t all hit at once. They’re methodical and practical with shopping…they’re my heroes! These are the kind of people that make financial planners proud.

Then you have those who shop all year…like my sister! She called me earlier this week and asked me if I preferred gold or silver. I told her actually I wear both and prefer gold, but silver goes with more things I already own. However, I said to my sister, “I thought we decided on no more holiday gifts?” She said we did, but I found something for your birthday…which is in August next year!! My sister is the queen of shopping all year long. And I know plenty of other people just like that. Behind the excuses of, “But I found such a great deal” or “I saw this item and it was just perfect for you”.  I think at the heart of it, they just love to shop and look for justifications. I’m fine with it as long as I’m the lucky recipient!

On the other end of the spectrum you have the last minute shoppers. Some of them even wait to shop until the night before the holiday. One memorable holiday, my husband clearly did that very thing. It was the morning of the holiday and we sat down to open our gifts. Some of the gifts were a bit strange. First of all in several cases, there were 3 of the same gift, one for each of us. In addition, most of the gifts were things we really didn’t need; like 3 fleece blankets. I finally asked my husband, where and when did he shop? He humbly admitted that the night before he had walked the aisles of Walmart, filling his basket with items. When I mentioned that our linen closet was overflowing with blankets, he said, “But they were only $1!” that was 3 years ago and that $1 fleece blanket is still in the trunk of my car wrapped in its original package. So, what’s the personality trait behind this shopping approach? I say just a basic procrastinator!

What about those folks who hit the stores in the few days following the holidays? The game plan is to clean up on the post-holiday sales! Especially the holiday sale items like wrapping paper and such. I love the concept of buying whatever at 75%+ off, but who can really remember an entire year later that they bought those items? I have to admit that I did do it one year, and several years later found those gifts in the top secret place I hid them, having totally forgotten about them. So, North Fulton Community Charities received those items!

Holiday shopping says a lot about who we are as people, and our relationship to money. It simply magnifies our general tendencies towards shopping and spending. This year I’m especially impressed with the masses of people that turned out for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Record sales increases were reported over last year.  Traffic nightmares still abound around the malls. From what I hear, Americans are still digging out of the recession, and in fear of elevated taxes due to the fiscal cliff, but it doesn’t seem to be impacting the holiday spending spree.

God Bless America! It takes more than a recession and a fiscal cliff to make us stop the holiday spending madness. But I’m not complaining, because it’s good for the stock market!

May you have a beautiful holiday and may your gifts be meaningful and the company of your friends and loved ones even more memorable.