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This is a Guest Post from Cherie at Queen of Free
This summer, my husband developed an addiction to Dairy Queen ice cream. I can’t really blame him. The milky, sweet, and chilly dessert brings to my mouth and heart a flood of childhood memories. With the first bite, I recall the evenings after church spent with friends and family, savoring a cone or marshmallow milkshake. Seconds later, the frozen dessert becomes my time machine set to 1983 where seven year-old Cherie is celebrating a pee wee baseball tournament win with her team by raising little red spoons in the air. We devour in delight our strawberry and hot fudge sundaes served in miniature plastic baseball helmets.
But for our present day family, I know DQ ice cream treats are “gateway drugs”.
It begins so honest and simple. We choose to treat the kids after dinner at home. It’s been a long week after all. And it is summer vacation. Why not indulge a little and live life to its fullest? Carpe Diem (or Carpe Ice Cre-am)! In a cone! Dipped with chocolate, please! Seize the ice cream while we can, for tomorrow we may die.
Our problem is that one simple trip through the drive through doesn’t usually end there. We satisfy our familial sweet tooth for twenty-four hours. The next night, the craving hits again though. Collectively, we experience an all too familiar inner dialogue. “It’s not really in the budget, but it’s not really that expensive. Why not take a repeat trip and experience the culinary joy all over again?”
If only it had ended there. I’m sad to say, the addictive frozen milk and sugar (did you know sugar is more addictive than cocaine?!), catapulted us into the next night where I didn’t feel like cooking at all and Qdoba sounded so yummy. Again, it wasn’t within our budget, but we did have some extra cash, so why not. After all, free guacamole tastes so much better and I’d be using our rewards card to collect points toward free entrees in the future.
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On and on, the DQ ice cream cycle propelled us through late July until we realized that what started as a simple pleasure had spiraled quickly out of control. We were way off budget when it came to dining out. And like a dieter who eats a dozen cookies after blowing it on just one, our spending in other areas veered off course, too.
We’ve all been there. After a season of staying on track, we find ourselves a little too freewheeling when it comes to our purchases. Even if you have expendable cash or extra dollars in your checking account, the practice of bad spending habits can knock you off course when it comes to your financial goals. If you don’t have extra cash and borrow money, charging extras on a credit card, the end game isn’t pretty. But what can we do when those pitfalls arise? A few bad choices (or too many ice cream cones in our case) don’t have to end your smart money game, use these solid strategies to fight back against poor spending habits.
Probably the greatest temptation each of us faces when we realize our spending is out of whack is to pretend like there’s no problem at all. We let receipts pile up on the counter or in our wallets. We conveniently “forget” to log into the bank account or reconcile the checkbook. We’d rather run and hide from our choices than face them head on. Fight this impulse tooth and nail. Instead of closing your eyes to the problem, dig in and get organized.
Pull your head out of the metaphorical sand. Gather the receipts. Log into the account. Write down your expenditures. If you need to reduce your spending in other areas to cover the gaps, do so. You may have made some mistakes, but you’re not defeated. Pick yourself back up.
When Possible, Make Returns
Returning purchases to a store or online retailer often feels like a hassle. However, if you have buyer’s remorse, haven’t used or worn a product, and the time limit hasn’t expired, return the items you’ve bought to help course correct your spending ASAP. I’m not suggesting you take back items already washed or opened from the package (obviously we couldn’t take back the ice cream cones), but if there are things you’ve bought that you don’t need and can’t afford by all means do what you need to do to secure a refund.
Set a 24 Hour Rule
Years ago, I decided that when it came to clothing, shoes, or household items I wanted to buy I would wait 24 hours before making a purchase. This small boundary has saved me hundreds of dollars. If you can remove yourself from a retail situation and gain clarity over whether or not you truly need the item, you’re more likely to develop healthier spending patterns. Yes, you might risk missing a deal. However, if the bargain isn’t available 24 hours later, maybe it was never meant to be. A simple pause or breath, removing you from temptation, keeps your budget on track.
Go On a Spending Freeze
Sometimes the best cure comes in the form of quitting cold turkey. You may need to take an intentional, well-parametered spending freeze. Each and every January, our family takes a 31 day break from eating at restaurants. This break forces us to rely on dining at home and greatly reduces spending. You can choose the timeline. For those of you who have never done a spending freeze before, start small with a week. For others, a month might not be enough time. You could choose a complete freeze or a specific area where you struggle (*ahem* dining out for us last month). One of my friends struggled with purchasing items her friends were selling online and at parties. So for six months, she determined she wouldn’t buy any of those products – no makeup or leggings or kitchenwares or cleaning supplies. Whatever your boundaries, define the stipulations well. If you don’t know where to begin, check out 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero.
If your spending habits are out of control to the point where you are frightened and know you have a legitimate problem, you need wise counsel. Talk to a trusted friend (not one who would dismiss things or worse encourage you to to spend more). Call a pastor or counselor. There’s a difference between blowing your budget now and then and a true spending addiction. Our ice cream metaphor is a cute description but pales in comparison to those who feel lost and scared. Please get the help you need.
Others might struggle with overspending but not need professional care. However, we all still need voices of wisdom and people we trust to check in on our spending habits from time to time. Ask your friends and family to fill that role to help you remain true to your budget.
It’s been awhile since our last ice cream cone fix. We’ve righted the ship and gotten back on course when it comes to dining out. We all know overspending is a slippery slope. It’s easy to find ourselves off kilter during different seasons of our lives. If you have greater goals for your money – paying off debt, sending your kids to college, taking a killer vacation, retiring early and well – then you need to realign your spending to achieve those goals. Rather than remaining frustrated with yourself for allowing bad spending habits to creep into your path, take control of the situation and get back on track today.
Cherie Lowe is an author, speaker and hope bringer. Her book Slaying the Debt Dragon details her family’s quest to eliminate over $127K in debt in just under four years. As her alter ego the Queen of Free, Cherie provides offbeat money saving tips and debt slaying inspiration on a daily basis.