Yesterday my ex-husband burst through my front door without knocking. “I need your help!” he gasped.
I’m thinking someone in his family is very sick or dying, or maybe he wrecked his car. But of course, if you’ve read some of my background, you know better. No, the “emergency” was that his debit card was declined at a gas station near my house. He’d left his driver’s license with the cashier while he went off in search of someone (AKA me) to rescue him.
My instinct was to laugh in his face and send him on his way. But then my son came out of his room and said, “Oh no, Dad! What’s wrong with your debit card?” While I may have lots of rage where my ex is concerned, I’m not willing to let him look like a dumbass in front of Jayden. (I figure Jayden will see that for himself when he’s older.) So I handed over my debit card to pay for his stupid gas, cursed him inside my head, and tried to move on with my day.
After he returned my card, I couldn’t let it go. Why hasn’t he learned how to manage money at 33 years old? Why am I still stuck taking care of his mistakes, 2 1/2 years after our divorce? How do I get involved in these situations in the first place?
Pro-Debt Habits Die Hard
It’s obvious that my ex-husband is still deeply entrenched in a pro-debt mindset. His bank account is in the red (not that he knew his balance until I asked him), it’s 3 days until payday, and he has ZERO cash, savings, or even available credit for backup. He’ll end up either taking out a payday loan – his favorite thing – or letting his check account incur further overdraft fees until his paycheck is cut in half.
I could talk smack about him all day, easily. He’s a perfect example of how NOT to get out of debt. But I also have to acknowledge my own pro-debt behaviors in yesterday’s debacle. Did you catch them?
1. I was worried about what someone else would think.
Sure, it was my son in this case, and there is a noble purpose in shielding him from his dad’s stupidity. But when you’re overly concerned about what others think, sometimes you’ll spend money you don’t have or wouldn’t otherwise spend. There’s a fine line between worrying about others and trying to keep up with the Joneses.
2. I was way more generous than I should have been.
When I was adding to my mountain of debt, I was one of the best gift givers EVER. I bought expensive presents for baby showers, birthdays, and other assorted holidays, charging them all to one of my many credit cards. I was also the first to loan money to a friend or coworker, waving an indifferent hand when they tried to pay me back.
These days, I only buy gifts for close friends and family, and I’m not at all ashamed to say, “Sorry, but I can’t fit another event into my budget.” I’ve also learned to restrain myself when someone needs money – I’m not the only person in the world who can help. But, as I found out yesterday, I still have a hard time saying no when someone asks me directly.
3. I experienced post-purchase remorse.
When my ex-husband brought my debit card back to me, I spent the rest of the day pissed off at myself for intervening in what I know is a hopeless situation. Not too different from all the times I looked at a bunch of shopping bags and felt like throwing them all in the trash because they represented a serious error in judgment on my part. Then I would get all depressed and go spend more money to make myself feel better. Luckily that wasn’t how I coped this time around.
How to Become Anti-Debt
The first step in eradicating pro-debt behaviors is recognizing them. That means understanding your own motivations for spending money and how even small impulses or actions can result in debt. It took a LONG time for me to be able to see the patterns that led to my problems with overspending.
The next step is to stop the cycle. Use solution-focused finances to come up with a plan that is specific for your situation and will help you change your behavior. Then practice. A lot. Because it’s not easy to change habits, especially when they’re tied to emotions, and spending money is almost always an emotional experience in some way.
Third, you have to be realistic. If you’ve always enjoyed spending money, that probably isn’t going to change. I’ll be the first to admit that I still like that feeling of getting something new. However, I’ve learned that I can still like getting new things – I just have to be able to pay for them with cash first. I’m not trying to change who I am; I’m just trying to change the way my personality manifests itself through my spending.
Finally, forgive yourself when you make a mistake. Should I have handed my ex-husband $46 yesterday, knowing I’ll never see it again? Um, no. But at the time, it was the best choice given all the other variables and circumstances. And while I’m still kind of mad about it, I’m chalking it up as a learning experience. However, I did remind my ex of his mother’s phone number for the next time he’s in a bind (which will probably be next week).
What about you? Do you ever engage in pro-debt behaviors, or are you firmly anti-debt? How do you handle touchy situations involving money?