I’ve always been an expert at convincing myself I “need” things. A pair of shoes when I have over 100 pairs already? Of course I need them – they’re different from all the other pairs! A new computer when there’s nothing wrong with the one I’ve got? You know, it did make a weird noise that one time; it’s probably going to die any second. And I won’t even talk about all the times I ordered dessert when I was already beyond full from a big meal.
I don’t really have a good explanation for all the years I spent doing everything to excess. I wasn’t deprived of anything as a child, I didn’t have abandonment issues that led me to become a hoarder… None of the typical stories you hear from overspenders really applies to me. Honestly, I think it was more that I didn’t have the opportunity to manage money until I was an adult, other than $10-20 here and there. Any large sums of money went straight into my savings account, leading me to think of it as some kind of mythical treasure chest that would someday make me rich.
When I turned 18, I applied for my first credit card. In my head, I was only going to use it to buy things on eBay and pay off the balance immediately. Most eBay payments were made by mailing a check at the time (super old school!), so I was really excited about being able to receive my items faster. And for several months that’s just what I did – I bought items when I already had the money, then paid off my credit card balance.
The Slippery Slope
In my parents’ attempt to force my sister and me to save money by taking it away from us and putting it our savings accounts (which paid for my first car, so thanks, Mom and Dad), they taught me something they never intended. Unknowingly, my parents taught me that money and its management was an adult thing. Not for kids. Not for teens. Being a grownup meant being allowed to earn and spend your own money – for a control freak like me, that was an amazing concept. I dreamed of the day I’d be old enough to deal with money on my own.
Shortly after I got that first credit card – a sure sign of my status as an adult, since I had to be 18 to get it – I marveled at my ability to buy things, then write a check from my very own checking account (!!!) to pay for them later. And somewhere along the way I decided it would be okay to buy “just a few things” for myself even though I didn’t have the money already.
So I bought some clothes. And some shoes. And jewelry to go with the clothes and shoes. I bought an expensive new bag to take to college. Once I started college, I went out to eat all the time. And my spending just spiraled from there. It never occurred to me that I would be 30 years old and still dealing with the aftermath of all those bad choices. I just knew I felt incredibly grown up every time I swiped my card, wrote the check for my minimum payment, or bought something that I chose all by myself.
Roll With the Changes
A little over two years ago, I decided it was time to take control and stop being an idiot. When I looked at my big stack of credit cards (and the big stack of bills associated with them), I didn’t feel like a grownup anymore. Instead, I felt like a five year-old who ate too much Halloween candy and now had to live with the consequences.
There was no magical moment where the skies parted and I became enlightened. No birds chirped and no choir sang. It took a long time for me to change my behavior. In fact, for a year or so after I made the choice to stop spending, I had to actively prevent myself from buying a bunch of crap that I thought I needed at the time. I did things like forbidding myself to go to malls, leaving my debit card in my car (because I hoped I’d be too lazy to go get it), and even leaving my wallet at home when I left the house. Sometimes I failed miserably, but after awhile it got easier.
Two years ago today I started blogging about my experiences with spending, debt, and learning to be a real adult instead of picturing life as one big Sex and the City episode. During that time, I managed to pay off all my credit card debt and I even declared myself a spendaholic in remission. And while my finances are pretty boring these days and I often write about other things, I never want to forget how hard I worked to get here.
What Do I Really Need?
I have quite a bit of extra money in the bank at the moment. I got paid for several invoices all at once, plus my tax refund will be hitting my bank account any day now. My bills are paid about 7 weeks ahead, I’ve put money in savings, and I still have a lot left with no urgent place it needs to go. (I know, a first world problem if I ever heard one.)
Over the weekend I thought, I should buy myself something. I’m doing really well and I don’t spend much these days. So I got online to find something to buy. It was such a bizarre experience! I started out looking at books on Amazon, but I realized I bought several books awhile back that I haven’t finished reading. I went to eBags and planned to get a new purse, but I usually don’t carry one anymore so it seemed kind of dumb. I looked at clothes but since I rarely leave the house, it didn’t make sense to buy more stuff I won’t wear.
The only thing I could think of was a new suitcase, since Delta broke one of the wheels off mine last fall. When I thought about it, though, I didn’t even feel the need to replace it because I have others. In the end, I decided to just leave the money sitting in the bank; I’m sure some disaster will come up and I’ll be glad it’s there.
It took 30 years of living and 2 years of blogging about money, but I’ve finally figured out the difference between wants and needs. And it never would have happened without all of you who read, comment, and keep me mindful of the choices I make. I can’t help being a little excited about how many things I might learn the next two years, and I hope you’ll stick around to find out. 🙂