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by Gary Foreman

I am 22 years old and I live in NYC. I am in some serious debt, which I have turned over to a debt consolidation company. I make a decent amount of money, however, I can’t seem to keep it for more than a few hours. I end up spending my entire paycheck within the first day I have it….seriously. I am trying to find a support group in NYC, but am having no luck. I know I have a problem and I can’t continue to live like this.Donna

My Dad used to call it ‘letting money burn a hole in your pocket’. Call it what you will, but it’s a serious problem for some people. If you regularly spend all the money you have, you’ll always be broke.

There are two main strategies that Donna can use. First, she can severely limit the amount of cash and credit that she has available for spending. Second, she can change the way that she relates to money.

Let’s begin with the tools that will limit how much money Donna has at any time. If her employer offers it, she should use direct deposit. If that’s not available, she’ll need to deposit her entire check as soon as she receives it.

Donna should use payroll deductions to force savings. Otherwise, she’s probably going to have trouble accumulating any. Deductions are also a good way to save for retirement. She might want to consider making regular monthly contributions to an IRA or mutual fund account.

It’s foolish for Donna to carry much cash. She’ll just be tempted to spend it. Before she leaves the house in the morning Donna should list the items that she expects to buy that day. Include everything. Even snacks and the daily paper. The idea is to only carry the cash she’ll need and get in the habit of only making purchases that are on the list.

Donna has already seen what credit cards can do. They’re meant to be convenient to use. And, that’s the problem. It’s easy to keep charging until she reaches her credit limit. Leave them at home unless they’re needed for a planned purchase.

Once Donna limits the amount of cash and credit that’s available, it’s time to change the way that she relates to money.

She already recognizes that it’s easier to reach your goal if other people are involved. Contacting a local social services agency could turn up a support group for spendaholics.

Another source of support is an ‘accountability partner’. It could be a friend, relative or mentor. Someone who can be trusted. Donna would regularly report to the partner on how well she was doing. Sometimes just knowing that we’ll have to confess our failures is enough to keep us from stumbling.

That partner can also be helpful when Donna does suffer a setback. And they will come. A compassionate partner can help dust us off and get us back on track.

If you can’t find someone to hold you accountable, create a system to hold yourself accountable. It could be as simple as keeping track of the days that you stuck with the morning spending list.

Donna should also consider using a budget. It would put her on notice when she had already spent the money that she had allocated for entertainment, clothing or any other category.

Avoid the places that are most likely to trigger spending. Just as the alcoholic can’t hang around bars, the spendaholic shouldn’t go window shopping. It’s like dancing with the devil. You’re bound to get singed.

Use rewards and punishments to encourage good spending behavior. We all respond to appropriate rewards. Donna might find that she’s never had the money for good seats at a Broadway show because the money is always gone. The idea is to pick something that had not been attainable under the old system and then reward yourself after an important goal has been met.

It will get easier the longer you persist. It’s hard to break old habits. Especially if they contain some behavior that could be addictive. Remember that tomorrow will be easier than today. But you have to get through today first.

Donna has already taken the first two steps. She’s recognized the problem and started to look for help in solving it. Hopefully she’ll be successful in using some of the tools to take control of the situation and begin to build a new pattern of relating to money.

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner.

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