Debt: You can hide, but you can’t run from it!

Time for true confessions: I used to be a Shopaholic. I used to go out every single weekday, regardless of the weather conditions, from early morning until my kids came home from school. By 8:00 a.m., I would be sitting inside my car munching on a Sausage McMuffin in the parking lot of my (first) target destination, namely, Target, waiting for the manager to unlock the doors. I’d cruise around the store for an hour, filling my wagon up, and then head out to a mall or an outlet center (since they opened up at 10:00, I didn’t want to waste any time). And it didn’t matter to me how far I needed to drive to satisfy my shopping craving, though I did give myself an hour’s drive limitation. You can get pretty darn far in an hour, I found.

By the time I was headed home for the day, the back of my car would be packed with bags and boxes and booty – all of them “bargains” – because I only bought on sale, and generally I never spent more than about $50 a day. (In retrospect, YIKES!) I was pretty proud of my bargain shopping prowess, but the only person I could ever compare notes with was my Mom (a.k.a. über shopper). My husband, well, he just didn’t understand about my shopping “needs.”

So, I hid my purchases. I packed them away in boxes and bags, in the basement and in the attic, or high on a shelf in the back spare bedroom. Then, from time to time, I’d bring out one or two things. I’d take the tags off and wash it, so it didn’t have that “new” look anymore. Then when hubby commented on it, I could say (almost truthfully), “What, that old thing?”

Looking back on those days, I realize, I had a serious problem. I was shopping like there was no tomorrow and I hiding stuff from my husband – and not just the actual purchases, but even the store receipts, credit card statements and even my ATM receipts. After I’d mailed in the monthly payment, I’d drop them into the shredder. Accidentally, of course. Oops!

Eventually, though, hubby caught on, because he went to withdraw money from an ATM, but I had already spent it all. Snagged. When he confronted me, naturally, my hackles went up and I was put on the defensive. But, really, I had no defense. I was in the wrong, and I knew it (otherwise I wouldn’t have been hiding those purchases). So, I admitted my guilt and took the pledge: I promised to make no new purchases, irrespective of the great deal I could get.

We (meaning I) had to learn to live within my means. Granted, I had been making the credit card payments (minimum payment only, though) and I kept them current, but I was never actually paying them down. By taking the no new purchase pledge, I actually saw my principal balance going down for a change.

Giving shopping cold turkey is not fun; I definitely went through some serious withdrawal symptoms. What helped me was that I relinquished all of my plastic to my husband. Instead of using credit cards and making ATM withdrawals to fund my purchases, I had a household allowance and I accepted its limitations.

It wasn’t always easy, but I found that I didn’t miss the whirlwind shopping trips so much as I missed my thrice-weekly Cinnabon fix. And I was proud that I was able to take that allowance and really make the most out of it. I looked at it as a challenge (and I do love a challenge) – because if I could make all of my necessary household purchases with the allotted allowance and if I still had money left over, then that money was mine! I was able to indulge in cinnamon and sugar bliss at least once in a while. Come on, a girl can only give up so much! Right?

Now, this is only my debt story and how we, my husband and I, made it work. It was a slow and sometimes painful process, but I’m happy to say that we’re now debt-free. But not everyone can do it our way. Bear in mind, my story is almost a decade old, from back when the economy wasn’t quite so bad, and what worked for me might not work for you. Sometimes, relinquishing credit cards and working within a budget just isn’t enough. If it’s not enough for you, there is help, and it’s only a phone call or a mouse click away – DebtStoppers. That’s what we’re here for.

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