Category Archives: mind over money

Sneaky Shopping Triggers

Back in my super-shopping days, the fall wardrobe was a prominent highlight of the year.  Fall shopping involved reading lots of glossy magazines, finding inspiration at Anthropologie and Neiman Marcus, scouring Loehman’s, DSW, and the mall for deals, and then splurging back at Anthropologie and Neiman Marcus.  The shopping cycle also involved an original list, purchases, returns, and new lists for things to match what I bought on earlier trips.  All this happened with good friends, so it was loads of fun.  I wouldn’t trade the memories, but I am a little relieved to have stepped off the shopping treadmill.


by pjinomaha

by pjinomaha


Here in Ohio, I haven’t given up shopping completely.  In fact, I am truly one of the luckiest girls in the world because I have a husband who LIKES to shop for clothes.  On our honeymoon, we had a total blast shopping, and he sweetly splurged on the most darling trench coat ever for me to wear this fall.  Still, it’s nothing like the old days.  I don’t read glossy magazines anymore.  I have a very small list of quality items to buy (new leather boots, a cream silk shirt, and a black cashmere turtleneck).  We have a set budget and are waiting until October to spend it.

Suddenly, though, this week, I have had serious, serious urges to shop.  They’ve been so serious that I DREAMED about shopping last night.  I’ve had to consciously remind myself what new-ish clothes I have in my closet because I’ve just felt generally disgruntled that I have nothing to wear.  What could be the trigger?  I watch the Daily Show online, but that’s it for TV.  Like I said, I haven’t bought one fall magazine.  At work, I’ve even been too busy to catch up on my celebrity gossip fix at lunch.  So, what gives?

This morning, I finally figured out the sneaky shopping trigger: “chick lit.”  I got Love the One You’re Withby Emily Giffin from my library “queue” this week and have been devouring it after work and before bed.  Now, by day, I am a literature professor, but by night, I shamelessly indulge my passion for “fun reading.”  I was an avid reader as a kid, not only of Jane Austen and Emily Bronte, but also of the teen series like Sweet Valley High and The Girls of Canaby Hall (about three unlikely roommates at boarding school; oh how I wanted to go to boarding school reading those!).  So, as an adult, when Bridget Jones’s Diary ushered in a new craze of copycats, I became quite a connoisseur. 

I now realize that, while they are technically ad-free, these books also let me shop vicariously.  Almost every one has a shopping scene or two.  Sophie Kinsella’s series, of course, takes the shopping motif to dizzying heights.  Even if there is no direct shopping, there are usually descriptions of adorable outfits and random allusions to trendy brands.  Griffin’s latest contribution was no exception.  Throughout the novel, we get one darling ensemble after another, and I realize I’ve been imagining wearing each one as I read.

So, sneaky shopping trigger: discovered!  Fortunately, my budget allows for some shopping soon, but until then, I’m pleased that I’ve identified where the urge is coming from.  Knowing is half the battle!


Back to Basics: Replace Bad Habits

This is the third post in a series on the three R’s of debt reduction.  Read the introduction here.  Learn how reflection can help here.  Today, I’m posting on my next step: replacing my bad habits.

Fill Up Your Life!

Once I started seeing the ways that I spent money foolishly, I felt stronger and stronger about my spending choices.  Concurrently, I started looking for new things to do.  As you may remember, “Amy’s new thing” is a bit of a joke with my friends and family.  My “new thing,” be it yoga, backpacking, or scrapbooking, used to eat up lots of my money.  This time, my “new thing” was personal finance.  I threw the same energy that I used to throw into hobbies into debt reduction.  I read; I talked to people; I obsessed over financial improvement.  The one thing that was different was the shopping!  Since I couldn’t go out and buy new things to help me reduce my debt, I started finding alternate ways to fill my time. 

by Michel Filion

by Michel Filion

Here were some of the best:

  • Snowflakes!!  Of course, I can’t sing the praises of PaidTwice‘s method enough.  Briefly, the idea is that you start looking for ways to earn little bits of money.  All those bits add up to new money that can go toward your debt.  A simple example is to cash out all your spare change and send it off to your debt.
  • Sell stuff: organizing your house, running garage sales, selling things online, all of this takes time and effort.   Dedicate a few Saturdays to putting unwanted items on eBay, Amazon, or craigslist.  Plan ahead for a yard sale.  Instead of running to the mall, you’ll be too busy making money.
  • Fill out online surveys.  Rather than surfing the ‘net for shopping, use the time to fill out surveys.  After you sign up for a few sites, you’ll start getting one or two surveys a day.  PaidTwice has a great overview here.  I even did a little bit on mTurk, even though the money is pretty miniscule.
  • Shop your house.  It’s old advice, but it really works.  If you get the urge to buy new clothes, organize what you’ve got and vow to try a new combination every day for a week.  If you think you need something for the garden or the kitchen, look around and try to find a substitute.  All those unused scrapbooking supplies are great for crafts with the kids or making your own cards.  Soon it becomes almost as much fun to find a frugal substitute as it is to wander the aisles of your nearest big-box store.
  • Read, read, read.  Check out personal finance books from your library.  Surf CNNMoney or the world of personal finance blogs every day.  The more you surround yourself with good financial advice, the more foolish some of your earlier habits will seem.
  • Cook or garden.  If you’ve always wanted to become a better cook, now’s the time.  Rather than lounging on the couch or going out to eat, try a few new, simple recipes.  You may quickly find that you’d much rather eat your good food than sit at another stuff-on-the-wall chain.  Grow a few herbs and tomato plants, and you’ll have great resources right outside your back door.
  • Get outside.  This is timeless advice, but it really helped me.  On weekends, the husband and I would try to hike or rollerblade or bike rather than shop.  I love being outdoors, and every time I get in the woods, I remember what my real priorities are in life.

There you have it!  Those were my favorite ways to stay busy during the last six months.  Once I had some healthier habits established, I hardly had time for an afternoon at the mall.  By filling up your life with good things and new ideas, you’ll soon find you don’t have time for the old habits.  For example, I now have so many books from my library that a trip to Barnes and Noble seems really foolish.  Tommorow, I’ll look at the last “R” of debt reduction: renew.  Until then, share your tips for positive habits below.  I’d love to hear them!

Back to Basics: Reflect on Your Debt

This is the second post in a series on the three R’s of debt reduction.  Read the introduction here.  Today, I’m examining what I think is the most important step: reflect.

Take Time to Reflect

by lanuiop

by lanuiop

As I learned, just taking on more debt to wipe out old debt is a no-win situation.  In order to change, I had to really examine what behaviors got me here in the first place.  Without examining my old behaviors and anxieties, I couldn’t really move forward.  By sitting with my emotions and watching for impulse triggers, I was able to come up with solutions that broke my debt cycle.  For example, I often spent money frivilously on little “treats” when I felt uncomfortable.  Sometimes, it was as simple as a cup of hot tea on a cold day.  Other times, it was more expensive, like a new outfit for a blind date or $200 worth of office supplies for a new job.

Sure “Reflect” Sounds Great, But How Do You Do It?

  • Write in a notebook: keep a small notebook with you all the time.  Anytime you spend money, jot down how you feel.  It’s a common diet trick, but works with money as well.  You’ll start to notice patterns as you read back through your notebook.
  • Keep a blog: writing to an audience makes you go the extra mile on introspection.  As I quickly discovered, blogging forced me to compose posts in my head all the time.  Watching my life the way my audience would made me look for things to blog about.  That intropection crystalized patterns that had lingered beneath the surface.
  • Find a network: a support group, be it family, friends, or virtual, can really help you out.  Just talking about money and ways to reduce debt will help you notice things that you can change.
  • Just breathe: this one actually helped me the most!  Everytime I had an impulse to spend, a few deep breaths recentered me and helped me see the motivation behind the impulse.  One day, I walked away from the perfume counter when I realized that bug in my ear was more about keeping up with a friend than about me really needing perfume.

The more that you work to analyze your impulses to spend, the easier it will become.  If you want, take a look at some of my earliest posts.  They’re all about resisting the urge to spend.  As I kept writing, I slowly learned to distinguish my axiety-fueld purchases from more necessary purchases.  How about you?  How do you reflect on your spending habits?

Back to Basics: The Three R’s of Debt Reduction

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about paying off my credit cards!  While it’s a great feeling to have that debt all wiped out, I also want to make sure that I don’t slide back into the same old behaviors.  Over the past six months, I’ve really changed my relationship with money. 

For most of my credit history, I overspent, took out student loans to pay off debt, and overspent again.  It’s a vicious cycle!  Anyone tempted to follow in my footsteps or take out a home equity loan or consolidate credit will probably discover the same can of worms I did.  Each time, I thought that this was absolutely the last time I would need to use loans to pay off my credit cards.  Then, the next semester, I’d be back in the same old spot.  This time, I feel that I’ve actually made some progress with the underlying behaviors that led to my overspending ways. 

by christopher.woo

by christopher.woo


 Now, I want to keep it healthy!  I’ve identified three key concepts that helped me, the three R’s of debt reduction if you will:

  • Reflect
  • Replace
  • Renew

These three verbs enabled me to change my ways and make it through some rough patches.  In this series, I’ll explain each one in more detail, a three-step approach to my new relationship with money.  It wasn’t simple, and it didn’t happen overnight.  However, it did happen, and faster than I thought it would!  Check in tomorrow to see how important some serious reflection is for successful debt reduction.  Any other R’s come to mind?

Please Take a Number

Do you know that sinking feeling you get when you walk into the DMV? Most of the time, the room is full of people who are veterans of the waiting game. You have to walk past all of them, up to the counter, to pull off your little number. The worst part is when you look at the number, look up at the sign on the wall, and realize just how long you’ll have to sit there along with everyone else.

Debt-repayment reminds me a lot of that particular waiting game. You take a number, probably the amount of debt on your credit card; you calculate how long you’ll be waiting in debt-repayment mode, and then you realize it’s time to sit there and wait as your debt shrinks. I get paid once a month, so that means I have 30-31 days of wait time in between the exciting days where I can send big payments off to the credit cards. That’s a lot of time to easily get discouraged, say “forget it!”, and go shopping. In all the years that I tried paying down my cards, that’s usually what happened. This time, however, I finally figured out how to WIN the waiting game. Come Friday, my last big payment goes off to the cards. How did I do it? Well, here were my rules to make all that waiting go faster:

  • Rule #1:  Keep yourself occupied by “snowflaking.”  At the DMV, I always take a book to make the time go faster.  At boring meetings, I have an “activity pack” of papers to grade or work to edit.  In debt-repayment mode, Paid Twice’s great concept of snowflaking became my activity pack.  To fill in the thirty odd days between paychecks, I completed surveys, did tasks on Mturk, cleaned out our house and sold things on Amazon, hosted garage sales, and picked up contracting work.  Anything I could do to earn money, I did.  Keeping myself occupied earning extra income helped to keep my focus on debt-repayment.  I was working so hard to bring in $2 here and $10 there that I didn’t want to go blow that money on books or coffee.
  • Rule #2: Be kind to yourself.  Instead of beating yourself up over having debt, reward yourself for taking the steps that few folks take to get OUT of debt.  When I started, I gave myself $200 a month for “fun.”  At first, it was the psychological security blanket that I needed to change my behaviors.  Instead of going cold turkey, I had a little money to pay for things that I used to charge.  Once the debt snowball got rolling, I often snowflaked most of that money to my debt.  However, at first, I needed that little cushion to feel like I wasn’t in debt-repayment purgatory.
  • Rule #3: Find a frugal support network.  You have to find a way to combat the steady stream of encouragement that we Americans get to over-consume.  Advertising is everywhere.  While it may not influence you much to buy one product over another, I’m convinced that it does persuade you to consume in general.  During debt-repayment mode, I cut way back on television.  I’ll never forget the time in March when I was sick and watched TV all day.  The next time I was in Target, I had this urge to stock up on cleaning products for the house.  I know it was because I was barraged by cleaning-product ads for that eight-hour stretch!  You may find a real-life support network of friends who are in the same boat, or you may rely on the great network of personal finance blogs.  Whatever you do (I do both), the more “normal” it seems to be frugal, the easier it is!
Those are the three things that I did differently that really helped this time: “snowflaking,” a little “fun” cushion to start, and a support network.  After six months, which is not really that long in the grand scheme of things, I’ll finally be free of credit-card debt.  I actually even had fun along the way!  
What do you do to play the waiting game?

What a Difference Six Months Make

This morning, I called one of my credit card companies to change to my married name.  As you may recall, the last time I called companies, I was trying to lower my interest rate on the cards.  My hands were all sweaty, my heart was pounding, and I hated feeling like I was asking for a speical favor.

Today, just a few days away from the big payoff, I called the company with my zero balance.  Rather than getting kicked around and ignored, I got the royal treatment.  For the first time in my life, they offered up a “gold” option, and I was told that my credit report must be grand because not everyone gets this offer.  Of course, I know they were just buttering me up, but I’ve never been buttered up by them before.  Remember, for most of my twenties, I spent my time dodging calls from creditors.  The “gold” offer was for debt consolidation at a “low” long-term rate.  Once I was transferred and learned the specifics, I realized it wasn’t that great an offer, still 8% for the life of the loan.  The woman asked how much debt I’d like to consolidate, and I happily said “none!  I’m paying my cards off on Friday.”

She quickly countered that I could use the line of credit for anything, such as home renovations.  Now, the husband and I would like to do some serious renovations in a few years, but we plan to save up for it.  It could have been so easy to say, “Sure, we’ll take $30,000” and just jump in.  We’d like to renovate the second floor of our garage into a gym/yoga studio and home office.  We also want a den and extra bedroom in the basement.  While we’re at it, why not toss in new appliances in the kitchen?  Ours work great, but are not all shiny and new.

It just goes to show you how ubiquitous credit is in our culture.  Now that I’ve worked so hard to pay my debt off, I could sink back in the blink of an eye.  It’d be great fun to start on the house.  I have lovely fantasies about a little nook to work in over the garage, with a view of all the pretty, old trees in our neighborhood.  However, I’m not even officially debt-free yet.  I also want to spend a few years wallowing in that feeling!

To Save, Play the Waiting Game

A friend of mine has had a series of status updates on Facebook regarding an iPhone. Every few days he lets us know that he’s successfully resisted the temptation to buy one again. I like that he’s put it out there because the longer he waits, the more likely he is to avoid the purchase. Of course, now, he’ll also get heaps of grief from all of us if he gives in. Having a frugal support network like that can certainly help us save money.

For new bloggers like me, reading everyone else’s successes helps keep me in line, most of the time. Since I started blogging, my (now) husband and I have been thinking about buying a new flat-screen TV. We even started a savings fund for it. All summer, my “snowflakes” from selling things went to my credit card debt and his went to the TV fund. We’re now at about $400, but I think, by waiting so long, we’ve actually talked ourselves out of buying the TV.

When considering a major purchase, I’ve seen the great advice to wait one day for every $100 you might spend. We’ve actually waited far longer, but by saving rather than buying on credit, we forced ourselves to really think about it. If we had rushed out and bought a TV when we first got the notion, we’d still be paying for it now, probably a little unhappy that we had that debt. Instead, we have a little money to play with now (we’re thinking about a new digital camera).

Now, before I pat myself on the back too much, I have to make a major confession. In the whirl before the wedding, I gave into a serious impulse buy. I knew that I wanted some new lingerie for the honeymoon, and was even inspired by Mrs. Micah’s post to just buy some nice Hanky Panky items that I could wear everyday and leave it at that. However, in the back of my mind, I also had Grace Kelly from Rear Window floating around in that lovely, flowing nightgown and robe, passing a glass of brandy to Jimmy Stewart. Faithful readers may remember that I even resisted buying a nightgown in San Francisco.

When I walked into the store, I found the nightgown of my dreams, plus a matching chiffon robe. Of course, it was ridiculously expensive, but I got so swept up in the moment that I bought that, plus some underwear, plus some really cool yoga pants. I absolutely love everything I bought, but let’s just say that my current credit card debt would be half what it is now if I had resisted.

I’m pretty sure that if I had just walked out of the store with the few pairs of underwear that I went in to buy, I wouldn’t have gone back for the nightgown and robe. Of course, it’s easy to justify. . .”our honeymoon,” “I love it,” “it’s so beautiful!” However, the truth is that I charged it because I did not have enough money to pay for it. That’s the problem with resisting! We can be so good about it 99% of the time, like my husband and I have been with the TV, but that 1% can really set us back. That’s also why having a support network helps. Knowing that I do have to fess up keeps me on track most of the time!