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Staying Focused During the Holidays

Natasha is working on the cash flow worksheets for me, as well as entering all her spending in her spending journal that I provided a while back. When we spoke two weeks ago, she mentioned that she had begun to use the journal, but did not enter things that were necessary -- like clothes for the boys. I explained that she needed to enter everything in the journal, and not to worry about deciding whether an item was necessary or not at this time. We will get to that eventually.

But the exchange deals with the emotional aspect of spending, and unfortunately, overspending. Natasha is not alone in this dilemma and society and the media don’t make it easy.

What are some of the leading causes of overspending? An obvious one is trying to keep up with the Jones’s (or Smith’s, or whatever your neighbor’s last name is). You would be surprised at how many visitors to my home are amazed that we don’t own a big flat screen TV. Americans want to feel good -- NOW. We lead very stressful lives -- work, school, raising our families, you name it. We want to reward ourselves, and darn it, buying stuff -- whether it’s a $5 cup of coffee for myself, or those ugly looking Ugg boots for my daughter -- makes us feel good.

Actually, buying stuff for others often makes us feel better than buying something for ourselves. Advertisers know this. That’s why, at this time of year, commercials urge us to measure our love for our dear ones by how much we spend on their gift. (How else can you explain a big red bow on a luxury car?) Meanwhile, news stories make it seem like we have a moral obligation to spend, spend, spend, to save the economy from everlasting ruin. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have cash in your pocket for any of this – that’s what credit cards are for, right?

But all this spending eventually comes home to roost. When it comes down to it, the main reason we overspend is because we don’t have, or forget, our financial goals. I’ve lost you, right? It’s not glamorous or fun, and is certainly not easy. But if we understand and believe in a higher goal it can be a lighthouse beacon guiding us away from the dark, choppy, waters of instantaneous gratification.

In Natasha’s case, the main reason I wanted to help her was her wish to move her children to a safer neighborhood. Now that’s a noble goal. I believe she is finally on the right path because she is really struggling with her desire to buy “nice things” for her boys even though she doesn’t have the money. Our biggest challenge over the next few days and weeks will be to address this head on. Creating good memories for our kids doesn’t have to cost much, or anything. We just have to think about what’s really important.

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