Blog Posts about Recovery from Compulsive Spending and Debting
(Scroll down for most recent posts) This website contains HUNDREDS of articles to help you work a program of recovery around compulsive spending and debting. Topics range from setting up a spending plan to working the steps to dealing with relationships in recovery … and much more! Pick a category from the Sidebar, type a topic in the “Search the Site” box, or just scroll down to read the most recent posts. The articles on this website were written by Susan B., a recovering compulsive spender and debtor. You can read about her recovery journey here.
[Note: This post is derived from my podcast, “I Can’t Stop Spending!” where I talk about why I need to pause production on the podcast. In this post, I also talk about issues around recovery work and Tradition 11, anonymity, underearning, and more. Click here if you would like to listen.]
I began my current recovery from compulsive spending on April 25th 2009. In 2012, I started blogging about my journey to help other compulsive spenders and debtors. The tool of spending plan has been a cherished spiritual weapon in keeping the demons at bay and I loved writing about how to use that tool.
It felt like my life’s mission was to spread the message of hope and practical action around recovery from compulsive spending to those in and out of 12-step rooms. I believe in a spiritual solution, which means that I can’t give you the answer packaged up with a tidy, little bow. But I can be a conduit to offer my experience, strength, and hope while you walk along the path with me.
So, while I can’t teach you how to stop compulsive spending, I can offer practical advice about how to get over the terror that keeps you from even beginning the process of developing a spending plan. I can share my own experience, strength, and hope around staying sober despite the pain we all experience emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually because of this debilitating addiction. And I can show you how to create and use a spending plan, which is vital to recovery.
I’m Just another Compulsive Spender
But never forget, I’m no different from you, no guru with a grand plan that I guarantee will work for you. I’m just another compulsive spender living in recovery one day at a time. Yes, there is the Grace that has come to me and thousands of others around compulsive spending, one day at a time. But that Grace can disappear in an instant if I am not willing to do the hard work of living within my means no matter how much I want to buy something I can’t afford. My willingness to do just that is how I paid off $34,000 of unsecured debt in seven years despite becoming disabled and losing over half my income, and it’s how I continue to live within my means today.
There are many paths to recovery from compulsive spending. But I only know of one that worked for me, and I tried many … “lots” of many. And that is why I rail against the big names in the personal finance money management world who profess to have the answer to getting out of debt. Because there is a big difference between helping those of us who can stop spending by force of will and those who are afflicted with a broken “shut off valve” inside. None of those experts understand the mind of a true compulsive spender and the fact that you can be sick and suffering around your relationship with money without being in debt. And not one of them tries.
I am one of those who failed and failed and failed to stop spending no matter how many books or programs or therapies I tried. But just for today, I have been relieved of the compulsion and cravings. And just for today, I am willing to stay sober with money and say no to debt.
To pretend that I can give you what I have been given is hubris of the highest order. But I know where you can go to get just what I got. And that is to the rooms of Debtors Anonymous, a 12-Step program that is free to anyone who wants it.
How the Podcast Came to Be
I’m now 62, but for at least 40 years, I wanted to be a radio talk show host. I dabbled, but didn’t have the guts or willingness to feel the pain it took to struggle to succeed in that industry.
But last year, due to a windfall, I was able to take Cliff Ravenscraft’s A to Z podcasting course paid in cash. I am grateful that I had the money because the course was more than I ever hoped it would be, and if I had debted to make it happen, there is no way I would have gotten all the benefits I did.
How do I know this? I know this because of my experience with the $15,000+ I debted in order to pay for all the other training programs and coaching I bought as a compulsive spender. Just an aside, but Cliff is a remarkable mentor and teacher, and he offers a treasure trove of material for free so that money is no barrier to becoming a podcaster. But I’m so happy that I had the opportunity and money to work with him personally.
Creating this podcast felt like the next natural step to spreading the message of recovery to compulsive spenders. It has truly been a dream come true and an honor to share my journey and my experience, strength, and hope with you.
Why I Need to Pause Production on This Podcast
But now I’m at a place where I need to pause on producing the show. I’m not at all sure this is my last podcast, but I am sure I need to take a step back. There are a number of practical reasons I came to this decision, including vocal cord and other health issues, financial issues, time issues, and something else that I cannot quite figure out.
It’s that last one that has been causing me to go round and round and round trying to make this decision. It’s like I need space to open my heart to hear my creative muse, which seems to be trying to break free from some internal shackles.
But letting go feels like failure to me. For weeks, I’ve been in a place where I have been holding on for dear life to this podcast while real life has continued to pry me away along with a still, small voice inside that is growing louder.
Respecting Tradition 11 in a Connected World
One thing I’ve come up against is the anonymity issue. In order to take my message to the next level, I would need to use my name and show my face. That has been a very hard obstacle to overcome in my attempt to adhere to DA’s 11th Tradition, which states, “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.” Many therapists, authors, radio/TV/podcast hosts, and other celebrities have forged ahead and thrown caution to the wind, identifying their membership in 12 step programs.
There have been critics, but the fact is, the work of those who have stepped forward has helped so many in recovery from a variety of addictions. In fact, I would never have come to Debtors Anonymous were it not for Jerrold Mundis’ book, “How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously.” Right on the copyright page, it states, “Based on the proven principles and techniques of Debtors Anonymous.” You don’t get more out there than that.
But his book saved my life.
Though the issue with Tradition 11 is that if someone loses their sobriety then it reflects on the program as a whole, in today’s world, it seems that the ability to give service may supersede the possible damage any one person’s relapse may cause. But I’m not sure, today, where I stand on that issue personally. And I need to come to terms with that if I want to go more public with my message.
And there is a point at which service becomes under-earning. For instance, I would love to do lots more interviews, but they can take three days to produce! Even the solo episodes take a day or two. Though I began this podcast in an effort to simply be of service, I’m embarrassed to admit that there is a part of me that wants to be compensated at the point where service begins to feel like an actual job. It just may be best to allow more space in my life to bring in money from work that is separate from sharing my recovery.
The Getting Out From Going Under Blog has Hundreds of Articles about Recovery
So, the podcast is on hold. In the meantime, my blog – Getting Out from Going Under – has hundreds of posts giving you practical instructions around all manner of topics, from spending plans to relationships to working the steps, and more, plus many other posts dealing with other aspects of recovery from compulsive spending. I plan to continue writing posts for the blog. And I’ve got an idea for another book to help compulsive spenders that’s been rattling around in my head for months! Plus, I’m writing on Medium.com (@moneysober) about more general topics.
Agape Minister Rev. Safire Rose’s Remarkable Poem, “She Let Go”
Every time I thought about, for want of a better word, “quitting” the podcast, I’ve been filled with shame and feelings of failure. After all, I committed to doing this for one year and what will people think if I break that commitment?
And then yesterday, I read something that changed everything. And the result was this podcast. Because of what I read, I am listening to my heart instead of acting out of fear.
So I’m going to end today’s show differently. Instead of reading from the Getting out from Going Under Daily Reader for Compulsive Debtors and Spenders, I’m going to end with the poem I found yesterday. It’s called “She Let Go.” It was written by Rev. Safire Rose, an Agape minister. I didn’t want to post the words to the poem for copyright reasons, but you can easily find them doing a Google search. You can listen to me read the poem below (background music is called “Thaxted” by Kevin MacLeod, incompetech.com, Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)
Bless you Rev. Rose. And thank you to everyone who has listened to this podcast and to those who supported me in getting the message of recovery from compulsive spending out to the world through it. If you are a compulsive spender, please know that you are not alone and you can recover one day at a time.
Thanks so much for listening. I wish you all the best.
The problem [with the rent money] was only alerted to Ms Bracher upon [her] contacting the company in May, and it has been unable to tell her when the situation is likely to be resolved.
Ms. Bracher has a history of mental health and compulsive spending problems, and she is concerned she will be unable to resist using the accumulating rent for other purposes.
She said: “I have told Network Housing that I am in danger of spending the money and that it is causing a great deal of anxiety having the money in my account, but they do not seem to care.
As a result, I am not sleeping properly and it is having a massive effect on my day-to-day life and health.
They have put me in a vulnerable position as they cannot tell me when the problem will be resolved and I cannot cope much longer.”
Wow! I can sure relate to that. I clearly remember those days when having a pile of money accumulating in my checking account was gasoline poured on the fire of my compulsion to spend.
But I must say that I am awed by Ms. Bracher’s honesty and integrity around this matter. She reached out to them. And she had clear self-awareness of her problem. That buildup of pressure when we accumulate money is all too familiar to me.
I’ve shared many times that money burns a hole in my pocket, even around sober spending. That’s why having a clear spending plan with every penny allocated to a category is vital for me. When I see a pile of money in my bank account, my addict brain goes, “Whooppeee! Party Time!” But now that I’ve developed the habit of rigorously living by my categories, that compulsive feeling comes on me far less frequently, and only with discretionary categories, like clothing, books, and art supplies.
So while I do empathize with Ms. Bracher’s dilemma, and gratefully remember those days myself, the miracle of recovery is that since April 25th, 2009, I have been able to accumulate in categories defined for a specific purpose to be paid at a later date. For instance, I divide all my annual bills by 12, or quarterly bills by three, and each month, that portion of my income goes into that specific category to be used only for that purpose. Even in my gifts category, where I spend $20 on each of my many great nieces and nephews, I allocate $1.67/month toward each child so I have enough for their gift each year when the time comes to buy it.
Because of recovery, unlike Ms. Bracher, I would be able to accumulate and keep the rent money for as long as necessary because I wouldn’t see it as money I can spend for any other purpose. I am profoundly grateful that recovery has blessed me with a set of blinders when it comes to such spending.
As I said many times, where I do still suffer is in those nagging discretionary categories. It’s nearly impossible for me to accumulate for bigger ticket items, just for the reason Ms. Bracher shared. I am still, despite years of recovery, too tempted by what’s in front of me today. Too often, I will opt for the thing I can afford rather than holding out to “save up” for what I really want.
By the way, “save” is a word I despise (nearly as much as the word “budget”) because it still triggers feelings of deprivation and desperation in me. Like a Pavlov’s dog who was trained to react in a specific way to a stimulus, when I think about saving, I immediately want to spend.
But I love the tool of delayed gratification. Because of my positive experience using this tool, I now more easily turn to it even when in the grips of compulsion because I’ve practiced doing so over and over.
What really helps me is my practice of committing my spending in the morning to another member of my support group every day. I view that commitment as removing all decision-making for new discretionary items that might cross my path in the course of the day.
So, for instance, if I suddenly come across a book I really want mid-afternoon, I am now able to tell myself that if I still want it tomorrow, as long as there’s money in that category, I can buy it then after I commit it. Most often, when tomorrow comes, I no longer want it because my disease has released its death grip on me. That is the miracle of delayed gratification.
Now, that’s how it goes when it’s a fleeing fancy. But in the case of some new item showing up that causes me to experience that “I’m going to die if I don’t buy it now” feeling, I don’t just wait until the next morning. Oh no! I become willing to wait it out until the fire dies down, because I know that it is not sober for me to engage in spending that feels so desperately driven. That may mean waiting weeks, or even months, sometimes. Inevitably, when I wait, once I’m released from desire’s grip, I end up realizing that what I thought I needed so desperately in that addictive state wasn’t in my best and highest good after all and I no longer want it.
Today, I know that feeling of “I will die if I don’t have it right now,” especially when connected with either, “this will make me successful (or rich),” or its sister, “this is the cure for my chronic illness” are never messages coming from the voice of my Higher Power. I know that because I am absolutely certain that my Higher Power’s will for me is to live within my means and will never, ever put something discretionary in my path (as opposed to an actual life or death matter) that is in my best and highest good that I cannot afford.
Maybe I could accumulate the funds over time for that item, class, or service. But if I’m not willing to do that, and instead insist that the only solution is to bankrupt myself or debt, I can be all the more certain that this thought, this feeling is the work of the devil of my addict mind. And when I remember that, I can surrender to the discomfort of waiting it out, so that the sunlight of truth shines on the darkness of my desire.
I’m writing about Valentine’s Day in the hopes that I can convince those of you who fall under its twisted spell to see clearly through the deceptive veil that masks “the day of love.” As you may surmise, I’m not a fan.
Now, bear in mind that this article is somewhat tongue in cheek, but only somewhat. I truly have disdain for this “Hallmark” holiday, which is, in fact, a trifecta of indulgence, a promotional conspiracy between the greeting card, jewelry, and floral industries to drive consumers into guilt spree spending. (By the way, this “holiday” has quite a violent past … but more about that in a moment).
If you don’t believe Valentine’s Day is a blatant manipulation by the industries mentioned above (along with anyone else who thinks they can find a way to get you to open your wallet in the name of love), here are some sickening Valentine’s Day spending statistics from an article called, “38 Surprising Valentine’s Day Statistics Marketers Will Love.”
Before I continue, I can hear you saying, “well, what about Mother’s Day?” To that, I say, wait until you have raised a teenager who is hormonally ungrateful and petulant 364 days a year, and you will understand why being guilt-driven on Mother’s Day, no matter how old you are, is a kindness and penance for those demonic years.
I want to tell you a story about a fictional person we’ll call Jane.
Jane goes to a job interview that she really wants. She’s already nervous about making a good impression. Unfortunately, she senses the interview goes poorly because it was quite short. When she leaves, she begins to ruminate on why it didn’t go well. She replays it over and over thinking about what she might have said or done differently. She starts beating herself up, telling herself she’s just a screw up and thinking about all the ways she failed. Now, her anxiety over this is ratcheting up.
As her vague discomfort becomes more pronounced, she is feeling more and more aware of the pressure building. But she keeps trying to shove it down or ignore it. Jane goes about her day, but on this subliminal level, she’s continuing to feed herself these negative messages.
When she comes home, as soon as she walks in the door, her husband greets her by asking her to give him a hand with something or other.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Jane starts screaming at him that he’s always wanting her to do something, that he doesn’t appreciate her, that she’s had a long day and why can’t he let her be! Now, she’s furious, adding to the pot she’s been stirring her misplaced anger at her husband .
She storms off into the bedroom, slamming the door.
Jane is also a compulsive spender.
When she’s finally alone, when she has nowhere else to turn, she feels desperate to make herself feel better, to purge this alien tormenting creature that has grown to monstrous proportions inside of her, now finally overcoming all her coping mechanisms. She can no longer ignore the simmering emotions that have burst into flames. Continue reading →
Just wrote this article that was published yesterday in The Billfold.
I was preparing to send my son, whom I’ll call “Ben,” to college in the spring of 2009. It was my intention to pay his way so that he wouldn’t have to work and could focus on his studies. In fact, this was my solemn promise to him (and to myself) since he was a child. It was the best gift I could possibly give him… or so I thought.
Miraculously, I had managed to put all the tuition money away in a state-sponsored college fund. I say miraculously, because my propensity was to spend far beyond my means. So I felt pretty darned proud of myself, having made good on my promise despite my proclivities.
But when we actually began the process of selecting the school, I discovered that in-state tuition was just a fraction of the total college costs. I would have to cough up another $7,200 a year to cover housing, food, books, and other expenses!
Click here to listen on our podcast site, “I Cant Stop Spending!”
The one thing I know from decades in 12-step recovery is that I can’t do this alone. “This” means anything I can’t otherwise stop doing compulsively or stop using as a mood-altering drug, from spending, eating, drinking, sexing, Interneting, raging, underearning, co-dependent-ing, adult child-ing, “you name it.”
And when I say alone, I’m talking about my need for help from other humans, not so much the relationship with a Higher Power (or HP), which is fundamental to recovery, but for me, a big part of attaining that spiritual relationship includes my turning to others for help as well as extending my own hand in support. The fact is, my HP most often speaks to me through other people. Continue reading →
Without reading more than a paragraph, I clicked the Share button to spread the word.
The thought of how exciting it would be to go one year without buying new items in one or more of my own discretionary categories whipped up my adrenaline to nearly a frenzy.
But the fact is, it’s the idea of it, the past tense of having accomplished it, that excites me … being at the end of that year and having accomplished the goal. The actual pain of having to endure day after day after day without succumbing to temptation or desire … now THAT is a horrifying thought. Having gone through a three-month moratorium on all discretionary spending, I can tell you that for me, anyway, on many days, it was a nightmare of pain and longing, a battle royale with my addiction.