Reality Check: The Gift of the Long View

When her credit card bill arrived last January, Jessica came face-to-face with the reality of the shopping she’d done over the previous months. She had no idea that she had spent so much!

Yet when she checked the charges, she could see they were accurate. There were some dinners out, new party clothes, Christmas gifts for her friends, family, work colleagues and acquaintances. There were some household items and some decorations that looked really nice at the time. None of the individual purchases were expensive, but it’s amazing what happens when they are added up. Wow!

Jessica concluded that she needed to make a change in her life to ensure that she would never get that kind of shock in her mail again. To get that change started, she used the four-step reality therapy approach. Simply put, she asked herself four questions: What do I want? What am I doing? How is it working? What’s my plan?

It was easy for Jessica to answer the first question: what she wanted was a zero balance on her credit card.

Looking at what she had been doing was a bit more traumatic. When she examined her charges, Jessica saw that essentially her approach had been, “If I see it and I want it and it seems like a good price, I buy it!”

How had that been working? While the individual items were not expensive, the combination had piled up that bill. The saddest realization for Jessica is that she could barely remember some of the purchases. The cheap clothing and glitzy decorations had already been thrown away, yet she was still feeling the pain of paying for them. Some of the gifts looked great in the store but not so great when she got them home, so she had bought others. She was buying and buying; yet getting little satisfaction from her purchases.

Now, what’s her plan? Jessica analyzed her income and her essential expenses and realized that if she stopped going out for lunch, made her own coffee instead of stopping on the way to work, and delayed all non-essential clothing and household expenses, she could pay off the balance in six months.

Well it took a little longer, but after a sustained effort, Jessica finally paid off the balance in November. The feeling of freedom made the months of brown-bagging lunch, foregoing coffee shop visits, and putting off purchases worth it. She was free!

But…wait. Christmas is again around the corner, and it is the most wonderful and purchase-filled time of the year. The pressure to build up that balance again is almost irresistible.

Can Jessica survive the season without again breaking the bank? Consider, “What do I want?” and “What’s my plan?”

Jessica knows what she wants—A happy Christmas without going into debt.

Is there a plan that could make that happen? One strategy is to take the long view for each purchase. Ask, “If I’m still paying for this next July, would I still be happy to have bought it?”

Do you have strategies to control your spending?

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