Rick Kahler is a fee-only financial planner and industry leader in integrating financial planning and psychology.
Brad and Ted Klontz are the leading pioneers in the emerging field of financial psychology and co-founders of Your Mental Wealth.
Here they answer viewer questions about a variety of money disorders.
Diane, Fla.: I have been overspending for years and just want to be "normal" when it comes to shopping. I wake up every morning and think about what do I need today. I have tried to change my spending, but always seem to revert back to my old habits of buying, feeling great then guilt ridden. How can I get help in my area or are their tools you can offer me to help myself?
Ted Klontz: Diane, A really good, cheap (free), effective source of help is a self-help group called Debtors Anonymous. You can go on-line and find a group and/or meeting in your area. You will find people to help you be -- and stay -- accountable. A second level of help would be to engage a therapist who is familiar and comfortable dealing with clients who have money issues. Go to the Conscious Finance Web site to find therapists who have received training in our model and learn more about our model at www.yourmentalwealth.com.
Denise,Tenn.: My problem is not that I spend money frivolously, but I handle our family finances and when there's not enough money to pay the bills, buy needed things for the family, etc., I have gotten us into serious credit card debt and even made withdrawals from a home equity loan account, all without my husband's knowledge. All I would have had to do is to go to my husband each of those times, but I chose to handle it this way instead. For whatever reason, for which I don't have an explanation, I didn't want to bother him or otherwise disappoint him. Furthermore, I got us into almost this exact same situation about 5 yrs. ago, and we worked it out. However, after being given the trust to handle things again by my husband, I have now gotten us back into the same situation again, even worse this time! My husband is very hard-working, but is indeed on the "tight" side with money. I guess I just need to know why I have a problem going to my husband for the money, rather than trying to handle it myself, and continually getting us into debt. Any suggestions? Thanks.
Brad Klontz: Denise, your habit of staying silent with your husband speaks loudly. Not telling him the details of your financial situation may at first seem crazy or mysterious, but with some self-examination, your tendency towards financial infidelity in times of stress will make perfect sense. You already identified one reason you do this- to avoid experiencing his disappointment. Research shows that avoiding disapproval around money is a primary reason couples keep secrets. While not knowing the details of your situation, I can tell you this: money problems in relationships are never just one-sided. Couples co-create many of the conditions that foster or support financial problems or difficulties in communicating around money. Sometimes a partner has an extreme under spending habit due to a deep-seated fear of being poor. In this case, even responsible and modest spending by the other can cause conflict, setting the stage for financial infidelity. Sometimes due to difficult experiences in our past, we may overestimate the degree to which our struggles or failures may disappoint our partner, or the extent to which our partner's disappointment will hurt us. The fact that you were able to work out a similar situation in the past is a good sign. As you take steps to address this now, it can be of great benefit for you to do so with the help of a couple's therapist. A third party can help you navigate tough conversations, explore the relationship and personal dynamics that create or support keeping money secrets, and help you put a system in place so that this cycle does not repeat itself. One thing to consider exploring in counseling is identifying the types of financial decisions you agree to make together. An all-or-nothing approach to family financial responsibility can be a breeding ground for ongoing difficulties.
Merri, Va.: Every month, I spend a few thousand dollars. Usually only two or three...the problem is that I am not currently saving money. I usually buy things for my toddler -- if she smiles at it, I buy it. I would like to stop because this money should be going into savings, I just don't know how. We are not in debt, I pay the card every month, but it still feels horrible...2k x 12 is $24,000 that could be earning interest, instead of being wasted. Please advise...
Rick Kahler Merri, obviously, you have a deep-seeded belief around what it means to spend money today on a child that is against your values. What you logically know you need to be doing with the money is not the behavior you are engaging in. I wonder what your real belief is about children and money that was internalized from your parents as a child?
It might help to visualize the smile on your toddler's face as a teenager when you tell them you saved enough for their college education or so you can retire without them having to support you in your old age. Or the sadness when you tell them you can't pay for their college education as the money was spent long ago on the broken toys of the past.
If that doesn't work, you may need to consider financial therapy. A list of financial therapists and planners that have taken the Onsite Healing Money Issues Workshop is at www.conciousfinance.com.
Beth, S.D.: I seem to have the opposite problem -- I seem to do everything possible to stay as poor as possible. I have a college education, yet seem to find weird ways to never make a minimally adequate salary for more than a few years at a time. I'm much more comfortable having nothing than all the normal things like a home, savings, a retirement plan and I'm way too old to still be doing this. Help!
Ted Klontz: Beth, this situation is more common than you might believe. I was the same way. I learned that I "thought poor," and was uncomfortable with "having more than I needed." It would seem that you are locked into some of your own "money scripts" that would keep you living "poor" and comfortable. In our book, "The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge" we outline common "money scripts" and suggest money script exercises--my guess is that you will run into what your money scripts are there. Do the exercises to help discover where these scripts came from and whether it makes sense to have those as your guiding beliefs. One thing that really helped me change our own money behaviors was to understand that allowing myself to have more money, meant that my children wouldn't have to take care of me. I also grew to understand that if I had more money, I could help others more.
Helen, N.J.: I am 69-years-old and a financial enabler to the extent that I have put myself in a financial box which I am struggling with. I have 3 grown children. One of them, my son, suffered brain damage as a child and has struggled most of his life. He has trouble reading and writing but works with his hands very well in building and painting. He lives in Florida, been through 3 marriages has 3 children. He just can't sustain a living wage. I have made his mortgage payments, child support payments etc. I feel awful that I know I cannot continue to help him for he will surely go to jail for the support and he will lose his house, which he loves. I feel like he suffered so much because of his limitations I need to help wherever I can. I have to stop.
Ted Klontz: Helen, I don't believe you will be able to 'think' or 'resolve' your way out of this by yourself. My bias would be for you to see a therapist who specializes in codependency issues. If you can't afford that, (even if you can afford it, it would be a good idea to do this) find a good Alanon support group (www.al-anon.alateen.org/meetings/meeting.html). They help loved ones stop enabling with many things, in your case, it is money.
Linda, N.Y.: I also have had the same money problems as the people in your news story. I have shopped for years and it's getting to the point where I'm working longer until retirement. I would love to get this illness under control.
Rick Klontz: Linda, you correctly identified it as an illness. And like an illness, you probably need the help and advice of professionals to overcome it. I would highly recommend the Healing Money Issues Workshop at Onsite (www.onsiteworkshops.com). Also, get April Benson's book, "Stopping Over Shopping."