It’s January and most likely everyone has made a resolution to lose weight and get out of debt. The overeating and overspending throughout the holiday season has left most people feeling bloated – both financially and physically.
The majority of Americans will make a sweeping statements and bold resolutions regarding their diet and their finances. Heck, they may even “swear” never to do “that” ever again. How has that worked for us in the past? Not too well, or this insane ritual of annual binging would cease.
How can it be done differently?
Before we take out a pencil and paper (or open an excel spreadsheet) to state a goal or start a budget, we should pause. If the goal is behavioral change, the underlying issues must be addressed. For example, most of us do not need to know any more about the calories contained in a cheeseburger. Most can recite that from memory (540 before the mayo or bacon is added) because we have the knowledge. However, knowledge alone will not change behavior. We have to have the capability of making alternate choices and connecting short-term decisions to long-term outcomes. It is no different with financial capability.
Re-establishing boundaries (diet or budget) provide structure and they are needed, but these things alone will not will not change behavior. That we know thanks to the billion dollar diet industry that perpetuates itself on the consumer failing.
What does work? An examination of deeper issues. Pivoting the focus exclusively to finances, what are the deeper issues that keep members overspending?
- Could the desire to be loved play a part holiday overspending? Advertisers are out in full-force encouraging consumers to show their love by putting a big red bow on a luxury car. Maybe the cost of the engagement ring this February should not be 3-6 months’ salary!
- Could the desire to “keep up with the Joneses” play a part on the amount of debt consumers are willing to take on? If one neighbor gets a new car, all of a sudden, everyone “needs” a new car. Societal standards may lead people to be judged by what they drive, what they wear, or where they live. Some people handle this pressure better than others.
- Could the desire to “numb out” drive consumers to see shopping as entertainment or to accept “retail therapy” as a legitimate coping mechanism? Shopping as a destination for a “girl’s weekend” is not unheard of.
- Can money mean power and influence? Everyone has that one friend who throws money around by buying everyone a round of drinks or tipping extravagantly to show-off. Money is being used to fill a void it was not meant to. Money cannot cure a poor self-esteem.
- Can money get intermingled with love? A mom buys something special for her daughter because she had to work late and missed her recital. A husband buys expensive gifts for his wife’s birthday because he is worried about what she will think if he only spends $50. A woman gives $200 to her younger sister who claims she is strapped for cash, even though she is struggling with her own bills.
Helping members to see the “why” of their spending, can provide the motivation they need to create a better framework for the way they think about money, spending, and debt. They become aware of the inter-play of emotions and money. They learn how to make alternate choices and how to connect short-term decisions to long-term outcomes.
Focus the member on THEIR goals. Remind them that they have no idea how much debt the Jones family is in and comparing themselves to others is the surest way to disappointment. Focusing on THEIR goals is the way they will succeed but it is can be hard to focus in this noisy, omni-channel world where marketing messages come at us fast and furious. Members connected to their “why” can cut through some of this noise.
Resolutions alone fail. Understanding the deeper issues before setting goals and declaring resolutions will lead to better success. It is very important members understand how they think and feel about money because there is a whole industry (marketing/advertising/sales) that has the goal of separating them from their money. The marketer’s job is to increase consumer spending on their brand. Consumers have to be savvy to the marketing messages that play with their emotions. When members understand how they think and feel about money the marketing messages will become more obvious to them and have less impact because they will be focused on their own goals.
A counselor who can help his/her member to look deeper into the way they think about money will have more impact, long-term, on the member than a counselor who leaps straight into doing yet, another budget. Take the time, connect to the member and connect the member to their underlying money issues.