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Avoid Consumer Culture With Your Children

Avoid Consumer Culture With Your Children

As a parent educator and family therapist, I have seen some poor examples of role modeling fiscal behavior. My belief is that a family that practices balanced financial management will raise children that understand the value of money and effort. The Love & Logic style of parenting has a high value on children earning rewards and the parent following through on consequences.

When it comes to money, encouraging the consumer culture in the home is a poor way to set a child up for success. The long-term planning is important if the family can afford it, college funds and a savings account that the child can earn money to deposit through agreed upon benchmarks. A family that provides rewards for the children without a clear reasoning or an expectation that a standard of behavior is important might be hurting the opportunity for children to practice that grit that is so popular in today’s vernacular for raising successful children.

In general, if it is bad for an adult, it is probably bad for a child. Exposing children to the concept of earning and saving for what we want in life will prepare them when they are out in the world making decisions on their own.

Written for GoBankingRates

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Author of I’m Sorry, You are Not a Pick-Up Artist and I’m Sorry, You are Not a Disney Princess

What are the Financial Pitfalls for College Students?

What are the Financial Pitfalls for College Students?

As a counselor for high school students and their families, I am often warning about the hazards for not providing some financial sense to students before they leave for university. Sending a child on their own with little experience managing their own budget is setting them up for failure. An 18-year-old is not expected to have the same priorities as an adult with a full time job and bills to pay, but every student must deal with appropriate choice making and the consequences that come from mismanaging their money.

I imagine that the largest risk for college students is the access to consumer credit. Having a credit card is a safety blanket for some parents as their child goes away, but that is more like a gateway drug for poor management in the future. Credit card companies rely on students spending more than they can pay back, and many college students are happy to oblige. Students should try to use cash only if possible, or only use their debit card.

Student loans cover the cost of tuition and fees, and there is often some leftover amount that goes to the student account. That money can be sent directly to the loan company, but instead the student can misspend it.

Students are buying poor food choices, alcohol, vacations, games, accessories for the dorm or apartment, and clothes. College offers much more freedom during the day than a high school schedule. When we get bored, we think of ways to entertain ourselves. If we have money, sometimes that will be spent without thinking long-term. 

Students can eliminate unnecessary spending by not accepting any more funds for their classes then they need. They can put any potential extra money in a savings account at a bank that has withdrawal restrictions. Students can try to cook more as a group in the dorm kitchens and in their apartments to avoid higher costs of eating out alone or at restaurants.

Students can earn money in a variety of ways. They can work on campus or off campus. Weekends and afternoons are often potential free time for students. There are also options for volunteering during those times. Community centers are places that hire younger people; mall stores in college towns are often flexible with work shifts. During summer, people can stay in town to work, or return home and save money for the next semester.

University students can set up their own investment accounts and IRA’s, but they might not come to that decision on their own. Even having some savings for when they graduate and are in that in-between moment before they find a job can be something a student should think about before its too late. Students should be aware of what a mutual fund is, the concepts around debt repayment and the concept of interest rates.


Author of I’m Sorry, You are Not a Pick-Up Artist and I’m Sorry, You are Not a Disney Princess

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5 Habits of Successful People

5 Habits of Successful People

When we look at who is most successful in life, we tend to see the examples in media of wealthy CEO’s, athletes, or celebrities that seem to have the world at their fingertips. For us regular people looking at them thinking about what their life might be like, we see the outcome, but rarely consider the grind that these folks must go through (or went through) to get to the status that they earned. The blue collar worker that puts in a hard day at work and relaxes when they get home might be just as tired as the white collar worker, but the most successful people at all economic levels have something in common; they do more.

We all want to be successful at the things we do, and we as humans strive to stay occupied. For some, just maintaining a life with comfort is enough. The barriers to mega success might be too much, or the ambition to achieve might not be there for those that are fine with things the way they are. For the most driven if life, the motivation to achieve whatever is possible keeps them going beyond when most people would quit. Everyone in the world shares some universal truths.

The day is only 24 hours. The maximizers have found a way to use as much of that time as needed to achieve their next goal. Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog, states that people should tackle their hardest objective first, then set off on their less time consuming tasks. When we practice successful time management, we can see the day open up to us, allowing us to add goals for new projects to advance our lives however we see fit.

Ambitious people are driven and able to sacrifice some comfort for their other goals. Waking up early is important if we are manipulating our day to fit our needs. Those that seek one form of success will often want to match that in other aspects of life.

Fitness to help the body stay regulated and capable of achieving the goals a person has for themselves. Without that workout, the required energy might not exist for the individual. Working out is a time sucker, and sometimes literally a pain, so knocking it out at a regimented time early in the day saves the time later and activates the body to be ready for a full day.

I know some writers that set an early alarm and force themselves to write 1000 words before they can start their day. This dedication and sacrifice is what propels the people most of us envy as we watch TV or read for entertainment.

To truly be maximizing our potential or reach our ambitions, we have to neglect other aspects of our life that might be safe, relaxing, or help build a stronger family and friendships.

This was a pitch written for GoBankingRates, the final article can be found here. My words didn't make it, but some of my ideas did.


Author of I’m Sorry, You are Not a Pick-Up Artist


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Five steps to reducing family debt

Five steps to reducing family debt

Define the new normal; assess the damage

If we look at a family, whether that is just a couple or including children, we can look at their baseline normal behavior and consider that homeostasis. The normal routine and emotional stability that a family seeks to create is what helps move us through the days emotionally secure, and physically healthy as a family unit. When there are outside events that start to change the balance for our family situation, our basic psychological desire is to return things to normal. Of course, reality is always giving options to choose that will create positive and negative outcomes for others and us. Will we sacrifice a short-term desire for the well being of our family long-term? Will the things that bring us into debt create a better life and a return to homeostasis for the family? These are questions that make or break financial freedom for families. When debt becomes overwhelming to the current conditions a family finds themselves, it is a fork in the road moment. Extreme debt can bring out sides of our personalities that may have been hidden from our partners when things were more balanced. When blame is introduced into the relationship the debt becomes the runaway train that a couple can’t jump from as it heads for a cliff.

The strength of any relationship is in the way a couple is able to communicate and handle issues that threaten their security.  Often we bring our personal habits into our relationships and if we are not able to create new blended beliefs with our partners, we might have the urge to break away instead of sticking together with our partner when an issue as heavy as extreme debt affects us. Parents must be able to devise a plan for financial recovery together that both partners will buy into. When one or both people are on the brink of bankruptcy or foreclosure, or buried by student loans and consumer debt, the couple may need to bring in professionals to guide them through even the smallest financial decisions. Couples that want to Couples need to draw that line in the sand together, and if one partner can not bear to make the changes in their lifestyle to recover financially, then that might spell the end for that relationship.

Come together as a team

When we decide to join our lives together with another person and maybe even bring children into that family, we are accepting that person for their strengths and their weaknesses. We might have some hope that they will adjust any part of their behavior over time, but once the cow is bought, we better get comfortable with the taste of the milk.  For couples that co-habitate before marriage, they might get a clearer picture of how their partners spend. Of course families don’t have to include a wedding, but financially, once you are bound legally, you are on the hook for the actions of your partner in many cases. For a family utilizing a joint account as the only pool of funds, everyone is hurt by the actions of an over spender or a large debt burden for both partners. When people get together they think until death do us part, but maybe one or both of the couple is in poor financial health from the beginning. If the old normal for the partners created a debt monster, it will take both partners to slay the beast to create a new normal. Family should be looked at as an “all-in” situation. If one partner resents the need to make cutbacks and changes to their lifestyle because the partner created the issue, it will lead to conflicts and potentially sabotage of the financial recovery. If the debt comes from an outside source like an accident or treatment of illness, it might be easier to swallow the need to emotionally accept the need to make changes. When the debt is man-made in nature, it is natural to want to escape blame or not confront the source of the issue.  However the debt originated, it will only benefit the family unit to address it together. If one person is left with the burden to pay, not only will it take longer to pay down the debt, more interest will accumulate. With any family or relationship issue, united we stand, divided we fall. Going back to the debt as a child metaphor, if a couple does not have a united front when disciplining the child, the inconsistency will create more conflict. With debt, there is no good cop bad cop, and no going it alone. A life built together is going to be full of compromises. For the creator of the most debt, they should be aware that they have put a great strain on the unit. The other partner should be empathetic and not make them feel worse than they do already.  When we support our partners we are rewarded in many ways. A stringent financial plan can keep both partners accountable and take some of the animosity out of lifestyle changes that might hurt one partner more than the other.

Don't blame one another

Having open communication about the debt lingering over the family is not the easiest habit to become accustomed to. It is natural that when habits are changing and major transitions from one kind of lifestyle to a more frugal kind of living occur that negativity will arise. Both adults should be honest with one another when the feelings become stressful. The couple can help each other through the moment. If the negativity is too much, seeking psychotherapy or confiding in a close friend can make the difference for people feeling stuck in a bad situation. The partner that carries guilt for the problem will be looking for signs of resentment to justify their guilty feelings. If that is fulfilled, it is that seed for conflict. Part of facing a debt monster is recognizing how it came to be in the first place. If partners look within to recognize their behaviors that created the issue, and are able to communicate these moments to their partner, the team building and understanding gained can be the energy that helps break bad habits and the reinforcing of better behaviors by the partners will keep the debt monster isolated as a source of conflict for the family.

Whatever it takes

The ideal way to start facing a debt monster is to be ready to do anything possible. This is a major step towards a higher quality of life for a family in the long run, but it may require some short-term pain to get back to homeostasis.  This is a make or break moment for a family, and they will need all hands on deck to steer the ship. Building a plan that includes every kind of debt that the couple has, along with all the possible ways to avoid taking on new debts need to be addressed. This family will need to look at all aspects of their life and maybe even need to do some emotional work together to stay in alignment as they plan their fiscal future. The plan should build solutions in the order of which the problems present the most harm to the family. Sacrifice is the key word for crating a new standard of living while the debt is decreased.  Downsizing in many ways is going to be an obvious start, and that kind of behavior should be well thought out, especially if children are involved. You shouldn’t run a marathon without training, in the same way; you should have a training regimen devised for financial health. Humility will be a must during this restructuring of the family lifestyle. Once the plan is in place that has short-term and long-term goals, a couple can gather strength from one another and even seek support from their close friends and extended family as they transition. This planning may be the most important step in any debt situation. Blindly throwing money at debts might leave not enough money to live a minimal lifestyle. Not feeding the kids is not an option, so following the six P’s will be a constant aspect of any debt plan. Prior planning prevents piss poor performance.   

Sustain good habits

My psychological perspective is based in behaviorism, that rewards, consequences, and incentives can make a change in behavior sustainable. Anyone can choose to make changes, but it becomes harder to maintain a new habit without any positive feedback or consequence for non-compliance. A family that is doing their best to reduce an extreme debt can be in the process for years or even decade or more. Without recognizing their strength as a family to keep the faith in one another as well as to stay on target for the long-term plan, the habits may start to break. Encouragement from the partners is obviously important. Another way to feel good about a very difficult process is to gamify the process. Set up a reward for the family when milestones are reached. They don’t have to cost money. A special moment to celebrate together is all it takes to help a couple reconnect and stay motivated to keep moving in a positive direction. It could be a meal out of the house, a visit to relatives, or something sentimental to the family. Without reward and consequences change becomes difficult to sustain. If things go negative and there are mistakes that increase the debt along the way, then a consequence can be created as part of the plan.

What to tell the kids

When children are affected by the lifestyle change, it doesn’t do a family any good to ignore that issue. Parents should be introducing children old enough to ask for stuff about how things come to be in the home and how money works. Games like Monopoly and LIFE are good introductions to buying and spending for children. When a family needs to change the current standards that the children are used to, parents can explain the importance of paying what we owe and what might happen when we do not pay back or give back things we borrow. Obviously we don’t want our children to think that they are being punished as we tighten our belts, so setting our children up with an understanding that sometimes we can not have what we want immediately, we have to work towards things we want, to earn good things. Parents can be creative in the way they transition their family to more frugal living. If they can make eating at home fun and try to make mealtime full of fun and teachable moments, kids might forget about eating out back in the day and the desire to go places that cost. Having a positive attitude, as parents will be contagious for children. Hit the libraries and find free sources of media instead of going to the movies. Introduce more family time at home and once consequence of having a debt monster might be a stronger family bond once you come out the other side.  Major transitions like moving homes and downsizing cars might be a reality, and in those cases kids don’t need to know everything, just that we as a family found a place that will make our lives better after a while, and we want to be as happy as possible.   

This was the follow up to an article written for


Author of I’m Sorry, You are Not a Pick-Up Artist

Recover from a spending spree

Recover from a spending spree

Six ways to recover financially after a spending spree

  By Matt AldertonOctober 14, 2015

Shopping till you drop can wear you out and max out your credit cards. Getting back on track after a spending spree takes time, effort and a focus on avoiding the urge to splurge in the future.

A little retail therapy is normal, says Ethan Gregory, a counselor, psychologist and advice columnist. ''If we are seeking a mood boost, shopping fits the bill.'' He adds, ''It makes sense why someone could be a shopaholic or prone to splurging.''

Most shoppers, though, exercise self-control. ''Their shopping is mindful, not mindless,'' says Bruce Sanders, author of “Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers.”

But what happens when retail therapy turns into a shopping binge?

The best way forward after a spending spree is to get back on course.

Here are six ways to regroup, recalibrate your budget and recognize the triggers to avoid future spending sprees and their credit hangover:

1. Stop the bleeding.

Before you do anything else, stop shopping. ''Easier said than done, but it's a crucial first step,'' says Albie DiBenedetto, marketing and education supervisor at American Consumer Credit Counseling in Auburndale, Massachusetts.

''Don't shop as a hobby, or just to pass time. If the urge does strike, try thinking wants and needs,'' he says. ''Do you need those shoes? Or do you need to pay your rent this month? Do you need the $150 jeans? Or can you find a less expensive pair that will do?''

Don't shop as a hobby, or just to pass time. If the urge does strike, try thinking wants and needs. Do you need those shoes? Or do you need to pay your rent this month?”
– Albie DiBenedetto,
marketing and education supervisor at American Consumer Credit Counseling

If the line between ''needs'' and ''wants'' seems fuzzy, try the 10-second rule. ''If you're considering a purchase, give yourself 10 seconds to decide,'' DiBenedetto says. ''If it's an absolute necessity, then it's an easy choice. If it takes more than 10 seconds to decide, then it's a 'no.'''

2. Recalibrate your budget.

''Getting out of debt does require a certain amount of discipline, but making a slip-up certainly isn't the end of the world,'' says DiBenedetto.

If you spend money you shouldn't have spent, ''the key is reevaluating your situation and looking for areas in your budget where you can make adjustments to help you catch back up.

''That might mean, for example, that if you usually go out to dinner twice a week, next week you don't go out to dinner at all and you use the money you save to get back on track.''

3. Close your shopping card.

If you funded your spending spree with a credit card, paying off the charges and then closing the card could give you the positive reinforcement you need to correct course, Sanders says. And while closing a card can hurt your credit score, the benefits of getting out of debt outweigh closing an account or two.

''Consumer behavior research finds that a good predictor of success in getting out of debt is the number of credit accounts closed toward the start of the program,'' Sanders says. ''The dollar balance of the credit accounts closed during the initial effort is not a good predictor. Instead, the momentum of closing accounts makes the difference.''

4. Eliminate triggers.

 ''Learn to spot the triggers so you head off overspending,'' says Sanders.

That sounds easier than it is. ''Correcting the habit of overspending takes some behavior interventions to eliminate the exposure to the trigger, and some proactive behaviors to make it harder to give in to the desire,'' says Gregory.

We can't avoid advertisements and online marketing completely, but we can avoid visiting the sites where we are more likely to spend.”
– Ethan Gregory, a counselor, psychologist and advice columnist

''We can't avoid advertisements and online marketing completely, but we can avoid visiting the sites where we are more likely to spend,'' he says. And carrying a small amount of cash and not using a card can will eliminate adding to your card balances.

''Also, putting yourself on a budget that allows for a minor reward in the same way we might have a cheat meal in our diet could help a person develop more moderation.''

5. Keep your receipts.

One of the things about buying stuff is that you typically can return it.

''After a shopping spree, when you've had time to think about your purchases, make some returns,'' DiBenedetto says. ''You'll probably realize that you spent too much, so go ahead and bring some things back.''

6. Pay for your mistakes.

When you go on a shopping spree with a credit card, you come home with more stuff — and more debt. The sooner you pay off that new debt, the sooner you can move on.

Some people may start small, nipping away at their debt much as a snowball builds as it rolls downhill. You lay out all your debts and pay them off in order from the smallest balance to the highest balance.

Others may prefer the avalanche approach, paying off debts from the highest interest rate card to the lowest interest rate card. Either way works, DiBenedetto says.

Going on a spending spree is like binging on ice cream. You know you shouldn't, but when you do, you have to work off the debt. You also must recognize the signs that your spending is going off the rails — you want to keep an occasional taste of ice cream from turning into a daily date with Ben and Jerry.

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Author of I’m Sorry, You are Not a Pick-Up Artist


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