Thursday, February 11, 2016

October Financial Fitness Challenge—Go Cold Turkey on Consuming Addiction

Hello. My name is Susan and I am an addict.

My gateway was the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog in the early '60s. Its arrival was a big day in my family—the "Wish Book" had arrived. I'd choose one item from each page, and invariably it was the most expensive thing on the page.

Of course I had no way to buy any of those things but it was so innocent, just a version of window shopping. What harm could it do?

These days my suppliers have only multiplied, to include TV and Internet retailers.

I realized how bad my habit had become when I was away from home recently for eight days. On my return, there was a pile of sophisticated glossy persuasion on the dining room table. My email in-box was stuffed with inviting offers from pet supply, vitamin, yarn, shoe, clothing, decorating, and book sellers.

And then the UPS man made a delivery and, not for the first time, I had no idea what it was until I opened the package.

My decades-old denial crumbled. I needed an intervention.

Disconnect your enablers

All the at-your-fingertips convenience of today's shopping has a down side; fulfilling a whim is so easy that it often overrides better judgment. Speaking of blurred lines, you know you want it—needs and wants become indistinguishable.

If you want to stay in charge of your financial goals, it's just as convenient to stop the suppliers at the source with these techniques:

    Curb the catalogs—I turned to Catalog Choice to manage the ever-growing volume of delivered catalogs. And the volume does grow, because catalog retailers sell their lists to other catalog sellers.

    Divert the direct mail—You can sideline prescreened offers of credit and insurance by using the Opt Out Prescreen service. This won't stop offers from local businesses, or from charities, political, or professional organizations, or from companies you already do business with. The Direct Marketing Association, Washington, D.C., also has a direct mail preference service that lets you fine-tune what mail you want to receive.

    Learn the difference between making a buying decision and being "sold."

    Hang up the sales calls—You won't need to screen phone calls once you sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry managed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Washington, D.C. You can register your home or mobile phone, or both, for free. Note that you can't dodge bill collectors by registering your phone number.

    Be a guest at shopping sites—Make a decision to shop only as a guest and not a registered visitor at catalog sites. This is safer—your credit card and other personal information won't be stored by the site, potentially making it vulnerable to hackers. And it slows down your shopping just slightly; that minimal delay could make the difference between an impulse buy and a cooler decision.

    Unsubscribe from seller emails—I get about half a dozen emails a day from retailers I've previously shopped with online or by phone. Retailers use your email address to confirm receipt of your order and to send information about the progress of your shipment—good things to know and a real convenience. But the retailers also send special offers and reminders to buy. Learn to know the difference between making a buying decision and being "sold." And unsubscribe.

    Fulfilling a whim is so easy that it often overrides our better judgment.

Give it time

Expect most of these strategies to take a month or more to become effective. That catalog you receive today, for example, likely was from a list generated weeks ago. Over time, you will see the volume decline.

If you continue to receive telemarketing phone calls after 31 days, notify the FTC and make a complaint.

Compulsive shopping and spending can be a seriously damaging addiction. I don't mean to suggest it is frivolous by being lighthearted discussing it. If it makes it easier for you to recognize that you're affected by it, that's a good thing.

Breaking free of addiction takes time and commitment, and a lot of support. Just be patient and stick with it.

Financial Fitness Challenge

Your credit union personal finance professionals bring you this website and other tools to help you make the most of your money. The Financial Fitness Challenge continues to look at ways you can make better financial habits no matter what condition the economy is in.

Susan Tiffany, CCUFC

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