The Cure for Excessive Spending

Sean has a problem.

Like millions of Americans, Sean is addicted to spending. He buys stuff he doesn’t need with money he doesn’t have. Not only that, but Sean is addicted to spending to the point that it’s having a huge impact on his marriage. His wife has threatened to leave him if he doesn’t get control of his spending.

When Sean called in to The Dave Ramsey Show, he had reached the end of his rope. “I keep a lot of things hidden from [my wife], and I know I’m supposed to tell her everything, but I just feel like I’m addicted to spending. She’s lost trust in me, and she’s wanting to end the marriage over it, and I just don’t know what to do.”

It’s the sad truth that Sean’s problem isn’t unique. Some Americans could be classified as “shopaholics”—people who really are compulsive spenders. But, in reality, most Americans like Sean are just spenders. They’ve grown up without ever being told no, and they have carried that mentality into adulthood. Now, they don’t know how to tell themselves no.

“When I see something I want, I can tell myself no,” Sean said. “But then over the next day or so, I convince myself that I need to go buy it.” He can’t seem to get out of this self-destructive cycle.

Dave Ramsey can relate. After building up a net worth of more than $1 million, he lost everything. A series of bad real estate decisions and a desire to buy stuff his family couldn’t afford eventually led him to bankruptcy. But those failures led him to pursue finding out how money really works—and how to be confident and in control of it. He discovered that there’s a better way.

Dave's advice for Sean was straightforward. “Number one: You’ve got to really believe you have a problem. Sometimes, you need a healthy level of disgust with yourself to make a change. Then you’ve got to realize that the next Costco run you make is going to cost you the marriage. If you get that into your head, then you will change.”

If you find yourself in Sean’s situation, you must—absolutely must—sit down with your spouse, or find an accountability partner if you aren’t married, and make a game plan. Spend every dollar on paper, on purpose, before the month begins. Allocate a small percentage of your budget—depending on your income and your amount of debt—toward “blow money.” Spend that money on whatever you want. But once it’s gone, that’s it. You have to wait until next month to spend more.

When you put everything down on paper, and when you pinky swear and spit shake that “this is the way things are going to be,” then you have made yourself accountable. If you break your word after doing all of that, then you need to be in serious therapy and hope that you can save your marriage.

If you are married, then you’re in this together. There is no such thing as “his debt” and “her debt.” The pastor said, “For better or for worse”—and this is one of those “for worse” times in your life. One of you might have messed up. But, if you want to stay together, then both of you need to figure out a way to fix it. Without you both on the same page, you’ll never rebuild your marriage or overcome your spending problem.

Adults devise a plan and follow it; children do what feels good. If you’re like Sean and have recognized your spending problem, then you have taken the first step. Now, it’s time to follow through.