How to Overcome An Obsession with Consumerism

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on April 8, 2008
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My financial problems have been up and down ever since a college-age, part-time job working retail at Wet Seal.

While prowling the racks, straightening hangers and refolding skimpy tops, I concentrated less on selling product than on what I could try on once it was time for my lunch break. Things only escalated from there, with the acquisition of my first credit card, a move to Boston that ensured me a mere five-minute walk from Newbury Street, and a retail gig at a handmade crafts store, where I came to appreciate the inherent worth in things that were more expensive because they were art (I’ve been suffering from minor product-snobbery ever since).

I had to be bailed out of insurmountable credit card debt twice and, most recently, I was forced to switch my balance to a 0%-interest credit card. I am extremely ashamed of all of this, especially as my debt no longer affects just me, but it affects my husband as well.

Your Money Or Your Life rocked my world way back in October but, despite my excitement over its content, I was left conflicted: Most of the time, shopping makes me feel sick to my stomach, and overcome with guilt. Other times, though, I can rationalize my purchases. The $300 chair is a good investment, considering my new, freelance, work-from-home life. The decor makes our condo a by-god home, erasing temporarily the fact of its impermanence. The $250 toward 20 hoop classes and a practice hoop, along with an additional $75 for a travelhoop + bag, are all good things, as hooping is my one, regular, non-work extracurricular, and my only form of exercise.

Who could possibly find fault with that?

Perhaps I’m looking for help in all the wrong places. Your Money Or Your Life was an all-or-nothing sort of book, and my most recent read — The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Richesis no different. In fact, author Jeff Yeager admits to finding most of his inspiration in the former book, and the entire volume reads as a stand-up version of the very same lessons. Is there a more moderate financial self-help book I should be reading? Is my overenthusiastic idealism leading me to try things than I’m not prepared to succeed at?

Still, Yeager’s book does include some helpful tips.

Instead of keeping an itemized list of every payment and purchase, try conducting a regular “What Was I Thinking?” audit. This can easily be accomplished by printing out your monthly credit card statement, and highlighting the purchases that you’ve come to regret. A printout rife with highlights can really drive home the recklessness of your spending habits, leading you to be more careful with your spending.

Challenge yourself. Try to buy produce that is only in season. Or only purchase items that are on yourself. Or establish an under-$1-a-pound rule at the supermarket. The creativity you employ in succeeding at these self-imposed challenges may inspire you.

I think it’s about time I did a “What Was I Thinking?” audit myself. I’ve been especially challenged lately by my work with the new products blog I’m writing for, as I’m rarely satisfied with mere window shopping. Perhaps that $50 vase wasn’t entirely necessary.

I’m curious (if you’ve gotten this far): What areas of spending do you find most difficult to resist?

buzzdash poll.


The Infinite Wisdom of Others

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on January 22, 2008
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infinite wisdom.

Alex Shalman, guest blogging on Ririan Project, wrote an amazingly comprehensive post on 35 Sneaky Ways to Improve Your Finances. The list includes those obvious nuggets of wisdom, such as living beneath your means, but also contains specific little steps one can take to minimize the bills, such as selling what you don’t need, cutting down on meat, and weather-proofing your home.

Meanwhile, at Catalyst Blogger,  Jennifer participates in a meme in which she shares three tips on writing. She tags all of her readers, encouraging them to put up their own posts and link back to them in her comments. It’ll be interesting to see the wealth of information she collects.

What’s On My Bookshelf

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on January 21, 2008
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I’m sort of a reading fool, and sometimes I read books that I’d like to share with you, but which don’t necessarily warrant an entire post (usually because it’s either too specific or too general). This week, one of each:

  • What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants, by Laurie Lewis. As not all of my readers are as obsessed with the freelance life as I am, I figured What to Charge didn’t really warrant more than a quick mention. For those who are trying to build a freelance business, however, in any kind of field, this book is invaluable in helping you determine your rates, whether they’re hourly or you charge a flat fee.
  • The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. On the other end of the spectrum, The Four Agreements is incredibly simplistic and repetitive, distilling the whole of the self-help spectrum into its most basic ideas: the power of words; the benefits in not taking things personally; the danger in making assumptions; and the importance of always doing your best. I found Ruiz’s ideas on the origins of faith, and his concept of “domestication,” especially interesting. Definitely worth a read.

Happy reading!

How to Achieve Financial Independence

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on October 8, 2007
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debt.There can sometimes come a point — every few years in my case — where you suddenly realize that your credit card balance is unmanageable and insurmountable…your interest rate, criminal…your goose, cooked.

It has happened twice before in my case and, both times (I’m incredibly ashamed to admit), my parents and grandfather have bailed me out. Well, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. I’ve since moved out, gotten married, and racked up more debt than I ever have before. Having recently resigned from a full time job to pursue the freelance lifestyle, I’m scared shitless.

I’m thinking it’s time to re-read Joe Dominguez’s & Vicki Robin’s Your Money or Your Life. An oldie (1992) but still-relevant goodie, the authors of this volume have lofty aims: to guide their readers on an intensive quest for financial independence while simultaneously changing their materialistic mindset and, eventually, their entire lifestyle.

I must admit, upon my first read of this book, I skipped step one, went staight to step two, and then fizzled out. Because, when it came down to it, I couldn’t decide on a higher priority: less anxiety over my finances or, um, having pretty things.

To quickly gloss over the steps, you should be finding out how much you’ve earned over the course of your life; keeping track of the money that come in and goes out; and figuring out the levels of life fulfillment you’re experiencing in relation to the money you’re making/spending and the hours you’re putting in.

This last is a topic that especially interests me. For the past few years, I worked a 35-hour-a-week marketing job at which I became more and more miserable. For a variety of reasons, I found myself dreading my day-to-day. I was also wiped out from both the commute and feelings of demoralization and, as a result, was not devoting enough time to my own interests. Despite a good rapport with the majority of my colleagues, I think it’s safe to say that the money I was making was not enough to justify what I was putting myself through.

Since resigning, I’ve been working over 40 on-site hours a week at several places, and also putting in additional hours at home with whatever freelance work comes my way. My schedule is hectic as all heck. I never see my husband. I sort of miss my mommy as well. But, for the first time, it all feels worth it.

Now if only I could get my finances in order.

So it looks like I’ll be reading this one again.  This time I solemnly swear to:

  • make a thorough sweep through my past statements of earnings, income tax returns, checkbook records, bankbooks, and more in order to get a spot-on picture of the amount of money I’ve earned over my lifetime, and (somewhat depressingly), what has become of it.
  • painstakingly track all of my monetary transactions, simultaneously figuring out the amount of life energy I’ve spent on each.
  • determine my main spending categories, and take a good, hard look at how important those categories really are to me.
  • and, um, become magically responsible.
  • I mean, follow the rest of the nine steps in this book, and eventually achieve financial independence.

Do I hafta give up my self-help book habit?