Not a day goes by on the news without hearing how Canadians are struggling with their debt load. It has become a simple fact of life that we are consuming our way through life, using someone else’s money.

For the past decade, I have closely observed the behaviors that lead people down the path of debt. It is clear that, without specific strategies, any of us can become a prey to spending beyond our means.

Related: Debt avalanche vs debt snowball – when math trumps behavior

Here are four simple tools you can apply to stop drowning in debt, and begin your financial resuscitation.

1. Get off the auto-pilot spending mode

Human beings are creatures of habit. You get comfortable with your ways and routines, and it takes a certain level of self-awareness to get off the auto-pilot mode. When it comes to your money, you are most probably spending without giving it much thought: You pick up the same coffee every day; you keep your membership with the same gym because you have always done so; you deal with the same bank because you’ve had your account with them since you were 12; you buy gifts to everyone you know because “that’s just the way it is”.

What if you stopped and asked yourself the real reasons behind your spending: Is it out of boredom? Out of laziness? Out of fear? Out of stress? Or out of wanting to be accepted?

Getting off the auto-pilot spending mode will put you in charge of how you are using your money. With time, you will become a master at the art of mindful spending™.

2. Differentiate between your true needs and wants.

Large corporations spend millions of dollars on advertising to convince you that you need the latest model of their product. They go to great extent to make you feel one of three things: 1- “you don’t have enough of something” , 2 -“ the something you have isn’t good enough” or 3 – “you aren’t good enough without what they’re selling”.

All advertising is designed to make you feel inadequate and that’s a major trigger for overspending.

Moreover, the list of your needs keeps growing, as more products are introduced to the market place. A decade ago, a smartphone or a tablet were simple wants. Now they seem to represent a basic need.

Related: Gadgets and travel are modern day status symbols?

It is therefore crucial for you to dig deeper and honestly ask yourself if your purchase is a must-have, or is it simply a nice-to-have.

3. Limit your time on social media

You might think “what does social media have to do with my debts?”.

Recent studies have shown that overspending and time spent on social media are indeed correlated. In fact, according to the e-commerce analytics firm Ever Merchant, every 30 seconds, Facebook generates $5,483 (U.S.) in sales, followed by Pinterest with $4,504.

You have certainly experienced a certain level of social media envy. You are mindlessly scrolling through your newsfeed and your brain is bombarded with an endless stream of pictures of your friends’ vacations, their fancy meals or the designer shoes they just bought. “Keeping up with the Joneses” used to be limited to keeping up with your immediate friends and neighbors. Nowadays, this concept has expanded to keeping up with your 500 Facebook friends and 600 Instagram followers, among others.

As Theodore Roosevelt so eloquently said it “Comparison is the thief of joy”. I would add that comparison on social media robs you from your hard-earned money as well. Limiting your time on social media will reduce your chances of spending to give yourself the right to be the one showing off your latest acquisition to your friends and followers.

4. Use your own money

It has been made very easy for you to overspend, since financial institutions gave you a small plastic card with your name on it. Having your name on that card conveniently placed in your own wallet gives you the mere illusion that you are spending your own money, when in fact you are using someone else’s money at an exorbitant interest rate.

Related: Should you pay off your partner’s debt?

It is important to be reminded of a simple fact of money: whenever you use someone else’s money, you are paying an additional price for it.

So ask yourself “Is my purchase that critical that I absolutely can’t wait to save for it and use my own money?”.

The most powerful money motto you can live by is “Save now, Buy later”, rather than the flawed yet popular “Buy now, Pay Later”.

Consumerism has become our religion and as a generation, we lost focus of what a truly enriching life looks like. To get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck trap, it takes some deep digging , following  the 4 simple strategies discussed above, and of course, reverting back to more authentic values, such as  simplicity, acceptance and balance.

Lama Farran is a Certified Money Coach, on a mission to empower individuals to be fully in charge of their personal finances. She offers a holistic approach to money coaching by combining the psychological aspects of money with the practical day-to-day money management.


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