Debt Reduction: Isolating a Bad Spending Habit (and taking it down)

Packing food to avoid huger-spending.

DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

DH = Dear Husband

“odd happy buzz”

DD3 fainted during her high school band practice two and a half weeks ago, and in the fall, she suffered a concussion. No band for a while, no sports. I thought that would do it. But her symptoms were a bit worse a week later. The doctor at our clinic recommended a trip to the Children’s Hospital for a proper assessment, and she advised us to go through Emergency since it would otherwise take too long to get an appointment.

There’s no telling how long a wait is going to be in a hospital emergency room, and as I was getting ready to go the next morning, I caught an odd buzz of happy anticipation in my head. Fainting. Concussion. Symptoms worse. Long wait at hospital. What was there to be happy about? I focused in on that vague buzz, and this is what it said: You’ll probably have to wait so long that you’ll have to buy lunch for you and DD3. Maybe even a snack after that.

New wake-up moment

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about “waking up” to my bad habit of spending discretionary money on take-out food. Often, as I noted, it’s connected with an admirable burst of generosity – wanting to treat a friend or family member for one reason or another. In this case too, there was an element of “admirable”. Poor DD3. What a drag for her! She’ll like a little lunch and snack as a treat. Really? Was I only thinking about DD3?

A new wake-up moment. I generally can’t justify spending on take-out food for myself. I’m trying to be frugal after all. So a sneaky little strategy has developed in my subconscious to allow me to satisfy my addiction: I treat others to little meals or snacks (notice it’s always “little” – because that makes it OK), and since I’m there, I order for myself too. I’m trying to be frugal, but I don’t want to stifle all of my noble generous impulses, right? Ha! Busted.

The makings of an uber-frugalite

So I decided that DD3 and I would have a very big breakfast before driving to the hospital. Fruit, eggs, toast, beans, meat . . . That would fill us up. But who was I kidding? We would get hungry within a few hours again, and this was likely going to be a whole-day event. I packed nuts and cheese and  fruit and veggies and crackers and energy bars. “I can make chicken wraps,” DD3 suggested. There! Even my daughter was catching on to this frugal approach. I love good ripple effects!

Feeling mighty clever, I furthermore planned not to use the hospital parking lot. Instead I would find free parking in the residential streets nearby. “We’re going to walk a bit, so dress warmly,” I advised DD3. It’s been incredibly cold around here lately, and that day, we were at -24 C (-11 F) with a slight wind chill to boot. Food in hand, parking plan in place, decked out in full winter gear, I decided that I had officially become an uber-frugalite.

Love and money vs. Love and time

The day actually passed quite pleasantly. There were line-ups and waiting rooms, but DD3 and I don’t often have long periods of relaxed time together, and we enjoyed each other’s company. We also enjoyed the food in our bag, eating it all up as the hours ticked by. “Any exercise will make her feel worse,” the doctor told us when we finally got to see her. “Keep her home from school for the rest of the month, and she shouldn’t walk to school when she does go back.” Yikes! Perhaps we should have used the hospital parking lot after all. I confessed my frugal parking and subsequent long walk with DD3. “No harm done,” the doctor said. She provided us with a note for the school and contact information for a follow-up appointment, and we were free to leave.

We walked back to the car extra slowly, and had just enough time to make it to DD3’s school before it closed for the day. Her schedule was revamped – no more band, no more music class, extra help slotted in for math – and her forthcoming time away from classes was accommodated with e-mails to teachers and plans to do limited school work from home. As we closed off the day with our drive home, I wanted to take DD3 to Tim Hortons. But I caught the impulse just in time.

That evening, after eating supper, DH, DD3, and I played a few rounds of Uno – not too taxing a game of cards for someone in her concussed state. There was a relief in knowing how to move forward with her healing, and both DH and I were inclined to spoil her just then. And we did. With time instead of money. That’s not always easy to do, and it’s no wonder that so many of us end up gushing our love on friends and family with purchased treats of one kind or another. But on that day, we managed well. I was awake to my bad habits and my subconscious mind games, so I was able to steer clear of the love = spending trap at a time of powerful baiting.

DD3 is doing very well now, and she’s actually looking forward to going back to school next week.


Have you ever “woken up” to bad habits or your own subconscious mind games? Do you ever fall into the “love = spending” trap? Your comments are welcome.

 Thank you to Tonya at Budget and the Beach for giving me the opportunity to write for her site in a guest post this week.

 

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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hoping DD3 is feeling better. Never fun to see your child sick/ not feeling well. There are so many times after a long day of work that I’d rather pick up take-out than have to cook dinner, but I remind myself of the savings and health benefits of home cooking. Just have to push through the urge to hit the drive thru and I’m good.

    • I’m so glad I’m not the only one! It’s true that after a day at work, you’re tired, and the idea of doing more work at home is just not appealing. Thanks for your comment, Brian, and keep on driving by the drive-thru!

  • You steered us through this phenomenon so well! Jay and I are foodaholics. We’re once again trying to back off. He’s always able to lose those few extra pounds easily enough with some discipline. I need way more time. We just love eating out so much. We would always make up “good” reasons to do it, just like you. We’re on better track now after our move to Florida. It’s getting easier to just say no to Steak and Shake (I love that place!). I’m so happy your daughter is healed. Praise the Lord! 🙂

    • Thank you, Kay. I think that moving to Florida must be a help in establishing new habits. It’s a whole new start. I’ve never heard of Steak and Shake, but I hope you just keep steering clear of it : )

  • I grew up with very conflicting money messages from my parents, so I occasionally have blips. My dad was very much the love = spending person. Sundays, one of our few days together since he worked nights, was always a movie and dinner out. That didn’t actually allow for a ton of quality time, but it was how he perceived quality time.

    And when I wouldn’t want to go run errands with him (shocker), he’d bribe me with a new book if I came along. When he’d visit me in college, he’d take me to a bookstore and insist on getting me some new reading material then, too. It always felt forced and weird.

    Meanwhile, my mom was the saver. We mainly ate at home. We played board games or watched TV and movies. We’d save up quarters to go to the arcade, so it wasn’t a big drain. (She’d sometimes kick in another $10-20, but I never counted on it.)

    So my first impulse is usually frugality, but sometimes it’s largesse. It’s very confusing overall. And it sometimes leads to spending I regret. Especially because my husband has pretty severe ADD, making him more inclined to spend. When I do cave, it can cause me a massive amount of regret.

    I’m glad that you’re able to catch those weak moments and correct them. And that you could find quality time in a place as awful as an ER.

    • You’ve got many very different influences at play, and I believe you when you say, “It’s very confusing overall.” The fact that you’re aware of it all is a great first step. Keep up a heightened awareness – without judgment if you can manage it. I believe that the more you understand about your mom, your dad, and your husband, the more you’ll be able to navigate your own conflicting impulses and to establish a steady set of patterns with money that is all your own – and in line with your values. Thanks for commenting with such thought. I wish you well, Abigail : )

  • Glad to hear your daughter is doing well. I’m really happy that you got her looked at and know how to help her heal now.

    I would probably have had the same reaction you did about taking her for lunch (I remember after my first faint, I got a milk shake at the hospital (the amnesia had wore off by that point so I remember)). You’re uber frugal is awesome.

    • Your “first faint”? How many have you had? And amnesia too. Interesting that you remember that milk shake. I’m sure it meant much more to you than a tasty treat. I just hope that the free things we do – like playing Uno – also mean more to our children than a brief entertainment. Thanks for commenting, Emily.

      • I think I was 4 at the time. I’ve fainted more than a dozen times since. Only had amnesia the once, but pretty sure I’ve had at least one awesome concussion. I faint a lot less now that I’m older and can recognize the signs.

        Having my parents play with me (for free) are definitely some of my favourite memories.

        • I’m glad you can manage what seems to be a predisposition to fainting spells. Sounds pretty alarming to me, but you seem to have confidence about it. Glad to hear about your free and favourite memories : )

    • Obviously, that trick had been at work for some time before I caught on to it. Self-awareness is huge in this journey out of debt! Thanks for your comment, C : )

  • Glad to hear DD is feeling better. Frightening. My oldest fainted in the shower recently and it scared us half to death. We think that it might have been bleach cleaner that set it off. So far so good.
    I totally get the joy of take out and treats. We are travelling this month so we are challenging ourselves to limit the food bill but still have a good time. Hope the hotel has a microwave. 🙂

    • Fainting in the shower somehow seems extra-alarming. No soft landing there. And no one necessarily knows about it for a while. I hope your son/daughter is doing well now.
      With travel, I think the range of possible spending on food is enormous! All the best to you and your family in keeping it on the frugal side of that range. Thanks for your comment, May : )

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