Why Financial Tips and Tricks Fail

Let’s be honest. Lack of knowledge isn’t the problem. I read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover before accumulating six figures of debt. The issue wasn’t that I didn’t know paying for our honeymoon on a credit card was a bad idea. The issue was that I didn’t care. I really really wanted an incredible honeymoon with Beth, and Visa was very willing to make that happen for me.

Everyone knows they can pay off debt faster by cutting out cable, entertainment, new clothes, Starbucks, eating out, etc. Financial tips and tricks fail to work because debt is not the root problem, it’s merely the fruit.

The Real Issue: Emotions Gone Wild

We like to joke about “retail therapy,” but pretty much everything we spend money on is either to meet a need or experience an emotion. It could be as simple as food and shelter or as complex as the desire for love or a release from anger or stress. We’re within walking distance from Starbucks, and I can guarantee that in my house the ratio of Cake Pops to Crying Babies is proportionate.

What’s Your Spending Trigger?

Everyone has spending triggers…specific emotions that drive them in search of comfort or escape. Research has shown that people spend 300% more when they are sad, happy people are less likely to gamble, and angry people take higher financial risks as a sort of self-defeating behavior.  The challenge is identifying your spending triggers and developing habits to deal with that emotion apart from spending money.

Personal Example

I drive a 10 year old Toyota 4Runner. When I see a nice Audi drive by it pushes my envy buttons. I know I could “qualify” to buy a new car, and to be perfectly honest we’re getting close to needing one. But deep down I know that’s not why I want one. Despite all the freedom that Jesus has worked in me, there’s still part of me that wants to impress people. Somewhere in there is the seed of insecurity, the same source of wanting to be popular in high school, to be part of the “in” crowd.

So on a surface level, I remind myself how great it is to be debt free, how the guy driving that nice Audi probably hates making the $450 payment every month, and how Paul wrote that “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” But on a deeper soul level, I’m asking Jesus to redeem that part of me that feels like it “needs” things that aren’t really needs. And to help me be confident in who I am in Him, not who I am in comparison to others.

Committed to your success,


Let’s dialogue – what are some of your spending triggers, and how do you deal with them without spending money? We respond to 100% of our comments!

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2 Responses to “Why Financial Tips and Tricks Fail”

  1. Chris Says:

    The type of thing you’re talking about is precisely why I got a new car at 19, and again at 21, and again at 24. The thrill of buying something big–and the high that came along with its newness–kept me going. But all it took was one meeting to remind me that pushing debt to its limit can backfire, and I soon gave up that last new car. I traded down to a less expensive used car; although, it still came with a payment (albeit a much smaller one). It has now been nearly a year and a half since I’ve had a car payment and that, itself, comes with its own high. Once in awhile I am tempted to go down that road again (literally), but your post is a great reminder to check my heart before signing on that dotted line.


  2. Wes & Beth Says:

    Hi Chris! I love Ramsey’s motto about how you should “live like no one else so you (later) can live like no one else.” I agree, not having payments is awesome!


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