How to Win Over Temptation

If you’ve ever stopped by the store to pick up milk and walked out with a week’s worth of snacks to go with it, you know the power of temptation.

Experts say the typical adult is exposed to 3,500 commercial ads in any given day. These hidden persuaders are designed to manipulate our behaviors. With consumer debt at an all time high, it would appear that as a nation we’ve been losing a lot of battles with temptation.

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Photo Credit: jajja

But it is possible to learn how to face down temptation, and win.

Identify the weakness. `Fess up. What are your areas of temptation? Clothes, shoes, collectibles? Movies, food, gadgets? Electronics, crafts, plants?

Stop flirting with danger. If you’re ever going to win over temptation you must stop cozying up to the very thing that causes you to stumble. If you are easily tempted by clothes, don’t spend hours cruising the mall. In fact, don’t even go there unless you have a specific need and a reasonable plan.

Don’t open mail order catalogs. Take them to the garbage and push them way down to the bottom to head off a middle-of-the-night retrieval.

Develop a diversion. Temptation is usually fueled by emotion, rarely by reason. It comes and goes depending on our moods and thoughts, and can come quite unexpectedly. When it whispers in your ear, divert your attention to something equally enjoyable but less injurious to your financial health. For me it’s ironing. You might be more drawn to a book or crossword puzzle. Or a nap.

Simple Rules to Live By

I have a quirk, a kind of brain glitch that annoys me to no end. I cannot easily distinguish left from right. My brain locks up and gives me that infamous “404 Page Cannot Be Displayed” message.

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Of course, I blame this on Mrs. Sailor. It goes back to that day in First Grade when she called on me to answer a simple “left or right?” question. I froze. I did not know the answer.

This was not good for a child who feared punishment for even the slightest infraction. Worse, I didn’t know how I would ever figure it out. No one else in the class had a problem with left and right.

My six-year-old reasoning concluded that the class had learned left from right on a day I was home sick. She forgot to get me caught up when I returned. I would go thirty-five years attributing my problem to a missed lesson. Imagine my relief the day I learned the whys and wherefores of my personal struggle. I have directional dyslexia type of learning disability that can be treated quite successfully with a series of simple exercises.

If I’d only had the courage to say I didn’t understand and to ask for help back then, I might have spared myself a lot of grief.

Perhaps you feel this way when it comes to managing your money. It can’t be that difficult because everyone around you seems to handle their money just fine. It’s as if you were out sick the day everyone else learned the rules of personal finance.

Satisfaction: Your Basic Consumer Right

Statistically speaking, chances are slim-to-none that you consistently avail yourself of the most fundamental of all financial principles—to get what you pay for.

According to Donna McCrohan, author of Get What You Pay For or Don’t Pay at All, only 4 percent of dissatisfied customers let a business know when they are unhappy with a product or service and then follow up effectively until they are satisfied.

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One can only conclude that the rest of us throw good money down the drain for clothing that doesn’t fit right and appliances that don’t live up to their promises. We prefer to cram the stuff into closets and cupboards rather than take the time and effort to request a refund or satisfactory replacement.

When the dry cleaner ruins a favorite shirt we gripe to a friend instead of the dry cleaner’s owner. Or when the coffee grinder doesn’t grind, we mumble under our breath and don’t even look for the customer service 800 number, which might well be printed right there on the infuriating little monster.

I can only conclude from all of this that 96 percent of us complain about shoddy workmanship or inferior service but never get around to requesting the work be redone or negotiating a fair and reasonable adjustment. We give up too soon—or more likely, don’t even get started.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

If it was easy to get out of debt, no one would have credit-card balances, student debt or personal loans. No one would be in debt.

It’s not easy to get out of debt. But it is possible. And if you are using the correct method, possible becomes highly probable.

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Granted, there are several methods for getting out of debt but only one that offers you hope of lasting success.

I’ve gone down every road that promises a way out of debt and have discovered that most come to a dead end. Others are filled with impossible twists and turns. But there is a way out. I found it. My husband and I are now completely debt-free including the mortgage. Done. Free at last. And that is what makes me uniquely qualified to tell you the best way to get out of debt.

But first let’s identify the roads you should avoid and the reasons why.

FAST AND AGGRESSIVE. This way out of debt is very inviting because it promises a quick and easy shortcut. It goes like this:

What it is. First you make sure you have $1,000 in the bank to cover emergencies. But that’s all you need, so stop saving. Take every dollar you can squeeze out of your life and send it to your debt. Hurry! Fast! And if you pass Go and collect $200, send that in, too.

The rebate check you got in the mail? Off it goes. Tax refund? Birthday check? You know the routine—apply it to your debt.

Caught Between Aging Parents and Adult Children

Every day I drive by a beautiful new assisted living complex under construction close to where I live. As beautiful as this place is, it’s become a daily reminder to me for how difficult it can be to talk to aging parents about their health and future needs.

If you’re 40 or older, you’re part of the “Sandwich Generation,” and likely to fall into one of these categories:

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TRADITIONAL SANDWICH. Those being squeezed between the needs of aging parents, relatives or friends while also supporting and meeting the demands of their own children, spouses and careers.

CLUB SANDWICH. Those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s with young children, aging parents and grandparents.

OPEN FACE SANDWICH. Anyone else involved in elder care.

DOUBLE STUFF SANDWICH. Those whose adult, post-college kids return home to live with their parents for lack of unemployment, direction and or money. Also known as the “boomerangs.”

How to Stop Making Bad Decisions

I saw the funniest sign recently. But it wasn’t funny for long because I started to think about it. Suddenly the humor melted away.

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Ouch! Those 15 words hit hard. I’ve made my share of bad money decisions in my life. 

I’ve come a long way from that dark season of my life. I am determined to not go back, but also to not live with regret for what might have been. Instead of living with my eyes on the rearview mirror, I want to stay focused on the present with eyes toward the future. Which begs the question: How can we stop making bad decisions when it comes to money and personal finance?

Get smart. Despite the fact that research from the University of British Columbia released in November 2013 found the smallest part of the human brain is integral in the decision-making process—and the fact that we do seem to repeat our mistakes—it is possible to become a better decision-maker. With practice, awareness and a bit tender loving care for yourself, you can learn to make better choices. I’ve had lots of feedback from readers of this column who tell me that over the years, they feel as though they have gained the equivalent of a degree in personal finance—one random 500-word column at a time.

Your TV May be Watching YOU

I took a little heat the day my son walked in and noticed the tiniest piece of Gorilla Tape I’d strategically stuck over the built-in camera on my MacBook Pro. “Paranoid much, Mom?”

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Ever since I’d read a news story about how identity thieves are hacking into webcams and computers to do their dirty work, that tiny dot-sized camera had become a giant eye staring at me and it was giving me the creeps.

I figured some do-it-yourself pre-emptive action on my part couldn’t hurt, if only to give me some peace of mind. It worked.

I didn’t think much about it again until I watched my friend and cybercrime expert, Bob Sullivan, on TODAY discussing Samsung Smart TVs. It seems that these Smart TVs that come with voice control (also known as voice recognition) are super smart with an interactive feature that allows its owner to use many of its features with voice commands. Simply put, you talk to the remote control instead of fiddling to figure out which buttons to press. 

Samsung SmartTV is listening all the time, too. It not only collects what you say into its remote control—Samsung uploads and stores everything Smart TVs hear from the room  without encrypting it. You can read about it in Samsung’s privacy policies

“That means anyone who can insert themselves between your TV and Samsung’s collection devices and its partners can hear what you say on your couch. Not a surprise,” said Bob. “New gadgets always arrive with features first, security second.  Watch this pattern play out again and again as The Internet of Creepy Things invades our home.”

Samsung is not alone.

When Frugality is Not Fun

I was not born frugal. Everything in me wants to spend, acquire, achieve and amass. I am drawn to luxury. I live with visions of grandeur and opulence. My fondest dreams include custom tailored clothing, domestic staffs, $600 silk bed sheets, manicured gardensDooney & Bourke All-Weather Leather, fabulous cars, limousines and private jets.  That’s just how I am.

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For me, practicing frugality is not really fun. Oh, there’s an occasional situation from time to time when scrimping might be slightly amusing but on the fun meter of life, planning and budgeting, paring down, doing without when it seems that everyone else in the world is prospering beyond belief—none of that can hold a candle to carefree shopping, living and spending as if money were no object.

My dilemma is that I do not have the means to indulge in a life-style equal to my natural-born tendencies. Those of you familiar with my story know that my feeble attempts to play out my natural tendencies landed me in a lot of trouble. I took the treacherous path of incurring debt to acquire things I couldn’t afford. I learned firsthand that living under mountains of debt is not living … it feels like dying.

So if living naturally brings pain but living frugally isn’t fun, is there any hope for the unnatural frugal type? Yes! It requires new behaviors. Voluntarily.