Step Into the Naughty Corner


Americans are up to their eyeballs in credit-card debt. The average household with debt now owes nearly $9,000 on their revolving credit card balances. And they pay more than $1,000 a year in credit card interest for the misery.

The majority of card-carrying Americans (more than 60 percent revolve their balances) cannot seem to say “no.” Temptation is everywhere. And pressure. Pressure to keep up, to have what they cannot pay for and to get it all while the gettin’ is good.


The problem is that we are short-sighted. We make spending decisions based on emotion not calculated reason. Why else would any sane person walk into Costco needing only milk, eggs and cheese and walk out with a lovely piece of Waterford Crystal, too? It’s that sense of urgency together with the ability to have it now and pay for it later that’s given us a new label: Overspent Americans. 

There are some who blame their shopping addiction not on their inability to say “no” but rather on a medical affliction—acute anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, supposedly treatable with a prescription for a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor.

I’m no doctor, but treating a spending problem with medication sounds a lot like loading up a bratty child on tranquilizers to make him behave. SuperNanny would not approve.

If you ever watched an episode of the TV show SuperNanny (ABC), you know a little something about the “naughty corner.” It’s a place where a misbehaved child who fails to heed the one obligatory warning, must stand for one minute per year of age. The naughty corner requires the offender to be physically removed from the conflict to think about his behavior. Of course on the show “reflection” is more like wailing and gnashing of teeth, but that made for good TV. Remarkably, the naughty corner always won and just in time for SuperNanny to speed away to help another family in crisis.

If you struggle with spending more than you can afford to repay in a single month, maybe it’s time to find yourself a naughty corner—a place to go when you’re tempted to spend compulsively. Give yourself a single warning, then step into the naughty corner for a much-needed “time-out.” Ask yourself these questions:

Do I need it?

Is this a planned purchase?

Will this really make my life better or just add to the chaos and clutter?

Don’t I already have something that will do just as well?

Do I have the cash to pay for it now?

If I pass up the purchase, how will I feel a month from now?

Am I willing to sleep on my decision for 48 hours?

Just those few minutes (if you adhere to the age rule you might get a nap out of the deal) will put the brakes on out-of-control spending. And I’m going to make a prediction: At least 9 times out of 10 you’ll walk away empty-handed—and happy about it.

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8 replies
  1. debra says:

    Thanks Mary for the continuing words and hard questions to ask. I saw a dress in a magazine that I wanted and even put it into my cart but did not check out because of the questions you have posted! I slept on it and decided I did not need to spend $89. on a dress! Thanks for all the good advice.

  2. Jeannette Hickson says:

    I always ask myself “Do I want to dust this?” That question usually prevents me from buying something I don’t need.

  3. wordsilk says:

    Hunt always assumes that credit card debt is due to impulse purchases or leaving beyond one’s means. She never has any words of advice for people who’ve racked up credit card debt due to major illness or job loss. Just because SHE got into debt due to rash spending doesn’t mean everyone does, so her infantile solutions are useless.

    • Leslie says:

      Mary offers advice frequently for folks with financial problems related to health issues and unemployment. I also like the posts like today’s, offering advice to help us avoid taking on unnecessary debt. Thanks, Mary!

      • wordsilk says:

        When? Where? I’ve been reading her columns for years and I’ve never seen anything about what to do in these circumstances.

      • debra says:

        Mary advises on paying your medical bills the same way as paying your credit card debt. Just enter it into RDRP and it will work.

  4. Sharon Madison says:

    You makes so much sense, that it is practically ridiculous. You are probably preaching to the choir, since most of us are on your website in order to do the “right thing”. But thanks for all of the considerations. As I get older, I discover that in only a day or two, I have forgotten what I thought I might be so passionate about. Holding off really works.


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