It’s become the American way to rack up credit card balances we can’t afford to pay back. Per NerdWallet’s 2017 Household Credit Card Study, American credit card debt increased 7 percent in 2017, up to an estimated $931 billion. The average household carrying debt has a balance of nearly $16,000. That isn’t even counting possible auto, student or mortgage debt.
The reasons for our financial lackadaisicalness are complicated: we’re emotional, irrational creatures, our reasoning and in-moment decisions don’t often lend to logic.
Let’s talk a bit about debt psychology, specifically, why we’re such frequent overspenders.
Poor Money Management Skills
When we get into debt, we usually have nobody to blame but ourselves. But is that really the case? America’s financial literacy problem stems from a lack of classroom education. Instead of learning the fundamentals of money management, we learn things we’ll never use in the real world. Without a formal financial education, our fate is decided by whether our parents have the tools or not. If they don’t or fail to instill their experience on us, we’re left to our own vices.
Once we’re in debt, we wallow in it, only allowing debt to continue to build beyond our means. And some people give up everything when they get to this point, unaware of all the options at their disposal, such as debt relief strategies recommended by Andrew Housser, Co-CEO/Founder of Freedom Financial Network.
Anyone who’s suffered from depression knows the dark tint it can have on the outlook of a day. Everything is a hassle, and inactivity only worsens self-esteem and confidence. Without the energy to think clearly and motivation to act, the rigors a healthy financial life requires are too much to bear. This can cause a mental withdrawal from the decision-making process, lead to excess spending and bad long-term habits.
Low self-esteem affects us in a variety of ways, and none of them are positive. It can suffocate us with negative feelings, affect our relationships, keep us from trying new things, cause us to develop self-harming habits, live in fear of being judged, and even become a perfectionist.
With money, we may know we’re spending more than we should, but we don’t care because somewhere deep down we don’t believe we deserve better. It’s the same situation why someone might drink excess alcohol or smoke too many cigarettes, full well knowing they’re endangering their health.
We love expected outcomes, particularly when they satisfy our inherent desires. Whether it’s drinking, smoking, gambling, or shopping — most of us develop a dependency because we become accustomed to the quick, expected satisfaction an activity provides. We can develop healthy addictions too, but usually we prefer the stuff not good for us, (i.e. if swiping a credit card in a shoe store manifests pleasure in someone, they’ll have a hard time not doing that again, and again).
For some of us, once we get that itch to do something, it’s very difficult if not impossible to suppress it. Considering that living in a money-driven society requires us to make constant financial decisions, we’re more likely to overspend when our willpower is weak, according to research cited by the American Psychological Association.
These five common area drive a lot of the overspending and personal debt crisis in this country, but regardless of the problem, what really matters is getting to the root of your issues. All bad money habits can be unfollowed, and new healthy financial strategies can be learned. If we’re honest with ourselves about our financial shortcomings, we stand the best chance of living a financially independent life in the future.