Stop Spending Money – It All Depends on Your Definition of STOP!

stop spending money

Stop spending money...it's clear, isn't it?

I’ve touched on the idea that our words influence our beliefs which in turn influence our actions. In this post, I want to discuss the words and actions of two people who had trouble understanding the word “stop” in the phrase, “Stop spending money.” They thought it meant something other than quit, cease, end, discontinue, terminate, or bring to a halt.

It’s funny in a way. Who doesn’t know what “stop” means – really, come on, you have to be kidding. How might you explain to law enforcement that the meaning of “stop” on that large red sign back there just wasn’t abundantly clear in your mind?

Anyway, here are stories of two people who just didn’t “get it” when they were told to “stop spending money.”

Before we dive into the personal lives of others, let me be clear about my intentions. I’m not here to embarrass anyone, find fault or make fun. My intention is to use examples from real life situations that will help some of this “soft technology” stick better, so we can improve our chances of success in personal financial matters based on insights from genuine experience. If we keep these “dirty little secrets” in the closet, they do no one any good at all. And, if you think the truth is uncomfortable, just wait until you proceed unaware into the swift and deep waters of financial irresponsibility. It’s no fun, so let’s learn from others to the extent that we can.

An acquaintance of mine went through bankruptcy because his wife didn’t know what her husband meant when he said, “stop spending money.” It seems clear to me, but it wasn’t to her at the time. When I spoke with her later on, oddly enough, she explained that she thought what he meant was something akin to a stop sign. Her idea was she needed to stop, and then go again. She even held her hands up to gesture as if she had a hold of a steering wheel when she explained her understanding of the word “stop.”

The doubter inside me believes that this was simply a cover story to save face. Okay, be that as it may, perhaps her husband should have used other, more specific instructions. How much more specific does it need to be? I think “stop spending money” is quite clear.

As near as I can tell, our bankrupt couple are still together, but I can’t say that for the next couple who also had their share of money problems.

This story is similar. A friend’s wife was spending tens of thousands of dollars each month, and was instructed by her husband to “stop spending money.” Again, it’s pretty clear to me what that sentence means. Nevertheless, this man’s wife pleaded misunderstanding of the word “stop” by explaining that she thought he meant, “stop spending money on me.”

Okay, this is a plausible explanation, but again, it’s likely just another excuse being offered to save face and justify all of the “fun” that spending gobs of money can be. Well, my friend solved the problem through divorce after he had been brought to his financial knees. In other words, their relationship ended, it was terminated, it was discontinued – all good synonyms for the word “stop.”

Enough of the stories. Let’s get down to the business of seeing what we can learn from the behavior of these couples. From what I know, here is where I think they went wrong, and where others have an opportunity to learn from their poorly managed financial and personal affairs.

  • Mismatched values – something that is essential for individuals to get along. The values don’t have to match perfectly, but they should be close. We need to keep our eyes open with respect to the values others exhibit with respect to financial matters, especially if we’re going to marry, go into business, or otherwise share financial assets and interests with them.
  • Never established a clear understanding of how household finances would be handled. Money is perhaps the single most troublesome topic for couples. The issue of personal finance needs to be placed out on the table so it’s clear how things will be managed.
  • Failure to resolve problems in the formative stages. Problems can be a lot like a leaky pipe – they don’t get better on their own. Problems need effective solutions if you expect to put them to bed.
  • Lack of “skin” in the game. It’s easy to engage in “guilt-free” spending when you don’t have an appreciation for how much effort is involved in creating income in the first place. Requiring all parties to contribute creates shared risk and helps everyone better appreciate how their collective actions create outcomes.

This discussion has been about a kind of “soft technology,” the very type of know-how that just doesn’t seem to pass on very well from one generation to another. The world is full of examples of poor decision-making, lack of foresight, failure to pay attention, and downright goofy stuff when it comes to money matters. We need to make good use of these examples to help us formulate a better understanding of personal fianance, implement what works, avoid what doesn’t, and at the very least, avoid repeating the mistakes of others.

Every time I hear someone say, “I learn from my mistakes,” I can’t help but think that that’s aiming rather low. We ought to be able to learn from the mistakes of others. And, better yet, simply learn from the experiences of others, be they good, bad, or somewhere in between.

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About Clair Schwan

14 Responses to “Stop Spending Money – It All Depends on Your Definition of STOP!”

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  1. cherie says:

    I think this whole discussion is odd – first of all – of COURSE people know what is meant when someone says ‘stop spending money.’
    They also know what the doctor means when he says, “stop smoking”
    But they don’t always listen. And spending energy discussing their silly justifications for their choices is absurd.

    More worthwhile is perhaps showing a better way to have such discussions. I handle the finances in our home. I would never be so obnoxious to my spouse as to say, “stop spending money”

    It’s a ridiculous statement. People need to spend some money. He needs to buy gas for his car to go to the job that brings in income. That’s just the first thing that pops into mind – money needs to be spent.

    I would however happily have a conversation that is more like, things are tight, let me show you what the problems are and lets figure out how to cut OUR spending to make things work out.

    It’s really not much longer of a sentence.

    But in truth giving a partner an order such as ‘stop spending’ is the bottom line of all the problems they have with money – one is acting like a dictator, another like a child. No success can possibly come of it.

  2. I think more important than saying it is putting it into action. Yes, it might be easy to adjust and stop spending for a couple of days, but a whole behavioral change that sticks in the Long Run (or even becomes a new lifestyle) requires much more than that. First of all the spender needs to understand why stop spending is a priority and buy the idea. Then the change should become a team effort, paying special attention to follow up and motivation along the way.

  3. Clair Schwan says:

    Cherie, I would encourage you to write a guest post and offer our readers advice on how those “things are tight” conversations should be structured and conducted, especially with individuals who repeatedly don’t listen to reason and instead create their own rationale as to why their behavior is acceptable when it’s clearly not in the best interest of their family. Your insights as a successful household money manager would be valuable as there are probably more than a few readers who need to effectively engage and cause a change in behavior in those close to them who are headed for a financial train wreck. Your suggestions could help prevent others from going through what these two couples have had to go through.

    I think you have an excellent opportunity here. There are people out there who pretend not to know what “stop” and “no” and “don’t” mean when it comes to reckless spending. Now, it’s your turn to add something of value to the conversation by giving us examples of how to deal with intractable individuals who are bent on financial self-destruction for themselves and those closely associated with them.

    • Cherie says:

      Clair I know how such conversations should go but I also know this.
      Change must come from within.
      Talking is only helpful when the mind is open to it.

      And I’ve learned over the years that some people are just not ready to make the change. I have been guilty of it myself in the past. But all my talking about how much better my life is now won’t open someone’s mind.

      Sadly setting up a situation where one partner is ‘in charge’ of finances only helps create that sort of childish mindset.

      • Clair Schwan says:

        Cherie, we would both agree with Thomas Paine who said that using reason with an irrational person is like administering medicine to the dead – it just doesn’t work. And, with such brief examples, I wouldn’t jump to conclusions about one person who takes charge being the cause of another to act like a child. It’s very likely the other way around. And, if no one is in charge, that seems like the worst of all situations to me. I can’t see how that would be a remedy for anything. In my mind, it’s a recipe for more of the same irresponsible behavior. I’ve heard that described as the blind leading the blind.

  4. Clair Schwan says:

    Finanzas, your suggestion about followup is a good one. I think in both of the examples above, a lack of effective monitoring and followup was a key to allowing a resurgence of reckless spending to go unrecognized until it came home to roost. In fact, a lack of monitoring may have even been a factor that helped rekindle and encourage more spending. My insight into these examples would suggest that the Richard Tater in each family trusted that agreements coming out of discussions would be honored, not realizing that their spouses had deep-seated spending addictions.

    A team effort is also a good idea, and something that goes right along with my suggestion to look for mismatched values. To be a good team, there has to be a solid foundation of shared values, and I think our unhappy couples lacked that from the very start.

  5. Sun says:

    Why were both examples Of women with spending problems? That could be interpreted as mysogynistic. There aren’t examples of men who hide their secret spendin from their wives?

    I find having a joint account helps us to monitor our own spending along with a budget we agree on for categories we both want.

    Seems silly to tell someone to stop spending money without agreeing on changing structures, monitoring, or other processes in place. The man is as much to blame for letting it go on as the spender, even to divorce.

    • Clair Schwan says:

      Sun, my examples weren’t selected to target women, they were selected to target an excuse for reckless spending that I have heard more than once, and I’m working from personal knowledge, which I prefer over creating a scenario of my own. To be sure, men are plenty guilty of poor behavior and lame excuses, one doesn’t have to look very hard to see that.

      However, the point of the examples wasn’t to blame, it was to highlight a behavior that might be seen by others as a clue to a more serious problem, and to serve as a general springboard for looking at several ways that financial problems in relationships can be headed off or nipped in the bud. That’s the main reason why the examples don’t address earlier efforts to resolve matters before they finally came to a head.

      And, we agree that the men in both examples enabled reckless spending. In the first example through active participation on a large scale, and in the second example through inadequate monitoring and failure to draw a line. I’m planning on writing more than one post about helping, enabling and rescuing, and my examples will have men taking center stage, again, based on my personal knowledge.

      If I had posts on record here that point out examples of women who have been excellent money managers, perhaps that would be more reassuring to readers, but they’re only in the formative stages at present. In the meantime, you might take a bit of comfort reading about a couple I know who have both been excellent money managers all their lives and serve as examples of financial success through a focused team effort. http://www.enemyofdebt.com/2011/06/financial-planning-for-retirement-be-conservative-responsible-realistic-and-be-successful/

    • Brad Chaffee says:

      I think it’s safe to say that men and women have equally hard times when it comes to spending money so I’m not really sure why everyone seems to be focused on the gender in the examples above. What I saw wasn’t that two women had trouble with money. What I saw was two couples that had trouble with money.

      In both cases two people were at fault and neither blameless. Personal finance is a team effort in any marriage and these two examples lacked real communication and effort to responsibly manage the money. The men in the examples were enablers not to mention a bit tyrannical in their approach but the article wasn’t about that.

      It’s one thing to explain and have a conversation about why the other needed to stop spending money so both are on the same page, it’s another matter entirely when one (man or woman) is barking orders. It really doesn’t matter what gender they were. Two irresponsible people took part in mismanaging money.

      Everyone (men and women) needs to learn what stop spending money means because there are a lot of people of both genders who recklessly spend without considering the implications of those actions.

      If this article would have been about controlling husbands who disrespected their wives I doubt anyone would have said “why are your two examples picking on men?” The two examples used were of two women because the author apparently knows two women who this applies to. I doubt very seriously he was trying to imply that ONLY women have a problem with knowing what stop spending money means.

      I’ve known Clair for some time now and I can assure he’s not misogynistic. It kind of bugs me when people see things through a lens of race and gender. People suck no matter what gender or race they are; we are imperfect people who make mistakes and have plenty of faults period.

      I don’t think it helps either race or gender relations to constantly attach meaning based on assumptions and loose interpretations rather than facts.

  6. Clair Schwan says:

    I think some of the confusion here stems in part from the idea that orders were given right from the start, by one spouse to another, to stop spending money. That’s not the case, and in the interest of providing truncated examples, perhaps I cut to the bottom line too quickly. In reality, both couples tried dealing with this for quite a while. It was a case of the camel’s back being broken by years of behavior that wasn’t anything short of an addiction, eventually causing a line to be drawn.

    I’ve heard from so many people that finances are the #1 problem in relationships, and I can see why, as Ashley pointed out in her Team EOD bio, “money permeates every aspect of our lives…” That’s why I think it’s important we gain insight from the real experiences of others, and learn how to make better assessments about how our values might cooperate or clash in the financial arena. This type of assessment is also important in many types of relationships that involve money, be it customers, business associates, partners, investors or creditors.

  7. Leisa says:

    It is pretty hard to give examples without using a gender unless of course we go around saying it all the time :).

    I don’t believe the “I didn’t understand what STOP spending money meant” however I do get what Cherie was saying. When dealing with people in denial they need to be shown more specifically where and what they are spending money on needs to stop. Usually they have no clear idea of what is considered need or want and spend thinking they need it when they actually want it right now!

    Any problems regardless of the subject comes down to poor communication with each other and that each party didn’t communicate well enough to understand what is going on. We will spend our whole lives learning to do this either the easy or hard way its up to ourselves.

    • Clair Schwan says:

      Leisa, your comment triggers a couple of thoughts.

      First, you’re right that many people fool themselves into thinking something is a “need” when it’s only a “want” wrapped up in intense desire or a sense of urgency that we’ve assigned it. That’s one of the main ideas behind advertising; increase the intensity of desire to compel us to purchase the product or service. I think this was the case with the first example in my article. It seems to me this might be one of the “easy” or at least easier tasks to accomplish with respect to getting discretionary spending under control by distinguishing between want versus need.

      Second is the aspect of addiction that drives reckless spending, which I believe was applicable in the second example in my article. I’m not certain what type of communication works in this situation. It’s a bit like trying to communicate with an alcoholic about the court costs, civil lawsuits, time off work, personal injuries and damage to personal property that the family endures because of regular, excessive drinking. How does one go about getting this under control? It seems that this might be the “hard way” in terms of trying to change behavior. Indeed, some folks caught in this situation can’t or won’t learn, and I’m confident that’s what led my friend to divorce – he saw that as the only way to legally separate himself from self-destructive behavior.

      • Leisa says:

        You are right there are many reasons why communication will break down between two people and I didn’t think it through more clearly apologies for that. Communication is something that is important to do with yourself as well as with other people. Absolutely in the case of addicts regardless of what they are addicted to you need to protect yourself and if that means divorcing them so be it.

        Your friend obviously did ask the questions whether he could keep living with her behaviour and came up with the answer no because it was clear to him she wasn’t going to change. He did the right thing because the only thing he can control is himself and she is left with the consequences of her own destructive behaviour which is the loss of her partner whether or not she sees it like that.

        • Clair Schwan says:

          Leisa, excellent comments that we might all agree with.

          First, to thine own self be true – that’s having a conversation with “yourself as well as with other people.” I think it’s a natural human trait to deflect what we don’t find admirable in ourselves. Much of this type of behavior would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. If we can get past this defense mechanism, we’d be much farther down the road to personal success and happiness.

          Second, you’ve taken the thoughts right out of my mind when you say, “…she is left with the consequences of her own destructive behaviour….” I’m confident this is one of the few satisfactions my friend has had as a result of the divorce – he gets to move on with his life as a responsible individual, and she’s stuck with herself, her pattern of actions and decision-making, and all the consequences that invariably go along with it.

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