When Shopping Therapy Isn't:
August 15, 2003 – Millions of Americans are suffering the effects of being unable to pay their financial obligations. When it's due to over-spending, the resulting emotional consequences can be devastating: guilt, self-loathing, anxiety, and depression. With the retail sales figures for July just in – an increase of 1.4 percent in the third quarter – Americans are spending once again. Yet for those already having financial difficulties, so called "shopping therapy" won't solve their problems.
According to a recent national survey commissioned by the Consumer Federation of America and Financial Planning Association, the percentage of Americans extremely or very worried about consumer debt increased from 6 to 10 percent. Young adults and those with low- or moderate-incomes are suffering most. Americans with annual incomes from $15,000-25,000 experienced increases in anxiety from 14 to 23 percent.
"The stress of having debt is overwhelming," said Erica Sandberg, financial advisor for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco. "Unemployment is on the upswing, and many people are confused and depressed. Consumer spending is integral to a healthy economy, yet for those overloaded with debt, their personal situation is negatively affected when they shop for what they can't afford."
CCCS-SF recommends the following techniques to overcome debt-related depression:
Talk about it. If you are depressed about money problems, you may feel alone. Yet the moment you begin to discuss it, you will find you are not only in immense company, but that discussing it can make you feel a lot better.
Put it in perspective. Do you have your health? The love and support from friends and family? Focus on the good things that are happening in your life. It's hard, but you are going to need to be optimistic to make positive changes.
Confront the problem. Rather than hiding from bill collectors, regain control by answering the calls. Be calm and rational. Understand the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, a law that protects your rights as a consumer. Write your creditors to explain your situation. Include what led to the problem (even if it was your "fault") and how you plan to fix it.
Fight inertia. Depression is an insidious emotion. Doing nothing, while easier than taking action, will get you nowhere. Get up and get out, but resist the urge to shop if your spending is out of hand. If you are already loaded down with debt, and keep receiving offers for more credit cards in the mail, destroy them and throw them away. Consider removing your name from promotional lists by calling 1(800) 3 OPT-OUT.
Prioritize your budget. Chances are, there are some expenses you can reduce or cut out that can immediately relieve some of the pressure. Review your spending plan and eliminate expenses that aren't absolutely essential. Prioritize according to necessity – basic needs such as food, housing, utilities and children's expenses come first, and everything else after those.
Get professional money management assistance. Free and low cost professional assistance is available. Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco, an accredited nonprofit financial counseling and education agency, provides affordable money management services. They offer community referrals, and help with budget development and debt repayment – providing practical steps that can alleviate financial anxiety.
For information about CCCS-SF, contact Jeannine Moore at (415) 788-0288 ext. 124, or log onto www.cccssf.org/(800) 777-7526.
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