It used to be that when I felt broke, I used my bevy of credit cards to chase away the feeling. As long as I could spend money, it felt like I had money.
My credit cards were my antidepressant. And I tell you reluctantly, they did the job — for a while, until the pleasant feeling vanished because I was broke again and needed another fix.
The more I used my credit cards to prove to myself that I wasn't really broke, the more debt I created — until, finally, I couldn't fake it any longer.
It took me 13 years to get out of the financial mess I got our family into. But we did it, and in the process I learned a very important lesson: Every woman needs some money she can call her own.
At some point during my long journey back to financial health, my husband and I agreed to put me on an allowance. That changed everything for me.
As long as I had my own money for splurges and it wasn't money I was sneaking out of the household account in hopes that he wouldn't find out, I didn't feel broke.
When I didn't feel broke, I was much more willing to be frugal with the rest of our income. My change of attitude made all the difference.
"Having an allowance lowers your anxiety and boosts your self-esteem," says Dr. Kathleen Gurney, founder of the Financial Psychology Corporation, where she counsels clients and specializes in the psychology of money management. "It makes you feel like you're on top of things and in control."
Gurney could not be more spot on.
When I would get my allowance, I'd create a simple spending plan to figure out how I was going to use my money.
I was really doing what I feared most: creating a budget.
Suddenly, the idea of a budget for all of our expenses wasn't scary anymore. Planning out my little allowance made spending intentional, not impulsive. The more I stuck with monitoring it and setting little goals, the better I felt.
If you're ready to put yourself on a similar plan, here's some firsthand advice: Decide on an amount and the frequency. You need to know in advance how often you will receive your allowance.
Create a budget for yourself — a simple plan that shows what you plan to do with your allowance. Then do yourself the biggest favor of all: Keep track of where every dime of your allowance goes.
One last thing: Don't cheat! This whole idea only works if you commit to being 100 percent honest. If you start sneaking money away from places you're not supposed to, you're only hurting yourself.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.