My task each week on SOAPnet's Bank of Mom and Dad is to provide young women with solid advice that will improve their messy financial lives. In return I've received quite the education on some of the reasons we, as a society and particularly women, overspend and compile debt.
It's not that we necessarily fail to understand pie charts or compound interest on credit cards or that a daily $4.06 grande skim latte at Starbucks quickly (and amazingly) adds up. It's much deeper than that; our financial pickles have emotional ties.
I suppose I've always known that, but to see it week after week, case after case, the parallels between money and everything else in life we may struggle with -- from relationships to careers to health -- became incredibly clear. In order to overcome our obstacles -- financial or what have you -- we have to first deal with our emotions, find new and meaningful inspiration, and be encouraged to quit bad habits. Otherwise your debt -- or your dead-end job or that extra 15 pounds you gained in college-- will not go away. It may actually get worse.
The emotional baggage on Bank of Mom & Dad runs the gamut -- from poor self-esteem to strained personal relationships, dependency on men and a reluctance to just "grow up." In this week's episode we learn that 26 year-old Carmela spends more than $450 on beauty products a month because she doesn't think she's pretty enough to wear light makeup or go au natural. After struggling with her weight for years Carmela is down several dress sizes but admits she still feels less than beautiful. It's the reason she says she "needs" to O.D. on makeup.
For some women their money (or borrowed money as it usually is) becomes a substance that they abuse to make themselves feel better and live their ideal life (or what they perceive to be ideal). Here's what else the show's taught me about how to face up to and deal with our financial challenges.
Soul Search. Who are you? What do you want your life to be like in the next couple of years? What makes you happy? It's tough to know all these answers in your 20's but take time to figure things out as much as you can. And even if you change your mind along the way, at least you can establish goals to motivate you to get off the couch or off your Facebook page for a bit. And every goal has a price tag whether it's going back to school, starting a family in the next two years, finding your own apartment, switching careers, etc. Better to know your goals now and start a financial road map. It will make you think twice about those $200 jeans.
Own Up. Know what your financial obligations are. Analyze how much money is coming in every month and how much is going out. That's the only way you will see your mistakes and find room for improvement. Don't be afraid to open up the mail and see how much your electricity bill is this month. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to financial matters. You don't want to wake up one morning to your car getting repossessed. Just ask Christina from episode one of Bank of Mom & Dad.
Parents: Quit Enabling. I just met with a family who was bankrolling their daughter more than $30,000 a year. They were shocked to hear that figure, too, since they just thought they were helping her out a smidge here and there. Well over a year all those mini bail outs added up. Rather than hear her cry over the phone about her financial misery the parents wrote her checks. They thought they were doing the right thing. Instead they created a monster who now has no incentive to make enough money on her own because she has the luxury of mom and dad's bank account. Here's my advice: If you want to help your financially barren kids offer your insights, time and services rather than blank checks with no strings attached. Offer to have them move in with you for six months if need be (and by the way, at least one source suggests that some 80% of college students will move back with their parents upon graduation.) with the intention of having your child build a savings to afford a deposit on a place of their own. If they live on their own and are struggling, help them shore up cash by cooking meals, helping them sell old junk on eBay, carpooling, advising them on how to pay down debt and negotiating with their creditors. If parents do decide to lend their kids money (the operative word being "lend") put a contract in place. Take some collateral while you're at it, too.
Don't Go it Alone. You need an emotional support system to get out of debt. Friends and family are the best place to start. They'll keep you accountable and offer genuine encouragement. If your problem is very serious you may need to seek additional help from professionals. Last week's episode found Shameeka, a 29-year-old nurse with more than $60,000 in debt, discussing her spending issues with a therapist. Others may need to get debt counseling. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling can connect you with a free counselor in your area.
Catch Bank of Mom and Dad Wednesday nights at 10pm eastern on SOAPnet.
Bank of Mom & Dad's Money Coach: The truth about debt