3 Warning Signs You May Be Ignoring a Spending Problem

California Legislature
Associated Press/Sam Hodgson
I pulled up to the drive-through window of my favorite fast food restaurant and ordered the meal that I always get. When I drove around to pay, the cashier said hi and mentioned that she hadn't seen me there in a while. I obviously go there too often.

I also find myself getting a little upset when people oust me on Foursquare as a mayor of any one of my favorite restaurants. It irks me. I'm mayor of several, and I feel a sense of competition when someone steals the title.

There is a telling pattern in this that may mean I have a spending problem. There are other clues, of course. Here are some signs that we may not even recognize as clues that we are potentially overspending.

1. When Real Life Feels Like "Cheers"

It is a bad sign when a sales clerk knows your name. I used to think that it was cool that my local bartender knew my name. Like Norm on "Cheers," it feels great when people know you.

The problem is that you have to go to a bar or a store a long time for someone to know you. It's a clear warning sign and a clue that you may be spending too much time and money in an establishment.

Even though the cashier didn't know my name at the fast food restaurant, that she recognized me meant I had been going there too much. My wallet and my midsection were taking the brunt of ordering the same meal, week in and week out.

2. When Businesses Are Emailing You More Often Than Friends

I probably get more than 100 emails every day. And more than half are from stores or online retailers, bombarding me with deals and coupons.

A daily email from our favorite retail stores is a temptation. A great way to control your spending and beat them at their own game is to get rid of as many temptations as possible. Delete the emails. Unsubscribe from the lists. Purge your newsletter subscriptions.

Will you miss great deals from these companies? Of course. But do you really need these coupons and the temptation to buy something at every turn? You would do far better at looking for online coupons from websites like RetailMeNot and CouponPal when you need to buy something instead of being solicited every day.

3. When Stores Send You Birthday Gifts

I didn't even know that stores sent birthday and Christmas gifts to their best customers until my wife received a $50 gift card in the mail from Tory Burch. She also told me her best friend received a cashmere blanket last Christmas from Banana Republic. How much do you have to spend in a given year at a store to receive a "free" cashmere blanket?

Stores are doing more than simply tracking purchases and trends with their email lists and loyalty programs. Is this the middle class equivalent to the comps that casinos give to "whale" gamblers?

So What Can You Do?

If one or more of these warnings sounds all too familiar, all is not lost. First, recognize that you have a problem. Far too often, we are in denial. Once you realize that you're spending too much in some areas, there are a few steps that you can take to get it under control.

• Skip the situations where you commonly overspend. Do you spend money with friends or have friends who live above their means? Don't put yourself into situations where you'll be peer-pressured into spending money. There's a theory that we have the same net worth as the average of our five closest friends.

• Unsubscribe to all of those email lists. They're just a temptation to spend money that you don't have, especially daily deal websites like Groupon (GRPN). I use an incredible, free service called Unroll.me. It helps you quickly opt out of the emails your don't want, and also provides you with a daily summary of ones that you want to keep. And, by the way, it can be an eye-opening experience to see just how many email lists that you are on.

• Have an accountability partner. Whether it's a spouse or best friend, enlist someone to help you keep your spending down. Before a purchases or shopping trip, discuss it with them. Is this purchase worth it? Is it a want or a need? Sometimes, simply talking about things out loud can help you realize that you don't need to spend the money.

Do you have a spending problem? Have you been ignoring the warning signs? Did I miss any? What are some other warning signs and clues that you spend too much?

Hank Coleman is a financial planner and the publisher of the popular personal finance blog Money Q&A, where he answers readers' tough money questions. Follow him on Twitter @MoneyQandA.

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It is so easy to spend more than you intend. I know I do, though I'm not as bad about it as I used to be. It's all about paying off debt, rather than adding to it. Learn more about how these kinds of debts can impact your life at http://www.mutualfundstore.com/financial-obligations-debt. Cut out that extra spending, and you will see an improvement in your savings pretty quick.

May 07 2014 at 12:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


April 25 2014 at 12:46 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I recently had to go through a hard look in the mirror at my spending. It turned out there was a number of products I was wasting money on, when I can have the same thing for way less. These were my top savings tips from my own experience.
1. Eat out 1 less time per week, This saves 50-$100 per week.
2. Insurance can be found cheaper if you get it yourself. Get your insurance from LifeAnt or you can find cheaper car insurance from esurance or geico which honestly is fast to find.
3. Make a list when you grocery shop, and dont deviate. Same with cloths and goods. Buy what you need and nothing more.
Its not easy but it feels GREAT to put money away. Something our country needs more of.

April 13 2014 at 8:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Cancer Patient Who Blamed Obamacare For 'Unaffordable' Costs Will Actually Save Money

Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers, is running Obamacare attack ads featuring a cancer patient who claimed her treatments were "unaffordable" under the new health care law. On Monday, The Detroit News reported that the patient will actually save more than $1,000 a year.

Julie Boonstra says in the anti-Obamacare ad that she was diagnosed with leukemia five years ago, and her health care plan was canceled when Obamacare went into effect.

"Now, the out-of-pocket costs are so high, it's unaffordable," she said.

Before her plan was canceled, Boonstra was paying a $1,100 monthly premium. That's $13,200 a year, without adding out-of-pocket expenses like co-pays and prescription drugs. But under her new plan, the Blue Cross Premier Gold, Boonstra's premiums are down to $571 a month, and out-of-pocket costs are capped at $5,100. That's a maximum annual expense of $11,952 a year.

According to The Detroit News, Boonstra said it “can’t be true” that her new coverage is cheaper than her old.

“I personally do not believe that,” Boonstra said.

The ads set out to target Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who faces former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R) in a tight race for Michigan's U.S. Senate seat. Peters voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act.

The billionaire Koch brothers have spent millions in attack ads in Michigan and beyond, prompting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to take a public stand against their tactics. Reid accused the Kochs of "trying to buy America," and said Republicans are "addicted to Koch."

Boonstra told The Detroit News she had never been politically active before joining the anti-Obamacare campaign. The newspaper reported her ex-husband, Mark Boonstra, had served as chair of the Washtenaw County GOP, and was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to the Michigan Court of Appeals in 2012.

March 11 2014 at 2:46 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to republicanslostagain's comment

Needless to say, the brothers Koch are spending a fortune fighting against the ACA as it is a wedge issue that is dividing Americans against what is actually good for them along party lines. Every one of these so called victims of Obamacare have had their stories debunked but once committed to ideology, no amount of proof of benefit can shake them because to be a committed Republican you have to buy the whole package.

The sad thing is that the Koch’s have been very effective even though when the ACA is broken down point by point every aspect has approval above 60% of the population so long as the word Obamacare isn’t used in the polls. Ironically when the same people are questioned about whether they support Obamacare the polls drop into the negative but if the words Affordable Care Act are used, it rates 9% higher, showing both a lack of the understanding of the act and the vilification aimed at the president. To be analytical, the Koch’s don’t care about the ACA, what they care about is corralling a herd mentality towards an unshakable coalition, that will support their own agenda and their agenda is the elimination of environmental protections seeing their operations are all centered around big pollution and chemical, they also want no restrictions on how they operate, nor do they want to pay a fair tax or clean up after all of the disastrous spills and toxins released into the environment, they want tax payers to foot the bill.

For the Koch brothers, the ACA opposition is nothing but a vehicle to tie in a section of society created by right wing media that has made a long overdue restructuring of healthcare a connector aimed at binding people to their real agenda. They know that a message in divisive misinformation on a topic as critical as health insurance that has so many benefits for most of the population, if allowed to proceed unhindered in time might shake loose support for their agenda package so a few billion spent on negative propaganda is a pittance to maintain the corrosive cohesion of selling a lie to the detriment of even their most ardent supporters.

So it’s no wonder that every one of these alleged ACA horror stories have been debunked and with the amount of money invested in propelling the big lie, it’s no wonder that when presented the facts and benefits, people like Mrs. Bonstra refuse to believe their own lying eyes and remain invested in allowing the lie they were sold as being the only true reality.

Either she is too ignorant to learn and seek out the truth, too committed to the cause or worse, paid to spread dishonesty. if so, shame on her and shame on the way vested interests are determined to hurt the health, finances and wellbeing of Americans just so they can use a major issue to mask their true intent.

March 11 2014 at 2:52 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Uninsured Rate Drops, Thanks To Obamacare

You can’t argue reality with conservatives because they function on a set of beliefs that fly in the face of science, math, statistics and logic. The US was rated at number 37 in the delivery of quality healthcare and sat somewhere on top of the list of 3rd world countries but even worse the healthcare costs per population were double the next most expensive nation and the average premium costs per population was the fastest rising in the entire world but damn the notion that anybody would suggest addressing a major problem in healthcare delivery and spiraling costs, because right wing media pundits could fabricate the negatives and sell them as truths to people too emotionally immature and lazy to find the truth. The comfortably numb, at ease with their gullibility and beliefs without facts or any desire to seek them out ceded their thinking portion of their brain to people with vested interests in seeing much more profit for insurance companies, worse coverage or no coverage for the poor and middle class and the best healthcare system in the world for those that can afford to pay.

The ACA is far from perfect but if Republicans really cared more about the population than narrow vested interests of lobbyists funded by the medical and insurance industries, they could have spent the past 4 years improving the bill, seeing a plurality of the population don’t want it repealed but do want it improved. Literally $billions have been spent and millions of man hours wasted trying to pretend to repeal the ACA which won’t happen and any sane person has to admit was long overdue.

The ACA is the Republican healthcare free market plan, socialism is single payer universal healthcare, the starting point where Democrats began negotiating allthe while adding Republican ideas including the mandate to appease Republicans into voting on a bill that ended up right of Romneycare, Dole/Newt and even Nixon’s proposal. It’s the plan Republicans have been dragging out for half a century and running on to try and win the White House, the one that vanishes on the first day of the new Republican Presidency every time. It’s been kicked down the road for decades as private health insurance coverage has skyrocket in price and more reasons to exclude coverage were added every year until a prima facie reality was reached were in actual terms, nearly half of the population had pre-existing conditions.

The right has gone out of its way to find and target right wing voters and drag them under the media spotlight so they can tell their horror stories but just as soon as the spotlight was switched off every one of those horror stories was roundly debunked.

The worst thing Republican can do in 2014 is run against the ACA, truth is catching up with well financed and repeated lies and it's a losing proposition for them.

March 11 2014 at 1:23 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to republicanslostagain's comment

More leftist BS.

April 25 2014 at 3:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Obama and the Democratic Senate surely have a spending problem. They need help badly.

March 11 2014 at 11:53 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I am oddly on the other side of this coin. I need to be practically starving before I go grocery shopping. If my total income for a year is 12k, I will find a way to get by on 6k. People say they can't afford to own a home, I say you can't afford not to own a home. Keep all your spending with in your means and you can't help but have a surplus, no matter how poverty stricken you are.20 years ago I done handyman services and probably only made 4k that year, I had a surplus still, cut corners where you can. There is more stress in owing money than saving money. I have always been one to give more than I get as well. When someone makes 10 times more than I do and I am the one paying, this is just bad money managing.

March 11 2014 at 10:22 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

With mosty people out of work and not able tyo spend a lot on things excpet for what they have to have. You are stupid enough to think that this is happening. I know there are some dim wits out there that fall into the status game. That is where you buy things you don`t need with money you don`t have to impress people you hate! And the federal government is spending money like it is going out of style but I see it is do as I say not as I do we get it now King Insane Obumer

March 11 2014 at 10:12 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Why not. obama ignores it to.

March 11 2014 at 9:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hilma & Helmut

I was in the service industry and had a knack for remembering names. People appreciate that you remember them by name. It is not a bad thing.

March 11 2014 at 7:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply