Do We Inflict Peer Pressure On Ourselves?

When my husband and I got married, we were flat broke.  Broke.  We bought the cheapest wedding bands that we could find, and my diamond is small.  However, that was my preference.  I wanted to stay within budget, and I personally like smaller diamonds rather than the big rocks that some women wear.  (All I could think was that when I had babies, I’d accidentally scratch them with a big ring.)

Still, there have been times that I’ve been in the presence of a group of women, each with a huge rock on her hand, and I’ve been a bit embarrassed by my small diamond.  I’ve wondered what other people thought of us and our financial situation.

Peer Pressure Doesn’t End in High School

In high school, peer pressure is at its peak.  If you want to be popular, you have to follow what the other kids are doing.  I didn’t cave to peer pressure often.  Instead, I had a few close friends, and I followed the path that was important to me.  I was relieved when I graduated because I thought the peer pressure would finally be done.

In college, I found that the peer pressure did relent.  People would respect your choice if you didn’t do what they were doing.

However, as I got older, I began to realize that there are societal norms that you’re expected to maintain.  This becomes the “keeping up with the Jones’” phenomenon.

The Pressure Becomes Internalized

Self Inflicted Peer PressureMy husband and I are digging our way out of serious debt.  We are scrimping and saving, knowing that in a few short years we will be out of debt and can start fresh.  We can have all of our money be our own once we’re out of debt.

Meanwhile, we drive a 10 year old minivan with over 125,000 miles on it.  I wear my small diamond ring, which I don’t ever plan to replace with a bigger version.  We rent an apartment instead of owning a home.

No one is pressuring me to spend money that we don’t have.  No one is passing judgment on us (at least not to us directly).  But it’s hard not to look at other people’s lives and see the “stuff” that they have.  The nice cars.  The nice home with brand new furniture and a manicured lawn.

No one is telling me I’m failing, but I feel it sometimes.  I feel that I’m not living up to society’s standards.  I can see how easy it is to want to keep up with the Jones’, even if you can’t afford it.  I can see how easy it is to pull out the plastic just this once because you’ve been scrimping and saving and just want to be like other people once in a while.

For the people who can afford it, there is no danger in this.  For the people who can’t afford it, there’s just debt and heartache.  You might then be just like those you want to be like.

Me, I’ll keep resisting the peer pressure, even though now it’s mostly pressure I put on myself.

How Your Confidence Affects Your Finances, Part One

The other night, my husband and I watched Maxed Out, a documentary about the credit card industry and the effects using credit has on individuals’ lives.

While the movie itself had some dry sections, the heart of the movie, to me at least, was how people responded to heavy debt loads.

Of course, heavy debt loads is a relative term.

The Worst Case Scenario

One college student who was $12,000 in debt chose to take her own life rather than face the endless collection calls about a debt that she obviously felt was insurmountable.

Another woman, Yvonne Pavey, was in debt, but then, with late fees and penalties, the amount of debt she faced spiraled out of control.  Her solution was to simply drive her car into a nearby lake.  Her body was found at the end of the Maxed Out documentary.

The Endless Anxiety and Despair

Stay Confident and Pay Off DebtAnother woman in the documentary began to struggle financially after her husband died and she could no longer keep up with the house payments.  Rather than sell the house, she chose to finance her monthly $4,000 house payments on her credit card.  When she was interviewed for the documentary, she was weeks to days away from foreclosure.  The pain and despair she felt was palpable.  While she hadn’t taken the drastic measure of taking her own life as others had, it was clear that she thought her life was over and that she had failed.

She had mentally checked out of the game of life and felt that she had failed and there was no escape.  This feeling of despair among those who have debts is common.

The Effects on Your Health

In addition, carrying a heavy debt load can take a physical toll.  “Experts say there’s no question that being in debt can be stressful.  And a wide body of research has tied stress to health problems including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stomach disorders such as colitis.  ‘As with any serious stress’ debt does have an ‘impact on one’s physical health,’ said Elizabeth Carll, a New York-based stress and trauma psychologist.  Financial worries may cause a person to be ‘run-down, have more colds, migraines and headaches, [and] their current medical conditions may get worse” (The Washington Post).

As someone who is on a journey to pay off nearly $58,000 in credit card and student loan debts, I can attest both to the sense of hopelessness and the health risks.  For nearly 18 months in our debt payoff journey, the debt was literally all I could think about, and it affected my health.  I didn’t sleep as well as I should, I was quick to anger because of the stress from the debt, and my health failed me.  In fact, it’s taken me 15 months to restore my health and almost begin to feel like myself again.

We have been paying down our debt for two years now, and we have just reached the halfway point.  Our debt now is at $29,000 in student loans only, and we finally feel like we can breathe.  I’m not out of debt yet, but I’m far enough through the process that I can see how much that debt weighed on me like a ton weight around my neck.

Through this journey, I’ve learned that your mindset can make or break you when it comes to both your feelings about your debt and your debt payment.

Stay tuned for part two. . .

This New Year, Take the Time to Look Back at What You’ve Accomplished

The year is wrapping up, and we’re all hustling to finish our holiday shopping and prepare for the perfect Christmas season.  Then, just a few days later, we’ll be intent on improving ourselves and making ambitious goals for the next year.

I love taking the time to plan what I want to accomplish in the new year.  I spend a few weeks planning and writing down each goal.  I share my goals on my blog, and every month I update them with my progress, which helps keep me accountable.  With this process, I’ve been able to reach at least 75% of my goals every year.

If you, too, are a goal setter, you may focus only on the future, but that can be a mistake.

New Year Look BackInstead, before you start looking forward, take the time to look back at 2013 and all you have accomplished.

For instance, my husband and I are in the midst of paying down a mountain of debt (the balance was $57,966.01 spread across credit cards and student loans when we started paying it down at the end of 2011).  Every month money is tight, and honestly, sometimes I wonder if we’ll every be in a comfortable position financially.

My husband keeps reassuring me that we are in a better position financially this year, but I always assume that is what he says because he’s a free spirit and I’m the financial worry wart.  However, I took the time to look back, and I realized that he’s right.  We are in a much better place than a year ago.

At the beginning of January, 2013, my student loan balance was $4,218.94.  This month, I just paid it off.  That’s only one example.  In each area of our lives that I looked at financially speaking, we’re in a better place.  While I don’t necessarily feel the financial difference, the numbers on the paper don’t lie; we’ve made progress this year.

When you’re in the midst of a financial struggle, whether it be paying down debt, trying to build your savings, or trying to increase your income, feeling like you’re not making any progress is normal.  Getting ahead occurs so slowly that you often feel like your stagnating when you’re not.  Inch by inch, you’re making progress, but when you’re deep in the forest, it’s hard to see anything besides your immediate location.

You need to consciously look at where you were 12 months ago so you can appreciate where you are now.

But most of us never take the time to do so.  That’s too bad because by reflecting on the progress you’ve made, you can build your confidence and make accomplishing your goals in the future even more likely.

Plus, by looking back at what you’ve accomplished and the progress you’ve made, you can better set your goals for the next year.

A car has a rear view mirror because you have to see where you’ve been and what’s behind you to help you continue going forward.  The same is true with your financial life.

Have you taken the time to look at the financial progress you make every year?