To her clients, Amanda Mills is Dr. Debt Relief. She's one of a growing number of 'financial therapists,' professional advisors who help chronic shopaholics change their spending habits.
"Most people I encounter spend more than they make, which, in this culture, is hard not to do," says Mills, whose Toronto-based venture, Loose Change Financial Therapy, recently expanded to Ottawa.
Mills offered us some of her best advice for staying out of debt:
• Get a savings account and deposit money into it regularly. It might seem elementary, but some of Mills' clients have admitted to never opening one. "It makes your credit rating instantly better, because banks look favourably on people who can save," she says.
Additionally, she recommends having six months worth of income in this account, which might save you from instant debt if you lose your job.
• Think of your lean financial periods, instead of your more prosperous times, as being ‘normal' – especially if you don't work on a fixed salary. Immediately save any extra money you make, and don't spend beyond your means.
• Keep your credit card in the freezer. The card will have to thaw out before you can make a major purchase, and this will cut down on impulsive spending.
• Resist debit card use during day-to-day transactions like grocery shopping. You'll probably spend less when you can see how much cash you're handing over. "When you use debit cards (in stores), you aren't told the balance you have left over in your banking account, so you can stay fairly unconscious of how much money you actually have," says Mills.
• Severely limit the time spent watching home-shopping channels or surfing retail Web sites, because you might be tempted to spend more money. Also, try to limit your exposure to anything else that triggers pleasant memories of shopping, like advertising.
• If you spend a lot of money on a craft or hobby, consider turning it into a part-time job. You can recover what you'd normally spend on raw materials or tools from clients willing to pay for your services. You might be able to write-off some of your expenses at tax time, as well.
• Earn extra money by selling your unwanted books, CDs or clothes to second-hand stores. Mills spent only $73 of her job-related income on Christmas gifts this past year because she ransacked her closets, then resold whatever she didn't want.
• Spend some personal time with your bankbook. For instance, many people don't keep track of their monthly ATM and debit card transaction limit, and the 'hidden' user fees from going over this amount can add up over time.
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