Experts say that the best time to intervene regarding someone’s alcoholism is when that person is suffering a hangover. So maybe the best time to discuss overspending is when people’s charge accounts are maxed out!

When I was on the Internet gathering information about twelve-step organizations the other day, I came across a website for Debtors Anonymous. It offered a questionnaire designed to help people determine whether or not they would benefit from Debtors Anonymous. The first question rang a bell with me: “Are your debts making your home life unhappy?’

“No,” I said to myself, “not today. But for most of my childhood, debts made my life very unhappy.” At least I thought debts were the cause of our unhappiness. My parents clearly thought so too. My father, who had trouble managing money, was obsessed with getting out of debt from the time I was a little child until the day he died. He frequently made the statement, “When we get out of debt, we’ll do such-and-such.” We never got out of debt, and we never did such-and-such. 

Apparently, most compulsive debtors answer Yes to at least eight of the fifteen questions on the diagnostic questionnaire. In my case, the first Yes was enough to convince me, but I answered the remaining questions anyway. This is what I recognized: the specter of indebtedness dominated our family life through- out my childhood. As an adult, I carried on the family tradition. Financial stress distracted me from my daily responsibilities and robbed me of peace of mind. I lost sleep because of money problems. I borrowed money to find relief from the pressure of financial difficulties, and my indebtedness caused me to think less of myself. And when I took out a loan, I rarely gave adequate consideration to the rate of’ interest I would be required to pay even though I knew I shouldn’t borrow irresponsibly.

I ‘ve changed my behavior in recent years and no longer have personal debt (thanks largely to Dave Ramsey’s book Financial Peace and to his radio show) I am, however, deeply aware of the addictive nature of spending and the possibility of relapsing into old habits. I try to be conscious of how shopping and spending affect my moods, of why I spend, and of what the consequences of my financial decisions are. I want to act on the basis of choice—not compulsion.

Like mine, Neil’s family was obsessed with money or the lack thereof. “Maybe it was because we were so poor,” he says, “but financial problems were all my parents ever thought or talked about. Dad’s automatic response to any request

involving money was, ‘We can’t afford it.’ He said that a lot. He even joked about it: ‘I’d have bacon with my eggs – if I could afford eggs!’ The truth is we could afford whatever and wanted, but we couldn’t afford what Mom and I wanted.”

For people concerned about their spending habits or those of a loved one, here are a few signposts along the road to financial insolvency that may predict potential problems:

  • borrowing money from friends
  • thinking that having credit cards is a mark of maturity
  • inordinate apprehension or distress when applying for a loan
  • lack of concern about things that don’t have to be paid for this month
  • assuming that funds will be available in the future to meet obligations incurred in the present

A friend I’ll call Francie told me recently that she had been attending Debtors Anonymous meetings and that they were transforming her attitudes toward money as well as her spending practices. I began to notice that Francie seemed more mature and responsible in every way— not just with regard to monetary things. She seemed more in possession of herself and more in charge of her life. Witnessing her growth made me want to learn more about Debtors Anonymous.

By: Carol Cannon. Originally Published in Signs of the Times, December 2000

Note from our Program: The Bridge to Recovery works with individuals and families who are struggling with compulsive spending and financial stressors. Dealing with the underlying and unresolved trauma leading to our engagement in such behaviors is how we help clients heal and find reprieve from such situations. If you want to learn more about our program, contact us at: 877-866-8661.

Additionally, more information on Debtors Anonymous, the 12 Step Program Carol mentioned in her article above published in December of 2000 is still active and an available resource. Visit them at: