The Expatriated Consumer

Imagining life without debt. Working to make it reality.

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You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…

Posted by Max Finkle on August 25, 2008

My wife and I have discovered how difficult it is to get out of debt, especially since I’ve become so determined to make it happen in our lives. I guess I’ve always known that it’s hard to get out of debt, mainly because I’ve never been able to, but I’d never identified what it was about it that was so rough.
It’s not easy to give up those things; old habits, comforts and such that you have made a part of your life. It’s hard to give up the morning stop at Dunkin’ Donuts, or to stop buying that “last” pack of cigarettes. I have successfully given many of those vices up, but I still have the occasional lingering one that I truly have difficulty shaking.

I’m far from perfect in reducing those expenditures, in fact, one of my true vices until recently was instant lottery tickets. The lottery is the primary reason I seldom carry actual cash in my pocket. The lure of the allure of winning is too great for me. The money starts to burn a hole in my pocket, and I’ve got to get it out. The solution, I found, was to reduce the amount of cash I carry because I can’t use my debit or credit cards to make those purchases. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s against state law, or if it’s the retailer’s prerogative, but it’s generally not allowed as far as I know. And that’s OK by me.

I never actually tallied up my losses associated with the lottery, but in retrospect, I’m betting (ha!) that I spent upwards of $150-200 a month at my peak of lottery addiction. That’s in the neighborhood of $2000 a year I was spending on lottery alone. That would have covered the cost of my first computer. Or an entire year’s worth of car payments. Multiply that by a few years and there’s half a year’s salary. In years past I was making between $15-20,000 annually. When you figure my net salary was $10-15,000 then, that’s a lot of cabbage I couldn’t really afford to shell out.

Again, I never actually ran a tally, but I do know that with the exception of one year when I had a string of good luck and probably broke even, I lost at least 100% of everything I “invested”. I can only imagine how much money I’d have accrued by now had I invested in a mutual, or index fund, or fully funded a 401K with matching from my employer with that money. I do know that had I spent responsibly, I wouldn’t be in such dire financial straits as I am now!

I have only recently eliminated lottery from my life, and I am able to better manage that concern since I have properly identified the issue, and established a means to avoid the habit. For a while I was spending about $5 a week on it, grabbing an instant ticket when I filled the car, because I figured “I deserved it.” And I also figured that paltry sum wasn’t having that much impact on my wallet. Then I realized the error in that frame of mind, and have decided that I deserve to feel more secure in my finances by using that $20 a month towards something more worthwhile.

I still can’t help but love the idea of winning big, and coasting the rest of my life in financial bliss, but I’ve dumped several thousand dollars into the lottery over the last 15-20 years or so, and still have nothing to show for it but a big pile of crushing debt. There is something a lot more comforting in knowing that I am now in the process of truly winning big, simply by trying so hard to eliminate debt from my life, using a formula of proven success, and with a lot better odds in my favor.

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