Q I find I spend money I don't have because of a long-time habit of impulse buying. As a result, I'm always living my financial life on the edge. Do you have any suggestions?
A Many people are faced with the same challenge of impulse buying you mention. I remember one couple who had taken their daughter on a cruise — and put the bill on a credit card! When the idea for a cruise came up, it seemed too good to pass by. No matter that they didn't have the money. Their inability to discipline their spending left them with credit card debts of over $50,000.
The consumerism of our society promotes instant self-gratification without regard to cost. This is quite the opposite from the Gospel message of developing an attitude of detachment from worldly goods. Lent offers us a perfect time to rein in our bad habits and learn how to achieve financial freedom by becoming better stewards.
One of the great disciplines the Church offers is fasting. Section 2043 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The fifth precept of the Church (‘You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence.’), ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts; they help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.”
Learning to acquire self-mastery over our instincts is just we need! While fasting is a requirement on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, there is no reason we can't use this powerful tool more frequently.
Assuming you're in good health and your family doctor wouldn't be opposed, I encourage you to fast on a more regular basis. This may be once a month, once every two weeks, or even weekly.
It's a struggle for all of us to overcome our desires and impulses and the Church knows this. That's why she reminds us, “It remains for the holy people to struggle, with the grace from on high, to obtain the good things God promises. In order to possess and contemplate God, Christ's faithful mortify their cravings and, with the grace of God, prevail over the seductions of pleasure and power” (Catechism, No. 2549).
With fasting, you'll find your character and will are strengthened and you're better able to avoid buying things at a whim.
Another effective tool for dealing with the habit of impulse buying is to track where your money goes.
It's amazing how the light goes on for many couples once they see how much of their hard earned income is being spent on things that really aren't high priorities for them.
Before they had a budget in place, the financial waters were muddy and they couldn't see the ramifications of their poor spending decisions.
By combining the benefits of a financial plan with the increased self discipline acquired through fasting, you'll find the financial peace you've been looking for.
God love you!
Phil Lenahan is executive director of Catholic Answers.
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