When “Gazelle” Becomes “Crazy”

This post was written by Jessica Streit. She is a freelance writer and blogger who has a slight tendency to obsess over things. She is a staff writer for Everything Finance Blog, the site about everything money and finances.

A few years ago, I took to reading every book written by Dave Ramsey. I borrowed every book I could from the library, I listened to his radio program, I purchased a special cash envelope wallet thingy, I bought my kids banks that came from his site.

I became an obsessed, kool-aid drinking member of the Dave Ramsey cult.

That’s not to say that everyone who follows/reads/listens to Dave Ramsey is in a cult. Far from it. But the potential to feel like you are part of one is there.

Why is it that following the steps set forth by Dave Ramsey can lead a person to feeling obsessive?

Because it works!

His steps make sense most of the time. We should have an emergency fund, we should pay off our debt and then grow a savings account equal to 3 to 6 (or 9 or 12) months living expenses. We should do all of those things because they make our lives easier and happier.

However, there comes a time when a being “gazelle intense” (a term Dave Ramsey uses to describe being REALLY dedicated to the process) can seem obsessive. It might be when you are sitting your house with the lights out reading (a book borrowed from the library) via candle light in an effort to save money on utilities. Or it may be the moment when you take all the extra jelly home from the restaurant after you used buy one get one free coupons, came on family night so the kids could eat for free, drank water and split one entree.

Whatever the moment may be when a person crosses the line into the uber-frugal, it might be time for an intervention.

My own intervention came in the form of my mother. We were cleaning out my basement and she kept finding shopping bags that I had saved. They were the paper type, with the sturdy handles. I could name many uses for them, they were/are very handy. However, I was saving every one I came across. Why buy paper sacks for lunches? Or even pay for a new lunch box when we had all of these perfectly good bags that we could use.

A portion of my rationale made sense. There are good uses for them and saving them is good for the environment. The action wasn’t the problem, it was the mindset behind it (and all the other “reasons” I had for keeping things).

What I was labeling as frugal or “gazelle” was actually bordering on hoarding and plain crazy. What I realized was life changing.

I had replaced one obsessive behavior (shopping) for another (saving money).

Paying down debt is so empowering. It can be the encouragement you need to take control of other parts of your life (your health, your career, your relationships). It is important, however, to stay in touch with your behavior and the mentality that is going behind those behaviors.

Especially if you are like me prone to being crazy slightly obsessive about things.

Taming the iWant

I’m driving to the Apple Store today to have the battery in my phone repaired. Generally, I avoid going at all costs, because if Target and the mall are danger zones for my spending addiction, the Apple Store is a tornado in an erupting volcano, sprinkled with landmines and nuclear waste.

Some people scoff at my love of iDevices. They’re so overpriced. You’re paying the Apple tax. You’d be much happier with [insert non-Apple product here]. I can understand and appreciate the fact that not everyone wants iDevices. Not everyone is willing to pay higher prices or wait in lines or buy into the hype. And sometimes I wish I could be one of those cool people who can stand back and honestly say, “There’s no reason for me to buy any of those things.” But I’d be lying, and I’m a big fan of the truth.

I’ve been criticized before, both online and in real life, for daring to own expensive electronic devices when I’m in debt and/or don’t make a million dollars a year. But, believe it or not, I’ve never added to my debt with an Apple product. Every single one of them has been purchased with cash. And I don’t really care if people like it or not - I’d venture to say that most of us have purchased things that other people don’t like.

The good news is, there are very few iDevices that I don’t already own. But it doesn’t mean I’m immune to iWant. There are always upgrades and accessories. And I don’t know if you’ve ever been in an Apple store, but HOLY CRAP those places are amazing.

But I don’t need to spend money. I don’t need anything new. And I’m confident that I can walk out of there today with only my repaired phone. And it helps to know you guys will be ready to kick my butt if I don’t.

Please, Think Before You Speak

This isn’t necessarily related to finance, but I need to say it anyway.

After a little more than a year in the personal finance blogosphere, I’ve come to the realization that many personal finance bloggers (and readers) are extremely judgmental. I know that we all judge others at times, but some people take it to the extreme.

Some bloggers don’t share very much of their personal lives in their posts. And that’s fine - not everyone is comfortable writing about certain things on the internet. But some of us put a lot of ourselves out there for the world to see; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Because we need to share our stories. Because we feel like someone may benefit from hearing about what we’ve been through. Because we want to know we aren’t alone, and we want others to know that as well. And the worst thing that can happen to us is receiving a virtual slap in the face for taking that risk.

I could very easily lie to you all about the things I buy and the choices I make. None of you live in my house; you have no clue what I’m really doing or spending. But instead of portraying myself as perfect, I choose to present myself as I am, flaws and all, in hopes that you can learn from my mistakes. And it’s very hurtful when people use that as an opportunity to attack me, my son, or my life experiences.

I’ve heard people say, “Well, you shouldn’t post about it on a public blog if you don’t want to know what people think.” Maybe that’s true. However, the only people I hear saying that are the ones who want an excuse to berate or ridicule others for their situations.

There is a big difference between saying, “I disagree with you,” or, “Have you thought about doing this instead?” and saying, “You’re a total idiot and you have no business ____.” Whether that’s breathing or owning a computer or buying a bag of Doritos, or whatever else someone feels like going off about that day. The fact is, until I (or anyone else) ask you to provide financial support, it’s really none of your business. If you feel that strongly about it, find a different blog to read.

No matter how much someone shares on his or her blog, you have no way to know everything that person is dealing with. Your harsh, judgmental comment could come at a time when the person desperately needs encouragement, or when they’ve hit a wall and are looking for a sign that things will be okay. Your words could be the last straw for someone who is hanging by a thread. That self-righteous remark that made you feel important for five seconds could affect the recipient for life.

When you are cruel and thoughtless in your dealings with others, you risk destroying them. If that sounds silly or dramatic to you, I’m glad you’ve never been vulnerable enough to understand. But as someone who has been there AND someone who spent more than 7 years working with people who were, I’d like you to realize that your reality is not always the way life works for other people.

If you’re prone to judging others harshly, and not just in your own head, I encourage you to keep your comments to yourself. Words are powerful even when we tell ourselves they’re not. And we don’t always recognize when that power is enough to break someone.

3 Tales of the Financially Insane

One of the drawbacks of being a therapist (or former therapist) is that many of my friends seem to think I’m their personal therapist. And the fact that I’m now a personal finance blogger just means that I get the money drama AND all the other drama. This weekend was no exception. I’m tired, cranky, and behind on the things I really need to accomplish. Here are three of the reasons why. (Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the ignorant.)

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