Updated on 03.18.07

Spenders Anonymous: Twelve Steps to Beating the Addiction to Spending

Trent Hamm

Spending is a psychological addiction. It is quite easy to fall into a routine where you just spend money on things you don’t need over and over again because it begins to feel right. You slip deeper and deeper into credit card debt buying stuff and falling further and further behind.

Among my family and friends, I’ve had several people who were able to beat psychological addiction through a twelve step program. The twelve steps are designed to help a person beat any addiction. What can these twelve steps teach us about defeating an addiction to spending? Let’s take a look.

Twelve Steps to Defeating the Addiction to Spending

1. We admitted we were powerless over spending — that our lives had become unmanageable.
If you find yourself sinking into credit card debt, deeper and deeper, and you find your life becoming unmanageable, yet you continue to buy things you don’t need, it may be time to admit that you have no control over the spending – and commit yourself to defeating the problem.

2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Someone is going to have to help you down that path, whether it be a religious higher power or else others that you can trust to help you. Look for friends who aren’t addicted to spending, or seek out the fold of family.

3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
This doesn’t mean you have to believe in God, merely that you’re willing to allow yourself to be guided by a force beyond yourself for a while until you’re able to find your own two feet again. This can take the form of trusting in a religious faith, or in any great force that you believe in.

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
You can start by trying the free 31 Days to Fix Your Finances program, which starts out with just such an inventory. You can also simply try making a list of everything you’ve spent in the last month and grouping them into what is essential and what is not.

5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
If you don’t believe in a higher power, this step is still vital because of the admission to yourself and to another human being your failings in spending too much money.

6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Ask yourself if you’re truly ready to make a change or not. If the answer is no, it’s going to be difficult to really commit to the changes.

7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
This part is difficult for people who do not have faith, but is essential to people who do.

8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
This is an incredibly powerful exercise. Who have you harmed by spending too much? Did it hurt your spouse? Did it prevent you from saving for your child’s future? Did the guilt strain your relationship with people? Think about this for a while, because you might be surprised how many people your spending has affected.

9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Start saving for your child’s future. Put some money away in a 401(k). Draw up a will and living trust. Get appropriate insurance. Tell the people around you how much you love them.

10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
It’s difficult to extract unnecessary spending from your life – it’s an ongoing process. When you make a mistake, realize it, admit it, and work to not repeat the mistake.

11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
Even if you don’t believe in a higher power, meditation is an incredibly powerful way to clear your mind and open yourself to a greater understanding of both yourself and the world.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to spending addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
In a way, this is what The Simple Dollar is – practicing healthy personal finance and sharing what I’ve learned with the world.

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  1. plonkee says:

    As an atheist, I have always thought the language of A.A. type 12 step programmes to be very off-putting. However, in general, I can see how they can be effective for lots of people – including people addicted to spending.

    The biggest problem I have is with no.s 6 & 7. Its difficult to see how they can be translated for the godless. As a non-believer, I don’t think that anyone other than ourselves can alter our characters, but I do think its helpful to believe in something bigger than yourself (personally I believe in humanity).

    I’m guessing 7 is supposed to have the effect of causing you to believe that your shortcomings are not a permanent part of your character. What do you think?

  2. Danni says:

    Can it also cure problems in spending too much in casinos. I think that it’s a different addiction, but there’s still a point where you can’t stop spending money.

  3. DaveN says:

    I totally agree with this approach.

    As a Christ-follower, I know that surrendering myself (including my finances) to God is one of the most important things I can do. Paul states it very well in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” [NIV]

    Of course, “The only problem with a living sacrifice is it wants to crawl off the alter.”

  4. rhbee says:

    As a non theist, I think the whole argument when couched in theist rhetoric is suspect. Next thing I know, you’ll be telling us that a tithe of 10% is another way to be thrifty.

  5. Moe says:

    I don’t have big enough faith to be an atheist… That’s what gets us here in the first place. With that said, a moral law giver gives us the road to a moral life, even when it comes to spending. If we are guided by culture, we will be doomed with culture. I always like the early Apple ads, “Think different”. Swim against the current. Specially when it comes to this spend all, save none, credit is your friend culture.

  6. TF Miser says:

    Being an atheist doesn’t require any faith. It is also possible to have a moral life without having a moral law giver. Since the U.S. is predominately a Christian culture you should be ok being guided by culture.

    I have overcome a gambling problem without the help of any 12-step program or religion. Only you can change your life.

  7. Bob says:

    I like the approach. It’s a good motivator for the weak and confused. I think everybody needs to pray ones in a while. It could reduce the burden we are carrying. Also helps us overcome obstacles.

  8. Lisa Knight says:

    Ok, not sure why we are debating religion here… but by definition Atheism is a faith in something, just not God. If you believe in nothing you are agnostic… That said…

    I think that the 6 & 7 are key in that you have to admit there is something bigger than you in the world & that your actions have consequences. So binge spending isn’t any better than binge drinking, eating, etc… An addiction is an addiction & if admiting that you aren’t in complete control (obviously demonstrated by the out of control actions that got you to that point) don’t you need to beleive that SOMETHING is… otherwise how do you stop? Why stop?

    There has to be something in your mind you are accountable to, family, friends, God, whatever works for you. I just don’t think you can break the cycle for just you, otherwise you wouldn’t be there now.

    This is a great guide on how to break the addiction of spending! Thanks!!!

  9. melissa says:

    I attend Alanon and was really freaked by all the references to God. After a year of attending very inspirational meetings, I can honestly say the term God does not bother me at all any more – it’s God as you define it ie. could be the power of a group; earth mother; the Golden Rule; friendship; family, etc – I haven’t even figured out what my higher power is but knowing the term God is only what I choose to define takes the religious nature out of it for me.

  10. Brian Taylor says:

    I am seven years clean and sober and the 12 steps of A.A. saved my rear end. The problem with an addiction is that it is a symptom of something else gone wrong between my ears, or I am not comfortable in my own skin. Therefore I find some way to escape these feelings of inadacecy ie. drinking, drugs, gambling, sex, overeating, over spending etc. What ever it takes so I can escape the real world if only for a little while. The whole idea of the God thing is to believe in a power greater than me that can relieve me of myself! My mind is like a bad neighborhood it’s a dangerous place to go into alone. I go to meetings, pray, meditate, call other people in recovery who have been where I am at and it grounds me and they don’t co-sign my bull#&*@ and they tell me what I need to hear. The biggest problem I have is I want what I want and I want it right now. My needs are met and sometimes my wants are a plesant surprise, I believe the man upstairs takes care of my behind everyday and if things are not going my way it’s because I am not GETTING MY WAY! WAAAAAA

  11. tonester says:

    There’s no such as God. Why is god a He/Him again?

    No one has been able to answer my question.

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