Nicki wants to get out of debt, but she can’t — she has a spending addiction. She’s hoping that other Get Rich Slowly readers can give her advice. Here’s an abridged version of her story:

I am writing for advice on managing debt. I’ve been reading your website for the past month because my boyfriend recommended it after he noticed I spend a lot of money. Here’s a summary of my debt:

  • Visa: $9900 at 11%
  • Mastercard: $10,000 at 11%
  • Car loan: $4800 at 8.5%
  • Student loans: $12,500 at 11% (I think)

I earn nearly $2800 a month after taxes, and my expenses total just over $1400, leaving me about $1300 to put towards my debt. I’m nearly 26. My goal is to be debt-free by the time I’m 30 years old. I want to start a family then, but cannot do so with so much debt. At this rate, I won’t even be able to get a mortgage.

My original plan was to pay off the Mastercard and to use the Visa only for emergencies. Unfortunately I spent money on clothes, shoes, etc. At the same time, I was moving and buying new furniture, and before I knew it I had two credit cards with $6000 debt. The closer I got to my credit limits, the higher they would be raised. Sadly, I kept spending. I truly believe I have a problem with spending and saving, similar to a drug addict.

I know what I am doing is harming my finances, but I just do not know to control myself. I lack discipline, and I do not know how to gain it. I’m not averse to working hard, and I always intend to follow my debt reduction plan — I just need help in maintaining focus and staying on track.

Do you have any advice for dealing with spending addiction? How can I attain the principles of frugality? I am desperate!

Nicki’s e-mail hit home for me. What she describes is exactly the same relationship I used to have with money. Last year, when I wrote about my own experiences with compulsive spending, I shared six tips that eventually helped me to overcome my problem. These may also be useful for her:

  • Cut up your credit cards. Do it now, and don’t make excuses. If you’re a compulsive spender, getting rid of your credit cards trumps all other considerations. (Don’t cancel the accounts — just cut up the cards.)
  • Only carry cash. Don’t carry a checkbook or a debit card. Your goal should be to make spending as inconvenient as possible.
  • Track every penny you spend. Use Wesabe or Mint or Quicken or Microsoft Money. Use a notebook if you have to. Just write down where your money is going. You must learn to see the spending.
  • Play mind games. Use the 30-day rule to control impulse shopping. Tax yourself. Develop tricks to circumvent your urge to splurge.
  • Avoid temptation. Stay out of the mall. If you spend too much on knitting, keep away from the yarn store. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
  • Ask for help. Seek support from your friends and family. Listen to them when they earn you about your behavior.

(For more detail on these techniques, read my six steps to curb compulsive spending.)

Overcoming addiction is not easy, but I believe Nicki can do it. Admitting she has a problem and asking for help are great first steps. As she gets her spending under control, I think Nicki will find it easier to get out of debt. In fact, she may be surprised at how addicting saving money can be.

Do you have any advice for Nicki? How can she cope with her spending addiction? What’s the best way for her to tackle her debts? How can she learn to be frugal?

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