Photo: Marc Royce
Q: I'm in over my head financially. I'm a divorced 47-year-old who leases new cars, owes thousands on credit cards, and spends like crazy. My parents have always sent money when I asked for it; my father still pays my rent. I make a good living, but if anything ever happened to my mom and dad, I would probably be out on the streets. Knowing they're just a phone call away makes it hard to change. How do I break out of this dependency?
A: You're doing that right now. Reread what you wrote to me. These are the words of a smart woman who knows she needs to start over. The fact that you can articulate your problem is the signal that you need to turn your life around.
Of course, this isn't going to be a snap. The most important thing is to banish recrimination and focus on the future. Each morning I want you to say to yourself: "Today I will only make choices that help me become financially independent." Keep that thought with you throughout the day, and anytime you're about to call the Bank of Mom and Dad, stop and consider whether your action is in line with your goals. This will take practice; don't worry if you have some hiccups along the way. String together a few days of making healthy decisions and you'll feel the rush of success that will give you the momentum to keep going.
That you make a good living tells me you have the means to undo your past mistakes. As you become self-sufficient, you'll find it easier to spend less, and that will leave money at the end of the month to reduce your debt. We've covered this turf before: Always pay at least the minimum due on each card, on time, adding more to pay off the one that charges the highest interest rate. When that balance is clear, dedicate your extra dollars to the one with the next highest rate, and so on. At the end of your lease, buy a car you can afford and keep it for at least five years, preferably longer. Once you're committed to taking responsibility for your finances, it will seem silly to throw away money on a fancy new car. The only person you need to impress from now on is you.
From the May 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine