Debtors usually are mindlessly spending on [what they think of as] daily needs. We might spend $300 on a bulk warehouse and expensive wine. We have no accountability. Now, with a spending plan, you learn to prioritize what you need and love. It's not a constricting tool—it's an eye-opening tool.
Reward money is important. For me, at first, it was $5, and then it started to build. I love acupuncture and I'm also a yoga teacher; physical care of the body is important to me. I go to an acupuncture school instead of someone who costs three times as much. You can find things that work within your means. You can make painless downsizing changes.
The first year we did this, we went away five times on the money my husband saved from just having a simple coffee instead of a latte and taking his lunch to work three times a week. You feel no remorse and no guilt, and you feel good about what you're providing to your yourself and partner.
What about paying off the debt?
Large-scale debt repayment right out of the box is too much like a diet. If you engage in self-deprivation, you can just do it for a few months. For now, just pay the minimums and leave the debts alone. Learn how to live well on the cash you earn, and fund the things that make for a healthy life and the things that are meaningful to you. I'm not saying it's going to be fast; what you want is slow-and-steady steps.
You write a lot about how couples can work together to get control of their debt, too.
For couples, there is the aphrodisiac quality of a spending plan. When both partners go out and spend, we get into micromanaging each other's spending. Spending plans offer a way for couples to sit down and decide how to allocate money for daily needs. It's a way for couples to make choices together. You don't think that it would make you feel more amorous and sexy, but it does.
My husband and I remarried and promised not to have any more debt after being apart for more than a decade. Living debt-free has made such a difference in our ability to feel that we're funding our creative ventures and not putting ourselves in a pressure cooker.
How do you avoid going back to your old bad habits?
We keep separate checking accounts and split up the bills. He's responsible for some and I'm responsible for some. For couples in debt, I've found it's important for each partner to have some responsibility, or else it's too easy to dump it all on the other person.