Attitude adjustment can help get you out of debt

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 19, 2013 - 4:22 PM

Local blogger Carrie Rocha shares her advice in a new book, "Pocket Your Dollars."

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Carrie Rocha

Every January brings a slew of resolutions involving diets and personal finance -- and new books to help steel our resolve.

Local "Pocket Your Dollars" blogger Carrie Rocha is the latest to tread on ground worn down by Suze Orman, Mary Hunt and Dave Ramsey, who have written extensively about getting and staying out of debt.

What makes Rocha's book unique isn't Orman's bossy scolding or Hunt's traditional plan of spending less than you make. It digs into our attitudes about money and how those attitudes can quickly crumble any New Year's resolution to spend less and save more.

"My book is the prequel that comes before the one about the six steps to financial freedom," she said.

Rocha, 37, who lives in Maple Grove with her husband and two daughters, walks the walk and talks the talk as a person who was once $50,000 in debt from student and car loans and taxes.

After numerous attempts to get out of debt with budgets and temporary spending freezes, Rocha and her husband took a stand against their debt in 2006. Thirty months later, they had paid off all of their non-mortgage debt.

Rocha identified the excuses and found recurring themes that were keeping them in a debt hole: If I only had more money; I deserve a treat; I can avoid unexpected expenses, and buying nice things makes me happy.

Like many people who hope that a raise, an inheritance or a tax refund will finally put them on the path to getting out of debt, Rocha's first step was to quit focusing on the lack of money that blinded her and her husband to their own overspending, underplanning, overborrowing and undersaving behaviors.

The defining moment for her came with the birth of her first child, when "I don't have enough money to be able to change my financial life" became "I have all the money it takes to establish my financial future."

Rocha admits that not everyone will find answers to their own personal finance struggles in her book. "People who are ready to make a change will feel motivated, but it's not the solution for compulsive spenders," she said. "I'm not claiming to be a cure-all."

Human beings are wired differently, and what works for some might not work for others, said Nathan Dungan of ShareSaveSpend.com. "Many people need more than a book to hold them accountable," he said. "The coaching piece is really critical."

The advantage that Rocha offers is her inspiring testimonial, said Darryl Dahlheimer, program director for LSS Financial Counseling Service, a nonprofit that has offices statewide. In telling her story, Rocha is saying this worked for me, maybe it will work for you. It's not a shame-based narrative, he said.

Rocha said she knew her methods resonated with people when she spoke to a group of about 150 General Mills employees about her experience.

"It was a cold reception at first. They were waiting for me to pull out a budget worksheet, I think," she said laughing. "People know they should save money and open a savings account. I told them why I couldn't do it. We have to make adjustments on the inside, not just our outside behavior. By the end of my talk, I could feel their attitude had changed."

With her $50,000 debt paid off, Rocha spends her time concentrating on her nationally popular couponing blog, www.pocket yourdollars.com. Now she finds herself combating an opposite problem -- a tendency to be too cheap. Having lived frugally for several years, she still gets angry at herself when she forgets a gasoline coupon.

"I have to remind myself that it's only $1.20 and get past it," she said.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633

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