Guilt May Be the Antidote for Debt Addiction

On the various personal finance message boards that I read regularly, it is easy to find posters who debate the wisdom of purchases of non-essential goods and services by use of credit cards and other consumer debt.  The defenders of such purchases are often debt or credit addicts, carrying large balances on multiple credit accounts.  Equally often, these debt addicts argue that their purchases are justified because they work hard and therefore “deserve” or are “entitled to” things that bring them pleasure, even if they do not have the money to pay for them.

In terms of dysfunctional money behavior, what do these outward expressions of internal feelings tell us?  I believe that these credit addicts are using perceived notions of entitlement as a means to overcome or mask guilt.  How many of us have regretted spending money or, better yet, stopped short of a significant expenditure because of feelings of guilt that arose in us or appeared on the horizon?  I know I have.  Our fear of guilt saved us.  (As I have told my sons many times over the years, the pain of discipline is far less than the pain of regret.)

This is an important concept because marketers of non-essential goods and services know that our guilt must be overcome before we can be converted to customers.  Advertising campaigns are specifically designed to accomplish this.  Why do I believe this?  Most of us will recall the MasterCard “Priceless” campaign that was introduced in the late 1990’s.  In each ad, we were first told about the prices of random goods and services, some of which were very expensive and all of which were non-essential.   At the end of each ad, however, we were told about a feeling or emotion that would be evoked or caused by a theoretical purchase.  The value of that feeling was – according to MasterCard – “priceless.”  This is exactly the feeling that MasterCard wanted to generate inside of us, thereby displacing the guilt that we would otherwise feel.

More recently, we have seen eBay run a TV campaign that incessantly characterized purchases made on its auction site as “winning.”   After all, how can buying useless stuff on eBay be bad and cause guilt if we are “winning?”  We are winners, says eBay, not consumer debt addicts!  Guilt has no hold on winners!  (And PayPal is our friend – our “pal.”)

So does tough money love have a role here?  Yes, if our toughness is focused on making ourselves, friends, and families understand what MasterCard, eBay, QVC, etc. already know:  Guilt is the creditor’s enemy and, in the world of the debt addicted, the debtor’s friend.  We should not fight the guilt but let it serve as a catalyst for bringing hard reality into the purchasing arena.  Yes, guilt may very well be the “anti-debt” for the debt addicted.


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One Response to “Guilt May Be the Antidote for Debt Addiction”
  1. Code Red says:

    I loved the Peyton Manning priceless pep talk adds but I can see how they also were designed to remove guilt.

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