We Need a Rehab Program for Spenders

02/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Don McNay Best selling lottery and structured settlement expert

They tried to make me go to rehab
I said no, no, no.

-Amy Winehouse

I don't know if they have rehab for spending addicts. If not, someone ought to start one.

I was flipping though the news channels when I heard a guest demand that more tax rebates go to poor people.

"Rich people accumulate wealth. Poor people accumulate things," he said.

He had a trickle up theory of economics. The money will burn a hole in a poor person's pocket while wealthy people will sock it away.

Many poor people need their income to survive but there are some who are broke simply because they can't handle money.

There is a financial dividing line that separates savers and spenders.

The savers wind up with wealth and the spenders wind up with debt. Debtors can only get bailed out if they are Wall Street bankers who are "too big too fail."

Working Americans aren't deemed "too big to fail."

The line between affluence and poor is getting bigger.

For many years, poor people wanting to go a go on a spending spree, had plenty of credit card companies, payday lenders, "buy here, pay here" car lots and sub prime lenders to help them along.

Many people got in over their heads and can't make payments. Companies like Citigroup bet that the fun would never stop and kept lending.

They were both wrong.

The economy is near depression because companies and consumer put too much faith in a system of endless spending and borrowing.

People on their way to wealth have good savings habits. People on their way to lifelong struggles blow money on stuff they don't need.

Spending is an instant gratification, like snorting cocaine. One shopper told me that she got a high from shopping like a high from drugs.

Shopping doesn't work for me. When I walk into a store, the hatred of shopping contorts my face to resemble a professional wrestler. People run out of the aisles when they see me. I buy what I came to find and get out as quick as possible.

My goal is to accumulate wealth, not things.

When I was growing up, I used to think some people didn't have good jobs. They lived in run down houses and often had their cars repossessed

I found out that they made as much money as my parents. The people who lived in run down houses spent money on things they didn't use and motorboats that never made it in the water.

They lent money to "family and friends" even though they should have paying their own bills first. They had no sense of long term planning. Ultimately, they had no money.

Spending beyond your means is an addiction. A spending addiction is probably as hard to cure as a drug addiction. It requires changing your lifestyle.

Money is a leading cause of divorce. The stress of debt pushes people to escape reality with booze or drugs.

When the economy slowed down, the addiction became a crisis. People keeping the balls in the air suddenly couldn't. They had no back up systems.

I've frequently hired a casual laborer. He is good at his craft and for 20 years, he made really good money. None of which he saved. Whenever I saw him, he talked about skiing trips, his bass boat or his brand new trucks.

Now the economy has turned. His house is being foreclosed on and they repossessed his trucks. He has no savings or credit.

His focus was on accumulating possessions. Now he doesn't have those possessions. Or any money either.

The nation's economic system has also gotten addicted to shopping.

To turn the economy around, Americans need to find a spender's version of rehab.

Don McNay. CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the founder of McNay Settlement Group in Richmond, Kentucky. He is the author of Son of a Son of a Gambler Winners, Losers, and What to Do When You Win the Lottery. You can write to him at or read his award winning syndicated column at Don is the Treasurer of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.