How to stage a financial intervention (before the disaster)
So many psychological strategies can have benefits in multiple areas. Interventions, for example, are not only effective for people with self-destructive drinking or drug habits. An intervention can also work when a loved one has out-of-control financial behavior. Sure, just like the intervention that leads to a person checking into rehab, a financial intervention is pretty much always awkward. No one wants to be surrounded by concerned friends and family and told to change their ways or else. When a loved one is a spending addict, is not paying their bills or is racking up gambling debts, though, an intervention can be a lifesaver. To get the best results, you have to reach beyond simply trying to duplicate intervention scenes ‘as seen on TV’. Instead, consider these angles and then go for it:
When is intervention appropriate?
Some behaviors are sort of annoying but don’t require a financial intervention. Did your loved one buy a new tennis racket when her old one is just a little worn? That type of spending doesn’t come up to out-of-control levels. Nor does going on vacation when you owe your brother $75 or losing $135 in a single Texas Hold ‘Em tournament. The spiraling out of control financial habits that build a case for intervention include ongoing expenditures your loved one can’t afford and can’t seem to stop. There’s an addictive component to these bad financial decisions: The person may seem to spend a lot of time thinking about this spending habit, and they may need to spend to feel good — and in control.
“An intervention is appropriate when the spender is seemingly unable to stop the harmful behavior and it is having a negative impact on them and those around them,” according to Listen Money Matters editor-in-chief Candice Elliott. “It may take some ferreting out. Money is a taboo subject. Everyone wants to be seen as doing well so you may have to look for signs of trouble.” Ironically, one of the top indicators is the secrecy surrounding the irresponsible financial behavior. In cases of drastic overspending or gambling debt, a person may destroy the entire household income before anyone knows there’s a problem.
Ins and outs of a financial intervention
The same way you’d carefully plan before disrupting someone’s life with a drug or alcohol intervention, go easy here. If possible, chat with others in the person’s inner circle to find out if you’re the only one who’s noticed destructive financial behavior. Ideally, someone can provide hard data that demonstrates the problem. And make sure to involve some allies in the process. This keeps you from rushing in with incomplete or overly emotional information. Either tactic could result in a botched intervention or the severing of all ties between you and the person suffering financial woes.
As for who should participate in the financial intervention, this is tricky. You want to involve everyone who can help convince the person they have a problem that’s not going away on its own. You especially want buy-in from anyone the person could turn to for a “second opinion.” But you don’t want to include anyone who will waffle on causes and solutions, or the whole process gets undermined.
Perhaps most importantly, you’ll need a mental health professional to guide the process. That prohibits you from getting in over your head, and it also gives you an instant resource once the person agrees to seek help. Which may or may not happen. No one’s going to pretend that all financial interventions have a happily ever after ending. You may have to try more than once. But if you can eventually save a loved one from financial and personal ruin, all the turmoil and resistance will be worth it.