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Deborah Nixon

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Be Honest, Do You Use Princess Math?

Posted: 11/28/2012 12:24 pm

I love the term "princess math." I use the term with great affection because I think of all the women I know who are experts at princess math. What is princess math? It's something uniquely female. Here is an example: Your favourite department store is having a half price sale. You were planning to buy a gift for your daughter for the holidays and you see it's half price. Fantastic! You can buy her what she wants and it won't break the budget. This is where princess math sneaks in. The gift was originally $200 but you are saving $100. Princess math says -- I was going to spend $200 anyway so now I can buy that purse I see at the other store. Both princesses are happy now.

What's wrong with princess math? If you are flush with money, nothing is wrong. It's a great situation when you can buy something at half price and have money left over for something else. The reality is, though, most women aren't flush with money. Most women are juggling not only their lives but their money, trying to handle their day to day expenses and, if they can manage it, put away some money in savings. For those who have savings, there is a concern the group that is withdrawing funds from these savings, RRSPs and investments to fund vacations, renovations, or day-to-day living. Princess math can plunge you into a financial sink-hole which may be impossible to get out of.

Princess math is fun in the moment. It gives you a feeling of really getting a bargain and you treasure your find. But then the hang-over hits us. We all know the feeling -- we buy the purse and it feels great. We are on top of the world. It's like a sugar high. We get home, put our stuff in our new purse; then we take a look at our bill. We feel guilty, we beat up on ourselves because we didn't control our reaction and we regret our actions. This is a cycle common to so many.

Why do women do princess math? Often, money serves as a balm to our stressful lives, an antidote to whatever is troubling us. We spend when we're celebrating, we spend when we're depressed, we spend because we think we deserve to. Princess math helps us to rationalize our spending. We know we should be saving more but that doesn't help us now. We'll save -- tomorrow. After all, who knows what tomorrow will bring? We work hard, we should enjoy our money while we can; while we're healthy. On and on we go, rationalizing and justifying.

The problem is that deep down, we know our actions have consequences. Our consequences hit us every month when our credit card statement appears or when we're short of money for savings. It's not a viable long-term situation, especially for women over 40. Our peak earnings window is getting more narrow every year.

What can you do to avoid princess math? First of all, recognize that princess math is, at times, your way of reacting to your emotional triggers. Emotional triggers are those scary areas of our lives; the places where we feel most vulnerable and out of control. Our spending is a reaction to this and is a way to control your anxiety. Here are some first steps to taking control of this.

1. Be kind to yourself. You're not alone in reacting to emotional triggers by spending. It's hard to resist when you're bombarded by ads that tell you that the secret to feeling good is by buying whatever it is they're selling.

2. Identify your emotional triggers. Take some time to think about what makes you feel vulnerable. Write it down; it helps to see it in black and white.

3. Pay attention to your reactions and your feelings. When you're triggered, how do you know it's happening? What are the sensations you get. You usually feel it physically. Is it a sense of dread? Is it a tightening of your stomach or your neck? Is it a feeling of restlessness? It's so unique to you but it's important to know when it's happening.

4. What else might help? Some women do something physical to release the stress -- a walk, a run, cooking or gardening. Other women call somebody to talk about it. Some need to analyze and get into their heads. Whatever it is, try to identify an alternative that helps and go there before you go shopping.

It isn't easy to take charge of your emotions and your money. Money represents so many things to you -- safety, security, status, love. But you need to remember that how you view money and use money is up to you. Is it a friend, a manipulator, an enemy or a tool? Only you can decide. But once you make that decision, you're one step further to gaining control.

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