Personal Improvement

How to Have a Financial Intervention

Listen Money Matters is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. How we make money.

You’ve likely heard of interventions for people with drug or alcohol problems. But what about for someone with a spending problem? Should you do it?

Is there someone close to you that is being self-destructive with money? Should you do something? If the answer is yes, what should you do and how should you go about it?

What Is It?

If someone you loved was destroying themselves with drugs or drink, you would do what you could to stop them, to help them. Having a problem controlling spending can be as destructive. Drugs or alcohol rank #5 on the list of the top 15 reasons people commit suicide. Finances are #14.

Money and the problems it can cause are literally life and death in some cases. A financial intervention is similar to a substance abuse intervention. You gather those close to the spender, you may or may not enlist professional help. You tell the person they have a problem, that the people in the room love them and want to help.

Signs Of Uncontrollable Spending

We’ve probably all been guilty of a shopping blow out now and then.  A spending addiction isn’t spending $100 too much at the mall. It’s shopping for things you may never even wear or use. Closets full of clothes and shoes, some of which aren’t even in the correct size.

A garage full of tools that you have no use for and already have five of each. I had a relative like this. He built a huge pole barn to hold all of the tools he bought after filling up his house, garage, and workshop. He knew he already had seven Craftsman wrenches but once admitted, he could not stop himself buying more when he saw them.

It isn’t always high end stuff compulsive shoppers buy from expensive shops. It could be buying things from flea markets and garage sales. Or maybe most dangerously, buying things on-line. On-line shopping never closes.  When you wake up in the night unable to quiet your thoughts, a spot of Amazon binging hushes them right up. Temporarily at least.

Get our best strategies, tools, and support sent straight to your inbox.

 Why Do It

For the same reason you would do it for a drug addict or alcoholic. Because the behavior is destroying their life and probably their family too. The spender has ceased to be able to make healthy choices about money.

The secrecy of a troubled spender can be particularly destructive to a relationship. Hiding credit card bills, taking out loans without a partner’s knowledge, perhaps going so far as to sign their name to loan documents, and lying to cover it all up. Not a recipe for a happy relationship.

 When To Do It

An intervention is not meant for a twenty five year old with $5000 in credit card debt. That is bad but it’s not so dire that it can’t be dealt with through smart budgeting and saving strategies. It’s also unlikely to be a psychological problem at that level.

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. 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. Fortunately (I guess) if things are at a stage where intervention is appropriate, the signs shouldn’t be too hard to find.

 How To Do It

You obviously aren’t doing this sort of thing for Bob in marketing that you talk to once in a blue. A financial intervention is something you do for a very close friend or family member. As such, you are likely to have a relationship with their other close family and friends.

Do your research here first. Rule One of doing an intervention is to tread lightly. Talk to other friends and loved ones of the afflicted to find out if your suspicions are correct. Maybe they have some huge trust fund they were too embarrased to tell you about. Maybe they are a really successful drug dealer. Make sure your help is in fact needed.

Recruit allies. You probably don’t want to attempt this one on one. Although that would cut down on the shame factor, you need allies to help not only exert the pressure the person needs to feel in order to grasp the gravity of the situation but so they know they have a lot of support to help fix the problem.

Enlist professional help. Your budget is balanced and you have a nice retirement fund. Good for you. But budgeting alone is not going to solve this. You are also probably not a psychologist or psychiatrist.

The kind of spending that requires an intervention has a psychological component that a lay person is not equipped to deal with. You can put a band aid on it but to really solve the problem, the spender has to deal with the reasons why they engage in this kind of destructive behavior.

Be prepared. If there is a close family member or friend who can provide hard data, use it. Seeing the numbers involved will be as much of a wake up call as being confronted by a room full of people telling the spender they have a problem. They may themselves not even really know the scope of the problem. Not opening bills hides a lot.

Expect resistance. Think of how you would feel in this situation. A room full of the people you love telling you that you have a problem that needs to be addressed. Your first reaction would probably not be gratitude. The person will probably be defensive and may even storm away.

The Long Haul

The intervention is only the first step in getting help for this person. This is a long road. The person will need a lot of help and support going forward. You have to commit to this and stand by them as they make their way out of the mess.

The spender may relapse the same a way a substance abuser might. They will try your patience and your compassion. But if you were close enough to them to start the process, you’re close enough to help them see it through. Good luck to you both.

Candice Elliott - Senior Editor
Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

What's next?

learn course podcast popular toolbox