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Don’t look for financial escape in your Timmy’s cup

If you find yourself at the Tim Horton’s counter and can’t pay until you roll up the rim to win, you might need help with your finances. In fact, you have just been treated to a double-whammy – two signs that you are not the best manager of your own budget.

First, if you cannot afford a coffee at Timmy’s, you really are down to your last dollar and that alone tells us that you could use some help better balancing your budget and managing your debt load.

Second, if you view “roll up the rim to win”, or any other form of contest or lottery, as a cornerstone of your personal finance plan, your grasp on financial reality needs to be better grounded. And this is not sarcasm; many people do place an incredible amount of hope on winning a lottery or some other form of gambling, rather than facing up to reality and getting their financial house in order.

Third – yes, there is bizarrely a third element to this double-whammy – as delicious as you surely feel a good Timmy’s coffee might be, it is not the most frugal way to inject caffeine into your system. That Timmy’s coffee is probably one of many little reasons you are drowning in debt. If you really are at your last dollar, you should not be in a restaurant in the first place, any more than you should be buying faint-hope lottery tickets. These are things you do with the extra money – after the basics have been paid for.

Unless you suddenly discover a deep well of long-lost self-discipline, chances are that you need some help. You seek the help of doctors when you feel sick, right? You seek the help of heating specialists when your furnace is sick, right? You should be just as ready to seek the help of credit counseling when your personal finance health tanks.

Where can you go for help?

Family is the most obvious place. Surely somebody in the family is better at managing finances. Or maybe not. Going to the family might just create tensions and fights. You might actually need credit counseling and/or debt settlement.

Credit counseling and debt settlement are not the same things. And neither is the same thing as bankruptcy. Credit counseling is about getting advice, getting direction, building a strategy to better manage your finances, gain control of your spending and pay off all your debts – then manage your budget to keep out of the debt trap in the future. The goal is to rebuild.

Two things you need to know about credit counseling services. First, they are not free. Although a credit counseling service might be not-for-profit, that does not mean it is free. It is important for you to ask questions and make sure you understand exactly what the price is, exactly what they will do, and exactly what the result will be. You have options, so if you are not 100 percent comfortable, shop around.

The second thing you need to know about credit counseling services is that you are handing control over to somebody else. Yes, you are stepping out of your comfort zone and giving up control to somebody else, whether to a person or to a company. But keep in mind that if you got this far into debt, control is just an illusion; you never really were in control.

Debt settlement is a totally different beast. You might manage to pay off your debts at a slightly discounted rate. Or maybe not. Some debts might still remain, and some might still come after you later on. There is a lot of fine print to be wary of. Not all debt qualifies for debt settlement, either, so don’t think that it is some kind of utopia.

Still, you will have to cut spending radically to get out of debt, with or without a company or a friend to advise you, and with or without some of your debts being paid off – and that won’t be easy emotionally. It is overspending that most likely landed you at the bottom of the well in the first place. Giving up that spending is never emotionally easy.

This process is a lot like dieting. In fact, eating and spending share this one thing in common. Most people do too much of both, and often the “too much” part is an emotional escape or “addiction”. Giving up control of food intake or money outgo is tough, so you better be determined before you start the process.

Which I suppose brings us back to that Tim Horton’s counter. If you are counting on rolling up the rim to win in order to pay for your coffee and also for a couple of donuts at the same time, a credit counseling service will only solve half your problems.


  1. Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle

    There are good not for profit credit counselling services and there are very bad debt settlement companies. People need to know the difference so they don’t get taken advantage of when they are already vulnerable because of the pressures of their debts.

    Your local chamber of commerce can give the names of reliable credit counselling services. Buyer beware.

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