How one man developed a 'money blueprint' system to get out of debt

Personal finance blogger JD Roth curbs his spending and stays out of debt by asking himself this simple question.
Money American dollar background
If you’re in debt, examine your money blueprint to understand the psychological issues behind your spending habits.Avosb / Getty Images/iStockphoto
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By Julie Compton

Everyone’s psychological attitude toward money is different — it’s what JD Roth, founder of the popular personal finance blog Get Rich Slowly, calls a “money blueprint.”

“Money blueprints are basically just these invisible, psychological constructs in our heads that affect how each of us individually deals with money,” Roth tells NBC News BETTER.

The “miser” buys only the bare essentials, the “spendthrift” spends too much because she thinks there will always be more to spend, and the “collector” buys whatever he’s convinced he’ll need some day, explains Roth.

“Sometimes financial blueprints are faulty, and they lead us to be in debt, to have poor relationships with money, or to have poor attitudes about money,” he says.

JD Roth Roth paid off $35,000 of debt over a decade ago by learning to differentiate immediate needs from potential needs.Amy Jo Woodruff

A “compulsive collector”

Roth, who grew up poor, says his own money blueprint stems from the “scarcity mindset” he developed during childhood.

“If you have a scarcity mindset you believe time is limited, or money is limited, or love is limited,” explains Roth.

In adulthood, Roth became a “compulsive collector” — he would buy anything he thought he might need in the future. But he says he rarely used any of it.

For example, he would buy woodworking tools, many which he never used. His bookshelves overflowed with “thousands” of books and movies, most of which he never read or watched. His compulsive collecting extended to clothing, as well.

“I’d have a bunch of cheap T shirts,” Roth says, “and I didn’t love any of them especially.”

Money blueprints are basically just these invisible, psychological constructs in our heads that affect how each of us individually deals with money.

JD Roth

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But Roth, who paid off $35,000 of debt over a decade ago using the “snowball method,” says learning to differentiate immediate needs from potential needs helped him revise his money blueprint and stay out of debt for good.

Here’s how he does it.

He focuses on immediate wants and needs

Before Roth buys anything, he asks himself, “Do I want/need this right now?”

If the answer is "no," he doesn’t buy it. If the answer is "yes," he does.

“It makes much more sense to base your buying decisions on your actual circumstances today,” says Roth.

Roth, who lives in Portland, Oregon, says he recently had to replace his kitchen faucet. The project required him to make multiple trips to the hardware store.

“At different points along the way I would have to ask myself, ‘Do I want to buy this particular tool that I don’t need right now for this project?’”

After asking himself this question he decided to rent most of the tools instead.

The method hasn’t turned Roth into a miser, but it does prevent him from buying things he doesn’t need. For example, he’ll buy a book as long as he knows he will start reading it that day.

He evaluates the value of a potential purchase

Focusing on immediate needs doesn’t only save Roth money — it forces him to consider the value of his purchases, he says, and has reduced the amount of clutter in his Portland, Oregon home.

“Nowadays, I’m more inclined to buy 2 or 3 expensive T shirts that are higher quality and look good and I know I’m going to use instead of having a bunch of excess stuff,” he says.

He mastered his emotions around money

If you’re in debt, examine your money blueprint to understand the psychological issues behind your spending habits, advises Roth — what are your attitudes about money, and in what ways can you change them?

“The math isn’t going to get us out of debt,” says Roth. “It’s mastering our emotions.”

How to develop a positive money blueprint:

  • Define your money blueprint: What are the psychological factors that drive your spending habits?
  • Zero in on what you need/want: When deciding on a purchase, ask yourself “Do I want/need this right now?”
  • Evaluate the value of a potential purchase: In what practical ways is the purchase going to actually benefit you?
  • Get in touch with your emotions: What are the negative attitudes you might have towards money and how can you change them?

MORE WAYS TO GET OUT OF DEBT

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