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The downside of self-help seminars: the upsell

Jenny Hoff

Self-help seminars, especially the ones that last a few days, can be an incredible experience and fill you with a renewed sense of energy, direction and hope. However, the downside of self-help is the upsell.

If you decide to attend one of these seminars, please, please, leave your credit card at home. No one, not even self-proclaimed skeptics, is immune to the cacophony of temptations awaiting them inside the greatest infomercial on earth.

I experienced this firsthand when I treated myself to a Tony Robbins “Unleash the Power Within” seminar in Los Angeles. Robbins’ message is all about learning to put yourself in your “peak state,” where you’re performing at your best. Now, I’m not here to mock the seminar; I loved it. And yes, I prepared myself for the ultimate challenge: After 12 hours of “getting in the zone,” I successfully walked across fire-licked coals barefoot (without burning my feet).

I wasn’t prepared, though, for the endless options available to further better my life – all made possible with a simple swipe of a credit card. From green powders to alkalize my blood to week-long seminars in Fiji, there were options for every budget – or rather, every credit card limit.

I consider myself pretty immune to upsells, and also promised my husband I would under no circumstances spend more at the seminar than the initial cost of attending. But that’s all pre-peak-level speak.

After hours of jumping around to high-energy music, bonding with other attendees, listening to one of the greatest speakers of our time and walking on fire (all the while serenaded by Melissa Etheridge singing live, I might add), my walls of resistance were pretty low. Then came the sales pitches, which were so good I actually briefly considered signing up for a week-long business mastery course to grow the profits of a business I don’t yet have.

And that was the least of it. There also was the option to join the platinum club, which includes private one-on-one sessions with Tony; world-class vacations with some of the country’s top business moguls; and spontaneous side trips in Tony’s private plane to help those in need. How could I say no to that? Luckily, the price of admission was just steep enough to knock a little sense into my glowy-eyed, newly recharged self.

Before you judge me for almost making these extravagant purchases and paying to attend the seminar in the first place, note two things: One, even Oprah Winfrey attended one of Robbins’ seminars, so his charms are not lost on one of the most successful women in the world. Two, Robbins’ people are the greatest sales experts in the world. In fact, a lot of attendees were there to master true salesmanship skills, so the organizers know how to get through to even the most resistant buyer.

I’m happy to report I almost lived up to my promise to keep my credit card in my wallet. I came away from all the sales pitches with only two T-shirts (one that says “firewalker,” of course) and plans to one day join the platinum club, when I get to the point where I don’t have to max out all of my credit cards to afford it. (Remember: A line of credit, if used, is money you owe, not money you have.)

I’m pretty sure the majority of my fellow attendees spent a bit more, which worries me since many of the people I got to know during the seminar were most interested in hearing how they could sort out their finances.

So, armed with the newfound knowledge that comes after staying in a peak state for four days, I’ll leave you with two tips for a better financial future: Don’t swipe your card to make your financial woes go away, and leave that line of credit at home when you’re in need of a little self-help.

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