How many times have you gone and spent money that you didn’t have just to avoid conflict or that awkward conversation that would have forced you to admit that you just can’t afford it? How many times have you said “okay, I’ll do it” or “just this one last time” or any other phrase that indicates you’ve lost the battle and given in?
I used to struggle with this. I had trouble saying no and telling people that I didn’t want to partake in the activity or event that they had planned, even if I knew it wasn’t a wise decision. I didn’t want to offend anyone, or miss out on the action, so I usually just gave in. I felt like telling them no would make them mad, or cause them to question my friendship, or make me look like a loony. I mean it’s obvious that everyone else can afford to go out to eat, drink, see movies, go shop, etc., right?
One of the biggest breakthroughs in my life came when I finally found my voice. You know, the voice that allows me to stand on my own two feet, look people dead in the eye, and say no.
And to this day I still believe there is no financial lesson more important than learning how to handle your financial affairs without fearing the opinion of others.
Learning to Say No
One of things that eventually led to me to shed my people pleasing tendencies was the realization that most people don’t actually have any money to spend. They are living on someone else’s borrowed dime. Even though you might not realize it, the majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, with very little saved for a rainy day. Even fewer have put aside money for retirement.
In other words, the people who are living it up are broke. Many have nothing to show for the lavish lifestyle except a boatload of consumer debt and a revolving credit card balance.
Sometimes, these same people are the ones who like to make pointed comments or get offended when you tell them no. They tend to be judgmental about the all important phrase, “I can’t afford it.” Most of their lifestyle choices are decided by immaturity. It’s the desire to look big, sound big, and talk big, despite having a very little bank account.
But those truths didn’t help with some of my behavioral flaws. Even though I understood that I didn’t want to live paycheck to paycheck, I also wanted to enjoy life. And some of the wisest financial decisions can be isolating because they force you to miss some of the activities that are enjoyable. Without a doubt, especially for young people and those in debt, the best financial decisions require a cost. They require some temporary pain. They require some sacrifice.
But I would argue that the temporary pain is so much less than the long term gain. Not just because you’ll start seeing a much more positive financial situation, but also because you’ll realize that impressing other people is not the measure of worth in life, but far from it.
How To Change
There isn’t a magic pill that can make transform you into a self-guided frugal master overnight. There are just lots of choices and forks in the road that require you to make difficult decisions. However, I do know a few good guidelines that continue to shape our life. Here they are.
Decide What You Want
You’ll never accomplish anything financially if you aren’t forward thinking. You have to actually consider the trade-off between immediate consumption and delayed gratification.
Each dollar you spend today is a dollar that could have been put towards a different goal. So do you know your goals? Do you want anything beyond the current moment? If so, you’ll have to evaluate what is most important. If not, go spend it all.
We decided that we wanted to pay off all of our debt (about $20,000), so we did it in about 7 months. This required that we consume less, that we live frugally and sell crap we didn’t need (like a car, clothes, gifts, etc.) That was the trade-off. We had to give up a few temporary pleasures to reach a bigger and more important goal.
If we wouldn’t have sold our stuff, been frugal, calculated our spending habits and lifestyle, we would have effectively been saying that we valued current consumption more than being debt free. It’s a matter of priorities.
Let me say that again, where you choose to allocate your financial resources indicate where your priorities currently lie.
Be More Honest
Once you decide that you value financial freedom more than material possessions and the typically inflated American lifestyle, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is.
When friends, family, or complete strangers ask you to blow money, say no. You have to say no. Even if it hurts, say no.
Begin standing up for yourself. Explain why you can’t go spend money. Tell them that you are saving for a down-payment on a house, and that every dollar spent on overpriced meals at the local restaurant keep you that much further from your goal. You can even make it quantifiable with a debt calculator, and then explain that saving $100/month will help you pay off that debt 5 years sooner.
Don’t fumble around and act like a pitiful mess. You have nothing to be ashamed of. If they say something stupid or attempt to make you feel like a fool, just smile and mention that sometimes in life, temporary sacrifices must be made for long term goals.
Be Your Own Master
If they insult you for being open about your financial decisions or lifestyle changes, never talk to them again. If someone is so narrow minded that they can’t respect your decision to change, they probably aren’t good company. This whole exercise will teach you a lot about the dangers of people pleasing and caring about the opinion of fools.
Once you set your priorities, state your case, and stop hanging out with the wrong crowd, you can begin moving forward.
This means spending time with people who are open minded and who respect your financial constraints. Find the friends and family members who applaud your decisions and understand the situation. They’ll encourage you and make it easier to continue changing your financial habits.
This doesn’t mean that you must avoid having any kind of fun. It just requires that you be conscious of spending and willing to lead. Sometimes you have to speak up and suggest a different meeting place, or a different activity, or a home-cooked meal. Good times don’t require big money.
Keep in mind that you’ll always be broke trying to impress other people. A sound financial mindset doesn’t worry about what other people want. It’s not a comparison to the family that lives next door. It’s about your own life, your own family, and your own future.