During my debt-building years, I did a lot of shopping, dining out and having fun with friends. I even flew to various cities to see my favorite band perform in concert. I did those things without much more thought than, “Do I have enough room on my credit cards?” I lived in the moment and rarely gave consideration to my future.
It wasn't until my debt caught up with me that I was able to take a step back and see how the feelings involved with this instant gratification were ruining my life.
I did not have an emergency fund because I didn't plan for emergencies. Why would I want to worry about something that might happen in the future when I could spend time having fun right now?
I didn't have a retirement account because I cashed it all in when I wanted to stay home with my babies. My (then) husband and I did not properly plan for the future, so we just decided on what we wanted at that moment and that was for me to be home with the kids. So I cashed in all retirement accounts to cover some bills.
I did not have a budget because I was too busy thinking about what I wanted to buy for myself on my next paycheck.
I did have debt, a lot of fun and a bigger waistline.
Once I made the decision to pay off my debt and live for the future, I had to tell myself “no.” A lot.
I could no longer buy a new pair of boots because everyone else is wearing boots this year and I wanted some too. I could no longer run to a restaurant for dinner because I was too lazy, tired or unprepared for cooking dinner at home. I could no longer spend money on entertainment. From now on, I would be saving up my money to buy a concert ticket when my favorite band swings by the town I live in (and only my town).
I had to learn to say “no” whenever something extra pops up, unless I had time to put money aside for it.
I don't like having to say “no.” There are times when I feel deserving of a splurge, but I remind myself that I did enough splurging in the 15 years I was building debt, and that time has passed. I must pay off the past first before I can start saving for the future and splurging on the now.
Saying “no” hasn't been easy on my kids. I have heard, more times than I can count, “all you ever say is 'no.'” Sometimes it feels like that is true. But what I noticed recently is that my children are better for it. Telling them “no” means they don't ask for the world. They don't expect large, expensive gifts during the holidays. They don't have video game systems. They know why and they don't complain. They don't ask for toys when we are at a store or throw temper tantrums when they don't get their way.
The best part about all this is they don't feel like they are missing out. In the past, when I gave in to them more often, I felt like they just kept wanting more and more. However, now they understand the value of our money and no longer feel the need to have everything that other kids have.
Telling myself “no” means that I'm setting an example for my children as well. They know I'm working very hard to save up for a Kindle (something I once wouldn’t have even batted an eyelash at charging to a credit card). We talk about how it's taken me almost a year to put the money aside for it and when it finally comes, we will all be excited. They are doing the same thing with their allowance. Instead of spending their money at Target just to get something, they are saying “no” and saving up to buy something they really want.
For many of us who have spent time debt-building, learning to say “no” will be the greatest lesson we can learn. It's not always easy to do. In actuality, sometimes it takes all the strength I can muster. But in the end, saying “no” to stuff actually opens up opportunities to say “yes” to a better life.
How do you tell yourself (and your kids) "no"?