When you were little and you wanted something, did your parents ever ask you to say the magic word? At my house, that meant Mom or Dad was trying to teach me to say “Please” when asking for something.
But “please” is not the magic word when it comes to savings. No. “NO” is the magic word that often leads to better discipline and better savings.
Should I whip out my credit card to buy that shiny thing that I really, really want? No.
Should I blow my grocery budget eating at a restaurant because the kids are in the back of the vehicle chanting “Cheese-bur-ger! Cheese-bur-ger!” and then complain that I “have to” dip into savings to afford food for the rest of the week? Um, no.
Should I take my daughter to an overpriced boutique to purchase a dress she’ll wear exactly once to a dance? No.
Now, is there anything wrong with buying shiny things that I can afford, eating at restaurants if it’s in the budget, and treating my daughter to a nice outfit when I have the cash to pay for it? No. Should I skip saving for retirement, buying decent groceries for my family, or investing for my daughter’s education to do those things? No.
Noticing a theme, here? Yep. And it is hard to say “No” at those times when I really, really want to say “Yes!” I get tired of saying it. I get tired of hearing it. It’s frustrating to feel like I’m missing the fun, or worse, causing somebody I love to miss the fun. But “No” can set me up for success better than an excess of “Yes”.
“No” Is Not “Never Again”
Just because I can’t buy the shiny thing now doesn’t mean I’ll never, ever buy or have another shiny thing for the rest of my life. Sometimes it feels that way, or I (or my kids) get dramatic and tell myself that I’ll never have the chance to do or go or own whatever-it-is, but that’s simply not true. Claiming or blaming “never again” is an excuse.
The truth is that if I make good choices now, I’ll improve my situation and have better options tomorrow; options that may include buying stuff that I simply want and don’t necessarily need. So if one of the kids (or the person in the mirror) is giving an Oscar-worthy dramatic performance about the pain of not buying or having something, calmly call it what it is, stick with the plan, and carry on. “No” may just be “not now”.
“No” Can Provide Breathing Room
If the kids learn that “No” means “No” and not “Keep asking until Mom loses her mind and gives in” then Mom’s “No” will start to give Mom some breathing room. I taught my children from the time they were toddlers that begging or demanding candy at the grocery store was a guaranteed “No” from me. And I stuck to it. Then once in a while, I’d budget for a treat they could pick out at the end of our shopping trip. It took some time, teaching, and a tantrum or two, but they learned not to badger Mom and to appreciate the treats they received. They were less entitled and more grateful. Mom was less stressed and more peaceful, even when the budget was tight. Everybody wins in that situation!
“No” Can Create Opportunities For “Yes” Later
In my university economics classes we learned about opportunity cost. The basic idea is that there is a cost associated with each choice, because choosing one thing means losing the opportunity to choose the other option. If I buy this bauble, I have to give up buying something else. If I spend here, I don’t have money to save there.
On the other hand, if I don’t spend, I have the opportunity to save up for something that’s really important. If my daughter wants a new dress for the Christmas Ball, she may have to wear something she already owns, borrow from a friend, or shop the thrift stores for the Homecoming Dance. If we want to run lots of gas out of the car to go and visit family next weekend, we may need to stay home this weekend. Saying “No” now can create the opportunity to say “Yes” when it’s more important.
“No” Fosters Creativity
Creativity is born of limits. Who needs to be creative when you can get whatever you want, whenever you want it? So get those creative juices flowing! Can’t afford to go out to dinner and a movie? Maybe you can stage your own creative cooking competition in your kitchen using mystery ingredients selected from your pantry, then watch a new-to-you video that you borrowed from a friend? Can’t afford a new outfit for a special event? Shop your closet, get your teenager to help you, and come up with a new way to wear what you already own.
Getting to say “Yes” is such fun after you’ve lived through a period of having to say “No” really often. How do you use the magic word to help you manage your budget?
This is the part where I remind you that I’m not a financial advisor, just a mom who is sharing her experience in the spirit of having a chat with a friend over a cup of coffee. If you require financial or investment advice, please seek the counsel of a professional advisor.
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