This may seem like the exact wrong message from someone trying to live more simply, but hear me out.
It’s human nature to always want more. When you buy something, whether it’s a new car or a new knickknack, it’s always a really nice feeling for, what… like a week? Maybe two? After that, it’s just your car or another bauble, not worthy of any special accolades. Once the newness wears off we’re fully prepared to start wanting something else. The limit to which is indeed our finances, but also our psychology.
Obviously, I can’t speak to anyone else’s life experiences, but I’ve definitely noticed a pattern in my own. I’ve possessed this “I can’t afford it” mentality for much of my adult life. I’ve grown accustomed to going without certain things and I remember more than one instance of being resentful when someone else, in seemingly the same circumstances, didn’t possess the same mentality. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “How in the heck do they afford to do that? What am I doing wrong?” I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to some degree of envy at times, but even more than that was just genuine confusion. Like I literally couldn’t wrap my head around how these people could afford these things.
There are two important things to note here. One is this: YOU DON’T SEE WHAT GOES ON BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. Do you really think you’d know if your next door neighbor was up to their eyeballs in debt? Do you think you’d know that the guy in the grocery store parking lot drives a vintage car because it was left to him by his father when he passed? Or that the woman at work is wearing jewelry that looks really fancy, but isn’t actually real? No, you probably wouldn’t, but you might be quick to jump to conclusions based off of your observations alone, leading you to feeling bad about yourself based off a lie.
Now the other thing to keep in mind is this: OTHER PEOPLE’S FINANCES ARE NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. You don’t have to understand how they’re able to do what they do. It has nothing to do with you, so why are you wasting your time and energy comparing yourself to them? If you want to be on top of things, you need to know your income and your expenses and budget accordingly. If you’re not happy with how tight things are, take a look at what you can change that would make things easier for you instead of slumping your shoulders in defeat. Can you not afford that new jacket you’ve really been needing, but are able to afford a $200 cable bill every month? Maybe you need to reevaluate your spending. It should go without saying that this post is not directed at people living in legitimate poverty. This is aimed at the people who are able to live comfortably, but are constantly psyching themselves out that they aren’t.
I also noticed something else about the way I approached money. I’d be in a position where I’d refuse to buy the most inane thing, lets say a new pair of shoes. But then something crazy would happen and smoke would start pouring out from under the hood of my car. I’d pay to have my car fixed and, yeah, things might be tight for a bit, but a few months later I was no worse for wear. So can you tell me how I was able to pay hundreds of dollars to fix my car, but couldn’t afford a pair of shoes? I knew I needed my car so I just did it knowing I would have to figure it out. The truth is that I could afford the shoes, but I couldn’t justify spending any money on a non-necessity when I perceived things to be ‘tight’. But believe me once the shoes I was wearing were truly unwearable, I would’ve just gone out and bought new ones because it had to be done.
The flip side to this is living outside of your means. Whether it’s to keep up a certain appearance or simply a lack of self control, this will most certainly not serve you well down the line. While the focus of this post is the ‘I can’t afford anything’ attitude, it’s worth noting that the ‘I can afford everything’ attitude won’t leave you any better off. As with most things in life, it all comes back to balance.
I’ve made minimum wage at one point and a comfortable wage at another. I’ve been the sole provider for two people and I’ve had two full-time incomes to work with. I’m here to tell you, it never mattered. Money was ‘tight’ in my mind under all those different circumstances. That’s why the ‘I can’t afford it’ mentality is unhealthy, it constantly makes you feel as though you’re barely scraping by and that’s extremely stressful. Once you go down that path it’s very difficult to get off of it. I guess the point is this: be discerning. It’s probably not a great idea to get an expensive coffee drink every day because it certainly will add up, but every now and again treat yourself. Take your kid or significant other to go see a movie. That $20 likely won’t matter one way or another in a month’s time, but you’ll be creating a memory that lasts much longer. You can live simply without allowing uncompromising frugality to overtake your life.