4 things you don’t have to do with your money

If there is one thing I've learned as we have been working toward becoming debt free, it is that everyone has an opinion about money: their money, the government's money, the church's money, charity money, the schools' money, your money, and my money.

There are a lot of "rules" out there regarding money, and no shortage of opinions, solutions, systems, and plans.

In our culture we have social expectations about money, too. From the size of our weddings to children's birthday parties to every holiday gift giving season, this is a consumer driven culture we live in.

Endeavoring to live differently from the norm is bound to raise some eyebrows.

But, I'm here to remind you that in the face of those expectations and opinions, there are some things you DON'T have to do with your money.

1. You don't have to justify your decisions.

One of the things that surprised me when we started living within our means was the people who questioned our decisions. It seemed like a no-brainer to my husband and I that this was something that would improve our family life, especially considering the state of our finances at the time, so the backlash we received from a few people was a little unnerving.

From the relative who talked behind our backs about how cheap we were being when we said, "please drop us out of the Christmas gift exchange, we can't afford the minimum dollar amount" to the friend who insisted we were ruining our financial future by not using credit cards any longer, there were some folks who were outspoken and critical of our decisions.

But here's the thing: unless they are paying your bills, Uncle Horace and neighbor Hilda don't get to tell you where your money goes.

Your decision to get out of debt (or live without credit cards or have a Compact year or invest all of your money in bubble gum futures) is your decision. You don't have to justify it to anyone else, however weird they find it.

Which brings me to my next point:

2. You aren't obligated to meet anyone else's expectations.

Yes, it might be really nice if you kick in $200 for Grandma's diamond necklace that cousin Timmy has decided the family is going to buy for her, but you know what else is nice? Living within your means. If you don't have that kind of extra money laying around (or it would be your entire grocery budget for the month), then you aren't obligated just because someone else expects you to.

Now, friends, I know this is tricky.  You love your grandma and you want to do nice things for her. But I bet Grandma would want you to pay your electric bill and feed your kids first.

When you first start setting financial boundaries like this, you might feel guilty or embarrassed. A hard lesson Christopher and I have learned is that anyone who is going to base your worth to them on what you spend isn't someone you want to keep close ties to in the first place.

I can tell you that there are a lot of things I regret that we did spend money on because we felt pressured to, and very few times I look back and wish we had spent money but didn't do it.

3. You don't have to ignore your instincts.

If you find yourself feeling worry or even anger about something related to money, that's probably a good clue that you need to set a financial boundary. Trust your instincts.

Remember that family gift exchange I mentioned earlier? Well, Christopher and I knew that we just didn't have the money to participate, but at first we were embarrassed to tell our family that we needed to drop out. Every time the subject of buying gifts would come up, we'd end up in an argument. It didn't take long to see that we were arguing because we both felt worry and even a little bit of anger at the pressure to participate.

Once we trusted that gut feeling that said, "don't do this!" and made that (yes, slightly embarrassing) phone call, we both relaxed about the issue and we were glad we trusted our instincts.

Now, okay, obviously if your instinct after a hard day is to go drop $300 you don't have at the mall, ignore that instinct. Ha!

4. You don't have to be perfect with money.

Would it be nice to never make a financial mistake? Of course! But, take the pressure off of yourself to be perfect.

I'm one of those people who doesn't like to do things unless I can do them well. But perfection paralyzes. Like the home office that stays messy because we don't have the "perfect" storage containers or free weekend to devote just to it, perfection can become an excuse to not even try. So, instead of tackling what we can or cleaning in the small bursts of time we do have, we neglect the space and never get started, and things stay a mess, which is a shame.

It can be like that with money, too. Lacking a "perfect" solution, how many of us elect to do nothing and ignore our financial problems, hoping they will go away on their own? Things stay a mess.

Christopher and I have made many money mistakes and had some set-backs. This has been a far from perfect path for us. Is that fun? Certainly not. But we don't let our mistakes stop us, and we are making progress.

Learn, do better, and keep going - even imperfectly!

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18 Comments

  1. SuseFish

    Go you! Like you, we live on a fairly strict budget and that sometimes means being the one whose kid brings a sticker book as a party gift when all the other gifts cost a bomb. It almost certainly means having the kid who looks like she’s wearing hand-me-downs – because she is! We spend so much energy on worrying what others think of the choices we make, but like you, I’m learning to develop a thicker skin and even be proud and outspoken about my thrifty choices. Thank you xx

  2. Stephanie

    I totally had one of these moments the other day. I am doing the saving for our wedding (because FH is taking care of the mortgage) and realized we will need to borrow some money from someone (if we go for seated dinner). If we sold some equipment we have we can get some extra money and FH says he wants to use it for a ski trip (even just a couple of days) for us and his son. I’m like well it should go to the wedding.

    Discussion ensues and I realized his point that he’d rather have a buffet or cut 40 people from the wedding than lose out on us make memories as a family whilst my stepson is a child (because he won’t be forever). Wow perspective.

    And the real reason that I wanted to put all money possible towards wedding funding was if we ended up asking a family member for money (loan) for the wedding I don’t want them asking (judging) why we didn’t put everything we had towards it and were taking ski trips.

  3. Tacy Williams Beck

    You raise some good points here. That emotional pressure to spend money when you don’t have it is so crucial to recognize. Thank you for this honest discussion of finances. God bless!

  4. Steph

    Yeah, we have one car and live in a two bedroom apartment. We technically could afford two cars and could buy a house but we’ve chosen to pay down our student loan debt instead. Some people, REALLY don’t get it and I have to remind myself they don’t need to. 🙂

  5. Guest

    I have so loved your posts, Kara. This feels weird to ask since one of your point is that your finances are no one else’s business but…how’s it coming?? (And feel free to not answer ;-))

  6. Andrea

    I think all of these points are so true!! There IS so much pressure to spend so much money on material things and forget what is truly important. There is nothing wrong with opting out of “family gifts for grandma”. I think that “grandma” would love any home made gift…card to remember her birthday or just having a lunch date with you..generally speaking…My husband and I have been working on paying our debt down and having “family time” being present in the moment and enjoying each day for whatever it brings and remembering to be thankful for our blessings. Life is too short and Money isn’t everything!!! Thank you for posting this!!!

  7. Caroline Starr Rose

    Oh, Kara. We had the exact same thing happen when my husband, who is a pastor, was without call for 18 months. We dropped out of the family gift exchange, too, and were questioned for it. Others participating who were living beyond their means, they couldn’t understand why we weren’t playing along. It was awkward and disappointing.

  8. Bianca

    Thank you for the encouragement today!! I know these things, but it’s good to see someone else (besides Dave Ramsey in our case) preach them too 🙂

  9. Lacey Prewitt

    Loved this post! We ran into this issue where we were expected to contribute an amount of money to a gift without being consulted. It was terrible and I paid and I shouldn’t have. I learned my lesson. Thanks for be encouraging!

  10. Priya

    What a great post! I’m sure most of us can relate to this.

  11. joanna

    This is interesting. It seems like if you don’t want to pay for something it comes across like you are
    a. Cheap
    b. Have no $
    maybe you just don’t want to throw money at everything.
    my sons football team insists on collecting $ for snacks. A lot of $. These are the things that have gotten way too complicated.
    thanks for the post.

  12. Gabrielle

    Thank you for this post! I love these reminders & will share them. I’ve gotten really prickly about others’ assumptions about my finances, and downright growly when someone attempts to commit my $ to something without consulting me — like that gift for Grandma. In turn, I’ve become much more mindful about my own assumptions re: how other people make financial decisions. A little tact and perspective goes a long way! ; )

  13. Lisa Sharp

    Yes yes yes!! It can be so uncomfortable to follow your own path when it goes against the norm…but it can be done and it gets easier with time and the rewards are so worthwhile. Bravo!

  14. Heather Cole

    I recently posted my thoughts regarding the tension I always feel between the “stuff” this culture commands us to need, the “stuff” we ourselves command us to need, and the stuff we buy for our kids because they see the “stuff” other kids get and want it too! It’s such a viscous circle! The post didn’t go over well…My point might have been lost….Anyway, yea, family name exchanges dont get any easier for those of us who are just sliding buy one grueling week at a time, financially. And when the rest of your bros and sis’s are going any where they want, and doing whatever they want, it feels horribly debasing to know you–the big sister–are in the deep end of the money pool, drowning. But I guess it all comes back to one thing: comparisons. Who do we want to be as opposed to who we are!

  15. Annie

    You really hit the nail on the head. We had the same pressure with the family gift exchanges. We were treated like party poopers and kill joys. I had to keep in mind that we were happy with our lifestyle choices and just because siblings and relatives had made different choices which lead to more financial success, it didn’t mean that we should be ashamed of the choices we made, such as living on one income and not taking on long commutes to stressful jobs that took us away from the family.

  16. Marcie

    I think it’s important to replace some of those pricey traditions (especially as you speak of gifts) with meaningful replacements. We’ve noticed that we don’t get invited to things, that our reputation has changed (all out of our control to some extent) because we barely get involved with gift stuff when it comes to birthdays, holidays, etc. And that is okay with us! The trick is finding ways to show love and appreciation and to glorify God in those traditions. We want our children and extended family to know that we are all about Jesus and giving him honor, and because you are made in his image and you are a blessing to me, I show you honor. That’s a totally different and counter-cultural slant and takes its own thought to work through on a practical level.

  17. Sarah m

    This is an excellent post. I find it really encouraging to read about what other families are doing with their debt and freeing up their finances. Over 9 years of marriage, we have definitely had peaks and valleys with our finances, and it’s just such a hard thing to be in the thick of–trying to get rid of debt over a long haul. It’s encouraging to know there are others who are steadily putting one foot in front of the other, too.
    Sarah M

  18. manuscripture

    Excellent, simple insight. A battle many lose these days.

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