“We can’t afford that!”
When I was a kid, I knew we couldn’t afford a lot of things. Honestly, we couldn’t afford most things. I remember my mom insisting on buying clothes at places clothes shouldn’t have been sold because we couldn’t “afford” the name-brand stores. I was a kid in the ‘90s, so blame it on the decade or the poverty, but I remember lots of frozen meals with meat-like substances and watery gravy. Everything I ate came out of a box, a can, or a loud crackling bag.
As I grew older, my parents began to make more money, and eventually, we could afford different things. We even made our way to Disney World a few times (this was basically like traveling to the moon for me). But I still remember hearing the words “we can’t afford that” often in our home. Although things shifted financially (or at least they appeared to through my eyes), the mindset of money dictating what we wanted prevailed.
“We still can’t afford that!”
Fast forward years later, my husband and I had kids of our own. Let’s just say, times have changed. If I was caught feeding my kids some of the things I ate as a child, I might be arrested. So we made a way to feed our family in healthier ways than the ’90s (if that’s really saying anything at all), we lived in a great home in a friendly neighborhood, and we supported our kids’ extracurricular activities (the cheaper ones when possible), but I still found myself saying “we can’t afford that” about almost everything.
I once realized that I had a strange and crippling problem when I heard myself tell my kids that we couldn’t afford a pack of gum at the end of the grocery aisle after we had just spent a ridiculous amount of money on food. They had every right to give me the “huh” face as they peered into our grocery cart(s) and back at me sheepishly. They (although very young at the time) were extremely confused as to how $1.00 was going to affect our grocery receipt so drastically. I was just as confused as they were, so I grudgingly let them get the gum and then suppressed my weird reaction to gum because I didn’t really have time to deal with my stuff.
How My Mindset Shifted
I’m a big reader, and reading tends to lead to knowledge. Knowledge can be power (or it can make you dissect yourself into a million different pieces so you can evaluate and self diagnose your issues). My issue with the gum and with other random financial decisions kept coming back around through books I read and podcasts I heard.
Until one day, the epiphany happened! I was still living as the little girl in a single-wide trailer at the end of a dirt road in a town no one’s ever heard of. The place of not being able to afford anything “extra.” The place of not expecting anything “extra.” Which ultimately turned into me being the “extra” police. I would want a new book desperately and keep putting it off because it was an expense that wasn’t necessary. I struggled with watching other people spend money on manicures and jewelry because neither of those things is necessary either. I was scared to waste money because the truth was I was scared there would never be enough.
“We can’t afford that” was my most used phrase because it was natural for me to assume that we couldn’t or we shouldn’t. It honestly made me feel more responsible, empowered, and disciplined to turn away from extras. But when the epiphany came, it came with new knowledge. Every time I said the words “we can’t afford that,” I was keeping myself in that closed-minded little girl’s place of never getting what she wanted. I was keeping myself and my family in a place of not dreaming radically or believing that we could afford the things we wanted. But I still didn’t know how to break free from it.
“How can I afford that?” (The Game-Changing Question)
Everything came to a life-changing moment when my husband heard something from the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki (I haven’t read the book nor do I know this author, so I can’t make any real recommendations here). This dad’s advice was to stop saying “I can’t afford that” and start asking “How can I afford that?”
Now as simple as this might sound, it actually altered my reality. I couldn’t figure out how to balance being responsible with money and also getting things I wanted. I couldn’t figure out how to teach my kids how to balance it either. I wanted them to dream, I wanted them to have everything, but I insisted they couldn’t afford gum. What an oxymoron!
This phrase gave me a shovel to dig myself out of my hole. Some things are simple, like a pack of gum, for example. I can most likely always afford to add that to my grocery list. But what about my oldest kid’s desire to go to Paris? What about the dream anniversary trip I want with my husband? What if I do want to go out to eat with a family of six?
I can choose to live from my poverty mindset, or I can choose to ask myself a question. You wouldn’t believe the way one question can spark creativity in your finances. Ways to save money, ways to make money, etc. all started coming out of nowhere for my husband and me. We’re trying really hard not to say “no” to anything we want but, instead, are asking ourselves “How can we afford that?” (Even if it takes years, there’s got to be a way).
There’s Always A Creative Way—Keep Thinking
There are times when we still fall short of getting what we want, but we’ve got four kids. That’s bound to happen (I mean nothing goes as planned in this house). However, we’re okay with that more than ever because we know there’s another creative answer out there.
When we began implementing this little question with our kids, my daughter said, “This reminds me of that saying from my spelling book, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’” And it’s definitely proving to be true. For example, upon wanting to buy more things for themselves, my two older kids started a cleaning business. They clean their grandparents’ house every other week and make great money (I’m wondering why I didn’t think of this first). They’re learning to navigate financial decisions and learning that they (at age 10 and 7) can afford anything, too.
I know a stay-at-home mom in my neighborhood who realized she could use her old teaching degree to tutor high school students. She takes that weekly money to simply go out to eat twice a week so she doesn’t have to cook for her family. It’s an extra that makes her happy, so she figured out a way to make it happen.
Changing Your Mindset Will Change What You Can Afford
Maybe you don’t think you have anything to offer the world, or maybe you’re upset with me for saying you can afford things because I don’t know what your bank account reflects. Trust me when I say, I know the feeling. But I can assure you that the reason you think you have no way out is that you’re not letting yourself think differently. Fear, insecurity, and intimidation can make us think we are stuck, but they’re lies. The truth is that the only difference between you and someone you admire financially is that he or she took time to come up with a solution for getting what he or she wants.
So, if you’re like me and you find yourself despising the check-out line candy, maybe start asking yourself why you feel that way. And then join me on the journey to change your mindset. Even though we can’t afford that trip to Paris yet, our new favorite question “How can we afford that?” is going to get us there one day (even if my daughter has to clean every house in the neighborhood for a few years).
Featured Image by Clay Banks