Sunday, May 24, 2009

Show Me the Money!

Say what?

That's what I was thinking when the idea for today's post came to me. It's a little... different from what we usually chat about here. But still totally relevant.

But I was still kind of wavering.

And then the lesson for the third hour was about the same subject.

Okay. I get it.

So, today's topic is all about money. More specifically, what we do with money.

Little disclaimer: I am not an expert on money at all. I never even took an accounting class. My husband is the money person around here. He was an accountant/auditor, has his CPA license, and is now a finance manager. Or something like that. But I am not anywhere near any of those things. I'm just going to share what I do know about how money influences our joy.

We all know that money can't buy happiness, but it can affect our freedom to choose abiding joy.

Sometimes, I really struggle to put a thought into actual words, so I just try to put it down one word at a time and I end up with a really awkward sentence. The above sentence is one of those.

Sorry. I'll try to explain better.

I think I want to talk about a couple different things related to money today.

The first has to do with living within your means. For the most part, HH and I have done this consistently in our marriage. Sure we've made foolish purchases, but we've never gone into debt for something we didn't need. In fact, we've only gone into debt for three things--our cars (which are both paid off now), education, and our house (just bought it on Friday--yay!).

Sometimes it's been really hard. And sometimes, I've even let our frugality be a joy-sapper. Sometimes I convince myself that I need more cute clothes in order to really be happy. And last year I missed my family reunion because airplanes ticket prices were insane. HH kept reminding me that, technically, we could afford it. But I knew we were saving up to make a down payment on a house and the price of plane tickets would make a dent in our savings. And we made a million other choices along those lines.

Sometimes it was easy to make the choice to not spend. Sometimes (like with my family reunion), it was really really hard.

And sometimes, we chose to go ahead and spend anyway.

But then HH lost his job. A lot of people were very concerned for us. But I felt 100% at ease and told people over and over again that we really were fine. And that, while of course it was a challenge, we weren't all that worried about the future.

I didn't want to have to dip into our savings, but I knew it was there if the worse case scenario came true and HH didn't get a job for a while.

If we had debt, on the other hand, that would have been a horrible time for us. We would have been stressed (which probably would have led to a ton of fights=more stress, less joy). We would have been afraid. Instead of enjoying the time to all be together, we would have used our time worrying.

Fortunately, HH did get a job quickly and we didn't dip into those savings. And we bought a house that totally rocks!

But I digress. The reward for keeping a budget isn't really in buying a house. Yes, that's fabulous, but it's not the point.

The point is, if we didn't have a financial reserve, or worse, were in debt when HH lost his job that would have been a horribly stressful time for us. And that's what I was referring to with my awkward sentence. Let me see if I can illustrate it better.

We have all this capacity for joy in our lives, right? I believe that joy is a gift from God. But we make choices that affect our ability to access that joy. It's like the joy is sitting in a room, but sometimes we choose to pile up boxes (in the form of negative feelings, stress, jealousy, addiction, etc. Or, of course, debt.) in front of the door, making it hard for us to get in and experience the joy in our lives. If we stay in control of our lives, and our finances, then we keep that doorway free and clear and easy to access.

I kind of hated the last apartment we lived in. It was in a town that we were embarrassed to say we lived in because it's not a very nice town. It was in a neighborhood of mostly non-English speaking people. It was old. The laundry situation was unbelievable, frustrating, and a pain. We had some conflicts with our landlord. There were permanent stains on the carpets. Almost zero counter space. No dishwasher. No central air. And the list goes on. We debated moving every six months or so. But we knew that we'd have to pay significantly more to rent something comparable elsewhere. So we stayed. I should note that where we lived was very safe and pretty spacious. So, our basic needs were being met.

Am I beating a dead horse here? Maybe. Because my point again is that I'm really glad we stayed there because we were able to save up a ton.

The thing is, if we get caught up in thinking that buying something will make us happier, it won't. You might as well hop on a sinking ship. Because once you convince yourself that your happiness lies in purchases, you've doomed yourself to always needing to buy something else. There is always something more or new to be had. If you aren't happy without it, you won't be happy with it.

I mean, really. Take me for example. How on earth is a new shirt going to make that big of a difference in my life? Clearly, if I'm unhappy without the shirt, there is something more going on. Or, I'm just choosing to use that as an excuse to be unhappy. Because Not Me hasn't stolen any of my clothes. At least, not that I'm aware of.

When HH and I were dating, we did go out on real dates sometimes. But a lot of the time we went for long walks, or we stayed in and played SkipBo. Those are my favorite memories. We still play SkipBo. Not because it's that awesome of a game, but because it takes us back. Those were really good times. And we really had very little.

Maybe that's where all of that other stuff we've discussed here comes into play. No one has ever made a comment saying that having money fixed all their problems and brought them everlasting joy. I bet you never thought about that. But money hasn't ever been discussed here as a solution or even a help in getting to a joyful life. That's because it isn't.

It's all the rest of that stuff that really matters. The way I look at, money has a great potential for affecting our happiness--but only in a bad way. If we choose to spend unwisely, then we choose to let the money be in control. If we do spend wisely, then money isn't the same kind of issue and we don't have those same worries or stress. We are free to choose happiness instead of worrying about the next credit card statement.

I think I've made my points. What do you think about all this? How do you keep your spending in check? How do you determine if something is a want or a need? What do you do for fun that is cheap or free? How do you give up things that you really want in order to save for things that you really need?


Meg said...

I must've really needed to hear this because today our HTs and VTs talked about the very same thing! But it's made Wes and I reconsider how we handle our money. We've made two goals: 1) Stop Avoiding Budget meetings (aka: hold meetings) and 2) See where we can actually cut back in order to afford things that can bring us more joy. That sounds weird, but for example we want a piano. I know you can't buy joy- but you can buy a piano and pianos can bring a lot of joy. It's true. So if we cut down in other areas (like eating out which is bad for us anyway) and save up slowly- eventually we'll get our piano!

Kristen said...

we do pretty well in the budget area. There are a couple things that we could probably cut out etc. but it keeps me sane while Shawn is busy so it is worth it. We keep a pretty tight budget, and if we go over I just have to work extra hours, makes me stay in buddget. I am so excited to see the house you bought.

Melissa said...

Yes. You made your point and it is a good and timely one.
After being married about 3 years, we had racked up a bit of debt. We made a plan and within two years were almost completely debt free and had a decent amount saved up in case of emergency.
Then we moved and had some emergencies that quickly depleted our funds. Then we had another baby. I was so tired of sacrificing so I started using the credit card. YUCK! Big mistake. Now we are back on the get out of debt bandwagan and hope to have completed our journey in a few years.
LONG story short--living within your means truley does create the opportunity for abiding joy. Creating debt really does cause stress and unhappiness.
Great post!

Linda said...

Another great post! Spending money can have a direct correlation with happiness. I was raised by parents who were quite frugal. In fact, I grew up thinking we were poor because they were so careful with every penny.
In many ways, we raised our children in the same manner, and they may have felt we were poor.

We're still that way - One morning last week before leaving for work Roger said, "We need to look at how we can spend less and save more." I spent quite a bit of time that day mentally going through our budget to identify where we were wasting money, only to realize that we are about as frugal as two people can be. If there's a way to squeeze another penny out of a dime, we've found it and are doing it.

As our children have married, I've observed that they are also very careful with their budgets. I don't think they're as tight as we were, and that's probably healthy. I've also noticed that they seem to be good at prioritizing so that they spend their money on what's important to them and their families.

Elder Rober D. Hale's talk in the April 2009 General Conference has some great teachings and stories about the blessings of living providently. Needless debt takes away our freedom, which is why it leads to unhappiness.

Because of your provident choices in the past, you are now able to achieve one of your highest priorities, a home to raise your family. CONGRATULATIONS!

Amy said...

I definitely agree that money has a great effect on our happiness or lack thereof. In fact, the last date I went on with my husband, we went out to eat (not really a way to save money, but very fun nonetheless) and made up a list of things we want to save money to be able to buy. We made a list of things we'd like to buy with the money in our "short term savings". We each made our own list, separately, prioritizing the things we wanted to eventually spend that money on, and it was really fun to see what we each thought was more important. We then collaborated our ideas, and I'm much more motivated to save money, now that I've got an idea of what we'll spend it on and I'm pretty excited about it.

Becky said...

One thing I learned about family budgets is that they're a great vehicle for exercising our agency. I remember reading once that you shouldn't tell your children you "can't afford" something, but instead say what you're choosing to do instead. We had one family night lesson where we explained that if we didn't pay tithing, there were A LOT of things we could buy instead. However, the blessings that came from being obedient were even better than a trip to Disneyland.

It helps me to have a discretionary fund set aside (usually from birthday checks) so that when I see something in the store that I want, I can truthfully say, "I have the money to get that, but I'm choosing not to." And then if I REALLY want to buy it, I can without feeling guilty. It's the law of opportunity cost. Would I rather have the item now, or the opportunity to buy something else later? When it becomes my choice, it doesn't feel like deprivation.