If there's one thing I’ve learned as we've worked toward becoming debt-free, it's 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.
It surprised me when we started living within our means and people questioned our decisions. It seemed like a no-brainer to my husband and me that it would improve our family life, especially considering the state of our finances at the time, so the backlash we received 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 folks who were outspoken and critical of our decisions.
But here’s the thing: unless they're 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 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.
This 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 decided the family's 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 lying around (or it would be your entire grocery budget for the month), then you aren’t obligated just because someone else expects you to.
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 I've learned? Anyone who's going to base your worth of them on what you spend isn’t someone you want to keep close ties to in the first place.
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 worried or even angry 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 were both worried and even a bit angry 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.)
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 don'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 is an excuse to not even try. Instead of tackling what we can or cleaning in small bursts of time, we neglect the space and never get started. Things stay a mess.
It can be like that with money, too. Lacking a perfect solution, how many of us 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 setbacks. This has been a far from perfect path for us. Is is fun? Nope. But we don’t let our mistakes stop us, and we are making progress.