This is a guest article from Stefanie! She’s trying to find ways to stretch her budget in one of the most expensive cities out there, New York City. A graduate of New York University’s drama and psychology programs at the height of the financial crisis, Stefanie discovered the world of financial planning out of necessity. Thanks for sharing your insight!
Almost everything you spend money on is by choice. Yes, you have needs, but you choose those needs. Yes, there are expectations, but you choose which expectations you care to meet.
With the exception of taxes (and health insurance), you don’t have to spend money on anything. Yet, people say it all the time, “…but I have to buy…” But no one is forcing you to buy something. See, you have to recognize that you are the one choosing your spending priorities.
I hear a lot of the “I have to” justification of spending when it comes to social, cultural, and familial obligations. These obligations are typically a duty or commitment to which you feel bound, not something to which you are bound. This is an important distinction.
I know that my personal feelings of obligation and commitment fall on a spectrum. For instance, when invited to a friend’s birthday party, I don’t feel that I really have to attend, but it would be nice. With a wedding, I’ll start to feel more of that sense of obligation. The sliding spectrum continues, and if it’s my sister’s wedding, I feel completely tied, obliged to the occasion. But no matter how I feel about those events, I can’t unquestioningly commit to attending until I’ve assessed the monetary reality.
Let’s say my best friend asked me to be a bridesmaid. I would feel a strong sense of commitment, but not be able to accept until I understood the full financial implications. Would I be expected to purchase a dress? Accessories? Attend other bridal events? What would be the total cost? Now, if I were to assume an average, which according to weddingchannel.com is $1,695 to be a bridesmaid, I would have to decline regardless of my sense of obligation. Unfortunately, that’s a choice many people fail to see, and it impacts their future financial success. Their sense of obligation overtakes everything else. If you can afford it, fantastic! If you can’t, that could be downright dangerous.
The environment, society, and larger culture that you are a part of may harbor even stronger expectations. I’m going to continue to use the wedding industry as an example. It’s a relatable illustration of how we allow the sense of obligation to justify extraordinary overspending.
If I ever get married, there’d be a host of expectations surrounding the big day; especially, as I am part of a strong cultural group with deep rooted traditions. But as strongly as I, my parents, friends, and community feel about those things, the thought of spending $28,400 (the cost of the average wedding in 2013) on one day feels exceptionally wasteful. The funny thing is, a lot of people would agree that the number seems insane, but when they get down to the actual planning and fulfilling the requests of mom, dad, grandma, the girlfriends, the church, etc., suddenly the spending seems justified. Meeting expectations of others, regardless of how impractical, overtakes sound financial decisions.
My challenge to everyone, and to myself, is to never use the phrase “I have to” when it comes to spending my money. At times, I may feel a strong sense of commitment to myself and others – feeling obligated, but at the end of the day, the things I spend on are my choice. If we all accept that truth, perhaps we’ll all be a bit wiser about weighing our financial reality against our sense of obligation in the future.
Have you ever felt obligated to participate (a potluck, wedding, etc.)? How have you dealt with it? When do you feel you can choose something?