I’m no financial wizard. For many years I made money decisions with my heart and not with my head. Impulse buying led to credit card debt in college, which started my journey as a fiscally-irresponsible young adult. A yearning to be home with my kids when they were little led to a “let the chips fall where they may” attitude and the corresponding lack of funds that came along with that thinking. In short, we’ve made some goof-ups in our finances around this joint.
At each stage in life, I envisioned money as something that would just be there when I needed it – until it wasn’t. Then I had to grow up just a titch, and use my head and not just my heart when it came to spending. We’ve come out the other side and learned our lesson, but financial mistakes of the past can certainly hang out in your future for a long, long, long time.
While I wish I’d made better decisions, there are some lessons I learned along the way I wouldn’t change for the world.
My friends, learn from the five hard-won lessons I’ve learned from being broke.
1 | Your things are not who you are
Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good trip to Target. I look forward to my Stitch Fix box. I have a whole Pinterest board I visit occasionally about redoing kitchen cabinets. Things are not the problem, but an addiction to always having new and better things can be a big problem. Your identity does not rest in how big your house is, what car you drive, what brand tag is in the back of your shirt, or where you vacation. Things are not who you are. Once I freed myself of the shackles of always needing more, I could spend time thinking about what was really important. No longer did I spend so much time thinking about making my house awesome; instead, I tend to spend more time thinking about how to make my heart awesome. It is a much harder job so the extra time here is key.
2 | Debt is the devil (or it’s no fun to pre-spend your money)
Once you allow yourself to go down the slippery slope of debt, clawing your way out is painful and takes forever and a day. For real. If you’re considering debt as the way to finance your lifestyle, stop right there, sister. When you pre-spend money you’ve not yet earned, you will not be able to buy things when you need them, because the money is already gone. This seems so obvious, but took me way too long to learn. Take a page from our friend Dave Ramsey: if you can’t pay cash for it, you can’t afford it. I bucked this for a long time and it was so not worth it. For more on this, seriously, make friends with Dave.
3 | It’s okay not to give your kids everything
With my first kiddo, I really thought she needed it all: the Pottery Barn Kids bedroom set, brand-new and brand-name outfits, every toy that was out there. When you’re forced to make good financial decisions out of desperation, let me tell you that Pottery Barn furniture looks way less attractive when held up against having enough money for groceries.
I quickly realized some shocking truths such as: my kids liked the boxes more than the toys, and that kids have zero concept of where their clothes come from and might actually prefer to wear nothing but their Halloween costume for days on end. In short, I was wasting my money and that first kid became an “I want it now!” beast. We had to wean her off her addiction for new things we’d created by buying her something every single time we went into Target. We made better decisions with the next ones in the brood and realized they’re more excited for their birthdays and Christmas because getting things is now special. They’re not deprived, they’re appreciative. Who knew?
4 | Giving is powerful
If you’re scraping by and trying to dig out, it’s hard to be a giver, and it turns out giving is so much better than getting. For real. It’s wonderful to be able to give to those who need it, and it feels even better than a Target-run full of deals. Taking the focus off of things for me has helped me see the actual needs of others. Slowly but surely we are freeing up money in our budget to help out there in the world. You can’t do that if you’re constantly saving up for new rugs because the colors in the old ones have gone out of style. Trust me.
5 | Receiving is powerful
Struggling with debt has meant we’ve had to accept help here and there – free babysitting from family, hand-me-down furniture – and I’ve realized that there’s no shame in leaning on others when you need to. We’ve also had to receive grace from our very own selves so we don’t constantly beat ourselves up over mistakes made.
Receiving people has been a huge gift. I’m not waiting to save up for the perfect everything to have people in my house. Come on in, people, and we’ll be too busy laughing and drinking wine to even notice my family room carpet might need to be replaced. Who really cares anyway? My heart and home is ready to receive and celebrate my people.
Surviving being broke has helped me put money in its proper place. Things no longer rule my thoughts, and my need for instant gratification no longer rules my pocket book. In our world, it’s a constant upstream battle to ignore the messages telling you you need white cabinets and a giant SUV and a vacation to Disney each and every year to be happy. Define your happiness with things that are not of this world, like having an open heart, spreading kindness, and gathering friends. These are things that are lasting and don’t cost you a thing, so go ahead and put that wallet away.