Thursday, February 28, 2013

Money Manners

Months and months ago I had a friend write a post on facebook that went something like this: "I can't believe how much money people spend on clothes. I don't know if people just have a lot of debt or what, but I'm amazed every time I see young moms like me come out of the mall with huge shopping bags of expensive clothes. It'd be nice to have money to waste on that kind of stuff."

I thought about leaving a comment, defending young moms who occasionally splurge on a nice outfit, but after I read through all the comments that had already been left I thought better of it. Everyone rallied around the original comment and seemed to rail on people who think nice clothes matter and young mothers who buy into popular trends.

To be clear, the original post and subsequent comments didn't upset me. I just thought I'd point out that we all prioritize our spending differently. Worried my comment could be misinterpreted, I kept quiet, but found myself following the thread for fascination's sake.

Shortly after this incident President Uchdorf made his famous "don't judge others because they sin differently than you," comment.

I think this could also apply to each of our household budgets, "don't judge me because I spend my money differently than you."  Yes, my closet holds five pairs of $100 jeans. They are the only jeans on the planet that are long enough for me, and you know what, I bought most of them using my Buckle employee discount. Which means I've worn these expensive pants for almost 7 years.

What I had wanted to write in response to this friend's comment was that those same women probably look at her gorgeous house and wonder how she can afford such grandeur. They probably only dream of taking vacations as exotic as she does. We all choose to spend our money on different things, and there is no need to waste time comparing or feeling less than.

This topic has continued to resurface for me during the months since that facebook thread. Maybe blogging about it will finally help me get all my thoughts out.

Since then I've been on several visiting teaching routes where I've heard sisters say to my companion "You have such a nice big beautiful home." or "It must be nice not to worry about bills." My companion is a dear and she simply reminds the accuser that we all have bills to worry about. After one such comment there was a knock on the door and our teach-ee had to let the cable company come repair her reception. My companion turned to me and said "We've never had cable." I smiled and told her we don't have it either. Neither one of us would have ever said to this sister "It must be so nice to have enough money to pay for 80 TV channels." Making others feel bad about how they spend their money is useless and unfair.

I've had a friend make similar comments to me on multiple occasions. I found myself feeling as though I had to justify having nice things. "Grandma bought Reid that toy," or "We found these pants at Goodwill." If I ever mentioned our YMCA membership I was quickly chastised "we can't afford that." When I mentioned couponing at our local grocery store I was told "we can't afford to shop there, even with coupons."

So imagine my complete shock when this friend's spouse told us his income. It is one and a half times larger than Ben's. I came home trying to sort out my feelings. I wasn't jealous. I wasn't mad. What was I? I was just surprised. Why had I been made to feel guilty for couponing at a nice grocery store? Why had I been made to feel guilty for having a big backyard? And maybe her intent was never to make me feel guilty. I take full responsibility for those feelings; I chose them. But I think we'd go along way to eliminate words and phrases like "I can't afford that."

This week at the library I was swapping e-mail addresses with other mom's and I said "It'd probably be easier for you to take my e-mail address since I don't have a smart phone." I didn't say "you'll have to take my e-mail address since I can't afford a smart phone." It's true that we don't have money in our budget for a smart phone. Instead I choose to spend $40 a month on a family YMCA membership. In This winter I spent $60 on a sewing class. I can't afford a smart phone or cable because I choose to spend my money on other things.

I have to admit, when Ben first started his job I made a comment to someone about spending money on things we couldn't afford. At the time I felt justified in doing so because this person told Ben and I they wanted his pay cut and his pension depleted. I later apologized because I realized it shouldn't matter that they had nicer things than us and made more money on lower levels of Education. I still believe the whole "Yes, I want your pay lowered so that my pay can be higher" comment was inappropriate,  but it wasn't an excuse for me to be a jerk right back.

We all have a lot to learn, and I hope I can learn to take the phrase "I can't afford the nice things you can" out of my conversations. Even if someone does have more money to afford things I can't, it isn't worth ruffling any feathers over. 


Kelli said...

Good thoughts. You make a great point. I haven't known anyone to talk about another persons spending choices right in front of them. But you've got me thinking. I had someone comment to me the other day about Jared graduating from medical school and that we would buy a big house and make lots of money. I'm sure they have no idea that as a resident Jared will make about the same as a teacher in New York for five years. And after that we still won't live extravagantly because we have insane amounts of debt.

It's just another example of how we have no idea what factors affect other people's finances...and it's none of our business. It doesn't matter.

Tiff said...

Ya I agree. Everyone has different priorities. That goes for time and money. We sacrifice in one area so we can splurge in another. I think some people are just unhappy with their lives. We don't make a lot of money right now but we have everything we need. Plus we really enjoy getting a deal so we shop clearance a lot.

In Italy people would comment how Americans have so much money to spend on travel all the while wearing Versace jeans.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post sis. I especially enjoyed you sharing President Uchdorf's comment. Not sure I had ever heard that one before!

Good night. Pa

Riki Lee said...

Love this. I agree with you completely, and I have found myself on both sides of the situation at times. The phrase "I can't afford it" is really tricky because sometimes we really can't and sometimes we really could if we made different choices with our money. That's a lesson I've been learning lately.

Megan said...

This was so well said and very thought provoking. I've been thinking about money a lot lately because soon we are likely to be a one income family, and given where we live the one income isn't going to go very far. Often when I think (and hopefully not say to others too often) "we can't afford that," what I really mean is that I value saving money more than I value buying that particular item or service. I think it's interesting when the choice is between saving and spending and not just spending and spending.

Another thing I've been thinking about lately though is when we feel like we have to make excuses for what we have, what we do, or the money we spend. Why is it that Mormons have such a need to do this?? When my mom came out for three weeks to help me with the end of pregnancy/beginning of motherhood she stayed in a hotel. There wasn't really any space for her in our apartment. One of my good friends in the ward (someone my mom's age) said "wow, your parents must be really well off." And I felt the need to reply with, "well, she got a really good deal on the rate." It's true, my parents ARE well off. But from my perspective they are actually really careful with how they spend their money. We also never had cable in our home growing up. I didn't have a cell phone until I left for college, and then it was because my parents valued their ability to call me at any time more than they valued the cash it took to pay for the phone and service. My parents would pay almost any amount of money to be able to see their kids and spend more time together as a family, but buying things was pretty rare. I wondered if my dad was having a midlife crisis when he went out and bought a nice TV one New Year's day. It was just so out of character.

It's been interesting to see how my husband and I discuss money based on the different perspectives of our families. Whereas my mom really only wants to come visit me if she can sleep in a bed, my inlaws would be willing to sleep on the floor and I'm afraid they would be more than happy to sleep in our living room right next to our crying baby who sleeps in his carseat in part because we don't have room for a crib. My husband is one of eleven and shared a bed for several years with his siblings even though they lived in a HUGE house. They just don't value space or privacy as much as my family.

Sorry for the short blog post in your comments, Liz. I have just been thinking about this lately and I think it is so interesting. None of it is really right or wrong as long as your money choices fit within your financial means. But it is interesting how difficult it can be to convince people that two differing views on how to spend money can be equally "right."

Scott and Claudia said...

Great post and oh so true! I remember when I purchased spendy flower pots for out front knowing I was going to have a wedding reception in the yard that fall. Whatever possessed me to do that! I have a hard time keeping them beautiful and gorgeous that long!! My neighbor told me they were beautiful and asked me where I purchased them. I told her at the local floral shop to which she replied she could not afford them. They were too costly for her budget. I just smiled and thought to myself: "Well, we do not have a boat, camper or four wheelers." All of which they have, but I did not say anything. Her comment truly did not bother me, just made me smile. Yes, we all could be given the exact same budget and everyone would have their own personal list of priorities. Same with time, as Tiff said. Now I will quit talking and go spend my time and money making cookies. Better yet, I will do that tomorrow so the house will smell good when I am hosting a Primary meeting!

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