Why I’ll Never Say, “We Can’t Afford It”

This is a guest post by my friend Dawn Baker, MD. This post is pretty timely after my Life Hacks post. She blogs at PracticeBalance.com about finding balance as a physician mom. She and her husband are financially independent. You can read her interview here. The other day, my 2 year old daughter asked, “Who gave us this house?” We both paused and looked at each other. “Um… No one. We bought it with our own money that we made ourselves.” This is the first time we had talked to her about anything related to money, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. As she grows up, she’ll no doubt deal with the marketing of products directly to her, comparisons to friends, cases of the “I wanna’s”… then ultimately management of her own earnings and debts.

Always creating and learning

Unlike some families where money is a taboo subject, we hope to have many money conversations with our daughter as she matures, because financial responsibility is very important in our family. We’ve worked hard over our adult years to become financially independent and free from any debt or mortgage, which has allowed us to both work part time. When I was a young girl, I never felt that my family was in a state of lack. But I also never grasped the mathematics side of money, the finiteness of it. That all changed when I became a mother. Although my husband had been equating money with life energy for many years at that point, I didn’t see it until I had this being in front of me that I wanted to spend all my time with. I had spent years, tears, money, and life energy to have her (due to infertility), yet she was priceless. Any time at work was suddenly time away from her.

One of the lessons I really want to teach my daughter is the idea of value. Value is relative and individual, as one person’s prized possession can be another’s throw-away item. Likewise, the way we prefer to spend our time (which ultimately equates to money) can vary drastically from person to person. I cringe when I hear people use the words, “We can’t afford it.” Kind of like saying, “I can’t eat that cupcake” or “I don’t have time to do ______”, it’s rarely true in a literal sense. You can if you want to, but you choose not to, for whatever reason. It’s a mistake made often by people in all financial situations, both wealthy and poor.

What harm is done in saying “we can’t”? It sets a tone of scarcity vs. abundance. The scarcity mindset keeps us from feeling we have choices or control over our financial situation. It places issues in a negative light, such that we make decisions out of fear and compare ourselves to others. On the flip side, being valueist means that we see the potential abundance in things. We make decisions from a place of optimism, because again, anyone can afford anything they inherently value.

Taking time to find the rainbows

Affording anything, however, must come with financial sacrifice in other areas of our lives. We’ve all seen examples of people driving around in very fancy cars despite meager earnings. I’ve been to third world countries where a family shack contains a large screen TV. Everything we buy is a choice and is conversely a choice in the opposite realm (against saving or spending on something else). How much is an extra hour a day with your child worth to you? Is it worth not having a cleaning lady, taking a 30% pay cut, moving to a smaller house? In addition, there are degrees of choice here; you can choose to NOT buy the nicest item you can afford. The common belief that everyone buys the nicest things “they can afford” leads to a false evaluation of success based on material goods.

Of all the things I value, time with my family sits at the top of the list. I hope someday my daughter will understand this concept when she wants me to buy her something that I choose not to buy. The best thing we can do is to live our lives in alignment with our respective values and provide an example for our children.

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