I was talking with a coworker the other day about her family's financial goals and plan for the coming year. "We have decided not to use our credit cards-we want to pay them off." Great plan I said but as she looked glum, I asked what was wrong. She replied that she and her husband were calling this "The Year of Suck".
I thought this was an unusually negative way of thinking and so I explored the issue further. She told me that they didn't live extravagantly but didn't realize how much they used credit cards for everyday expenses . So in order to not use their cards and pay them down, life would really suck-hence "The Year of Suck".
I really felt for her. Raising kids under normal circumstances is really expensive; add in additional expenses if there is a serious illness, serious sporting activities, daycare, educational enrichment activities and the cost begins to resemble the national debt.
Changing one's financial spending habits really sucks at first- sort of like pulling a band aid off your arm but then gets a little easier as you manage and begin paying off the debts. It can even start to feel good. But if you keep up with the attitude that "this is going to suck" then it will. As time goes on and others around you use their credit cards to go and have the fun you used to have, it will suck again.
So here is my suggestion. When you first embark on this terrific journey-and it is a terrific thing to do- call it the year of suck with friends and family, laugh about it and let them know that you have committed yourself to a goal of financial wellness. THEN drop the negativity. Look at it in positive terms. As you pay off the credit cards, celebrate the amount of money you aren't paying in interest, money that you get to keep. Make a game out of finding fun things to do that cost little or are free. If you love to shop, then change the places that you shop to consignment stores where the clothes turn over quickly so there is always something new and at a much cheaper price than brand new at retail. This is especially true for kids' clothes where they grow out of them so quickly. Arrange clothing swaps with your friends. There are so many ways to make being financially savvy fun.
It's all about attitude. I don't even teach budgeting any more-it's spending plans. You should focus on the fun of planning on how to spend your money and not on the restrictiveness of budgeting.
I told my coworker that they should build in treats for themselves. Say at three months, or after the first card is paid off and again at six months, etc. It really is ok to spend money and have some fun, just make sure you plan for it. And if you reward yourself for reaching these terrific goals then you are more likely to continue making and reaching bigger and better goals.
Help my coworker with ideas to reach her goals and make it suck less. We'd love to see your comments.
And so ends the Year of Suck.... Long live financial stability.