Buy It or Not?

Buy It or Not?
by Kathleen Fox

“Please, Mommy?” Your toddler pleads for a cheap toy. Buy it or not? You can save money with cereal at home or save time with fast-food breakfast on the way to work. Eat in or out? Those cute earrings are on sale, but you forgot the coupon that would make them a real bargain. Get them or not?

We all make little money decisions like this nearly every day. Do they matter? It’s only a few dollars; what difference can it make?

A lot.

During lean times, our small money choices have a real dollars-and-cents impact. Spending or not spending even a few dollars might make the difference between covering the bills or falling behind for the month.

Yet even when our budgets aren’t that tight, little money decisions can have a powerful effect on our lives. They create money habits that help shape our long-term financial health.

Suppose you build the habit of answering “Yes,” to the question of, “Should I spend this small amount?” Here are some of the possible consequences:

  • You and/or your kids learn to see self-indulgence as an automatic entitlement rather than an occasional delight.
  • Overspending “just a little” becomes normal, which keeps your budget stretched and your money stress high.
  • Impulsive pleasures and spontaneous giving add color and joy to your life.
  • You never manage to follow through with your good intentions to save more for the future.

Suppose instead you build the habit of answering “No.” This might lead to consequences like these:

  • You are a careful, thrifty shopper.
  • You take self-denial so far that you don’t allow yourself to enjoy even small pleasures you could easily afford.
  • You become addicted to frugality, beating yourself up if you don’t use every coupon.
  • Your kids see you as a mean mom who always says no—which, ironically, might lead them to go to the opposite self-indulgent extreme.
  • Your ability to delay gratification helps you meet financial goals and invest to provide for a comfortable future.

This motley mix of consequences is meant to emphasize that there is no rule about when either yes or no is the right spending decision. What matters more is to understand that, over time, “money choices too small to matter” can become “money patterns too big to change.” Building a habit of making thoughtful and conscious little choices will help you create a long-term pattern of financial and emotional well-being.

Kathleen Fox is the author of Making the Best of Second Best: A Guide to Positive Stepparenting and the co-author with Rick Kahler, CFP®, of Conscious Finance.

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