March 31, 2012

Learning To Say {No}

Can I be honest? Writing this post is hard, but I need to be transparent. I need to share where I am and what I'm going through. I need to process the journey that I am embarking upon, and I need accountability.

For years, my husband and I have talked about getting out of debt. We have talked about the importance of good financial stewardship - what it really means and how to best achieve it. We have talked about saving, investing for the future, giving to others, and our desire to model financial wisdom for our children. We have talked about a lot of things. But, talk is cheap. The reality is that we are in debt. We were in debt when we got married, and we are still in debt, eight years later. For all the talking that we've done, we sure haven't made much progress.

We are blessed in that we do have a decent income, and we have been able to stay afloat. We are not facing bankruptcy or foreclosure, like so many who have run out of options during difficult times. While we are thankful, in a way it makes facing this even harder. Here's the thing - we could have been out of debt a very long time ago. We have no valid excuse. You know why we still have debt? Because we've had two children? Nope. Because we have a mortgage? Uh-uh. Because we haven't really stuck to a budget? Budgets are great tools, but that's not it. It's really very simple. We are still in debt because we have not been willing to say "no" to ourselves. We like buying things! And that little high you get when you buy something new and shiny can be very addictive. We actually got to the place that we were using credit toward the end of almost every pay period, because "somehow" the money would mysteriously run out. When things get that bad, it really is not a very good feeling, knowing that it is completely and undeniably your own fault. So why am I writing this? What changed?

One night, not very long ago, facing yet another round of the money running out, I finally snapped. It was like reality hit me in the face and woke me up. In that instant I knew things had to change. I knew I had to change. My hubby was in bed, so I wrote out my feelings on a piece of paper, which I taped to our bathroom mirror. He had to get up super-early, and I wanted to make sure he would see it. I also wrote up a brief contract that I signed, stating a new, simple action plan for each paycheck, along with the promise to not buy anything other than food or gas without talking to him about it first. I was pretty sure he would be willing to join me in this, so I wrote the contract out a second time, stating he would also talk with me before any extra purchases. I was very happy to see his signature the next morning! I knew we were in this together. 

I haven't been perfect since I signed my part of the deal, but I have been a whole lot better than I used to be! I am actually really proud of myself! I need to stay motivated to keep saying "no" to myself, to ultimately choose a better life and future for myself and my family. While we are in this together, I am learning that I have to be responsible for my own desires, choices, and consequences. And I am finding that there is something both exhilarating and wonderfully peaceful about choosing contentment over the rush of buying something, no matter how shiny it is. Lasting contentment will always have more value than momentary pleasure.

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