“That’s Too Expensive!” Words I used to say, the Problem with them, and a Better Perspective

(If you’d rather watch or listen to this post, click here.)

I grew up with thriftiness being a huge deal in our family.  I still enjoy being thrifty, finding it a fun challenge, as you can tell by my no-spend month videos, but when you feel guilty for responsibly using money you have, that’s not financial freedom, is it?! And judging how others use their own vacation money if it seems more extravagant than how you’d do it? Not cool.

While my parents intended to teach us to be wise with our money and good stewards of what we have, I translated their words and lifestyle into a mindset that made spending money into a moral issue. As an adult, I’ve struggled due to such a mindset. It created a lot of angst and conflict; I was judgmental of how my husband wanted to spend his own hard-earned money. I used to harp on his eating out for lunch during the work week, insisting he pack a lunch every day! Then on dates, I’d glare at him if he ordered a coke with his meal because he KNEW I felt that was a waste of money! It is not morally wrong to spend money on a coke with a meal, but I reacted as if it was a big issue because it would be “wiser” to buy a 2 liter and enjoy it at home for half the price of a glass at a restaurant.

Saving money had become all important, not seeing money as a tool for enjoyment as well as survival. I was acting as if a few dollars in the grand scheme of our savings and budget would jeopardize our finances. (I have always been pretty all or nothing…but I’m working on flexibility lately.)

What can shift an inflexible, negative mindset like mine over to one that is more empowering? How did I stop feeling the need to control my husband’s choices when we ate out, etc.? And how I can teach my kids to have a healthy view of money, seeing it as a tool, not a limiting, guilt-inducing, moral issue? 

I had made a few baby steps in the past few years towards a better money mindset. I mentioned in my Boss Mom video about the idea of homemakers needing a sense of fiscal autonomy although many technically don’t have an income, and how my husband and I agreed on a set amount of spending money I could use at my own discretion.  On the flip side, I had to give up my stingy— ok, I’ll say it…controlling attitude about my husband spending money on Starbucks when he wanted.  When I recognized that was his “fun” money instead of serious-saving-for-a-goal-money just like my discretionary spending money wasn’t for groceries, I could allow him to enjoy it and not feel our financial state was going to pot over spending $5 on a sub. What encouraged me not to be resentful as a homemaker was that feeling of financial autonomy, so how could I begrudge my husband that when he made our money?

However, this lingering problem with my money mindset really hit me when I bought my then 7 year-old son something really nice, and he said , “Mom, I know this was really expensive; I want to pay you for it.” He had a hard time accepting it as a gift from a mother who thinks he’s worth it because at other times I’d mentioned the word “expensive” in a way that made him think it was an inconvenience or a source of stress to spend big money that way. I realized I had influenced this view even though the way he interpreted it was definitely not the way I wanted him to.

I had kind of delved into the money topic in my kids’ Goals Setting video because as a parent interested in goal setting, I am trying to navigate teaching my children fiscal responsibility AND goal setting. I even shared a printable that helps kids feel a sense of accomplishment rather than entitlement when they reach a goal they’ve set for themselves. It can be applied in a money context, too. When they may approach a parent about wanting something, the parent can whip out the printable and say, “That’s a good goal! How can you make that happen?!” I’d be supportive of their desires with that answer and instead of saying “No” right away. (But I’ll admit a big part of the motivation for me taking that approach was to reduce the begging and whining and avoid the “mean mom” image when I wasn’t going to spend money on something I thought was “too expensive.”)

There’s actually an even more important aspect of the issue than empowering kids with goals that I didn’t fully address in that video which I want to cover now. Beyond the piggy bank and dreams for earning what they want, kids need something more. They need a healthy view of money, a positive mindset for true financial freedom, rather than a stingy “good/bad” view of money.

The years of a wrong mindset finally became fully clarified and I adopted a much better approach for my family when I heard Kendra Hennessy share her method  of addressing the topic with kids when they want something the family won’t be buying. She said that words they don’t say in their house include “that’s too expensive” because  “Instead of saying, ‘ugh, that’s WAY too expensive!’, we say, ‘We choose not to spend our money on that. I am choosing to save my money for something else’.” The responsibility, she says, is on the individual and their choice, without negative connotations on the thing or price, just a different preferred option. 

We don’t want a side affect for our kids to be that they grow up feeling deprived or angry with people who have more money, maybe even feeling less than. Because if we all have equal innate value, kids can be wondering “Why are some kids getting a power wheels and not me?” Or whatever…What did YOU grow up thinking only rich kids’ families bought? (Besides power wheels, I also thought only rich people owned leather couches.)                           
Thinking of spending as an issue of discretion and priorities rather than good or bad has freed me and my husband to enjoy life more without tossing my desire to be frugal out the window. Now it’s up to us to help our kids develop a true sense of financial freedom as we pass on our perspectives about money. And I think we’ll be ok now. 

Blessings on your journey.

P.S. Don’t forget to grab your kids’ Goal-setting Printout or check out that Boss Mom video if you want to know more ways I have changed my mindset for a happier, more creative home life!

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