Sunday, June 3, 2012

Saying Yes When The Funds Are Low

At this year's LIFE is Good Conference I co-hosted a circle chat (group discussion) titled "How to say yes when the funds are low." Some of the people came with the idea of learning how to spend less money and live more economically, others came because they wanted to find out how to relate to their children as a partner when it came to finances, and others came to learn more about creatively financing when their children's interests and desires, such as international travel, required large amounts of money. After our hour was up some people stayed to continue the discussion. I needed to check in with my kids so I admittedly don't know what was covered after I left but, based on the discussion I was a part of, I felt that the discussion had gotten off track. The group had focused on money instead of saying yes.

As the mother in a family that often does not have savings in the bank and that lives with debt in the form of a modest mortgage, a pile of student loans, and credit card debt from those times when the necessities of life were beyond our income, I can tell you that all the information you need about how to spend less money can be found with a quick search on a computer or from books in the library. I can also tell you that partnering with your children requires knowing your child, knowing their money style and making sure they have some money to spend so they have real life experience with money. What this looks like will depend on your child, your family's income and your child's age. And if your child needs money for a trip or lessons or another expensive endeavor a computer search for "creative fundraising ideas" will provide you with plenty of options.

But what about saying yes? How do you say yes when you live on a modest income or you are coping with unemployment or other unexpected changes in financial standing?

I've been mulling that over. The LIFE is Good Conference is our big family vacation of the year. Fortunately it comes after we get our tax return so we know we can pay for the hotel room, but we also know that every penny of that tax return could be used in other more life sustaining ways or to pay off debt. During LIFE is Good we say yes a lot. Yes to getting pizza delivered, yes to crepes that cost $7 each at the Farmer's Market, and yes to buying soda from the vending machine. We sell things we've made to other conference goers to try and offset some of the cost but we have already made peace with the reality that the conference is expensive and we decide ahead of time not to stress about the out flow of money.

Balancing saying yes to your children and being responsible in spending the money you have so that the bills get paid and the family gets fed can feel difficult. People have different comfort levels and what feels like financial stability to one person may feel like impending financial ruin to another. Some people always feel like they don't have enough no matter how large their income while others can live on a ridiculously small amount of money and never feel poor. Listen to the stories you tell yourself, examine the messages about money that you absorbed as a child, reconsider what the main stream media tells you about how much money you have to make or need to have in savings. Then when your child asks for something and you start to say no ask yourself if you really need to say no.

In our family we say yes until we absolutely have to say no.

Some people make up reasons that they have to say no, and that's not what I'm talking about. We say yes unless we truly don't have the money. We say yes until we've exhausted every possible option for funding. And even after that we still don't say no. We always try to say yes. What that Yes looks like varies. We may say, "Yes, we know how important to you this is and we will continue to work towards finding a way to make it possible. And yes we understand how hard it can be to wait."  We say, "Yes, this is something you really want, maybe you could put it on your gift request list for the holidays or your birthday."

We are honest with our children about our financial situation but we do our best not to burden them with stress or fear. Each of our children gets a small amount of money each month to spend or save as they desire. They have different innate money patterns and we try to support each of them without being critical but also without praise. They didn't ask to be born with a certain way of relating to money and we are not going to make them feel better or worse because they are more inclined to save or to spend. We trust that they will work out their own relationship and comfort level with money, and by providing them with money to spend, no strings attached, they have the opportunity to figure that out before their choices and decisions have larger implications. They may end up like my brother who was born a saver and a finder of ways to make his money go farther. They may be like my sister who is riding across the country with all of her belongings fitting on her pack pony, trusting on the kindness of strangers for a place to stay each night and support for her journey. Or perhaps they will be like me. I often struggle to spend money on myself and I prefer to live without debt and with money in the bank, but I am willing to live without that so that my family can afford more experiences now while our girls are all living at home.

Some parents feel that they have to make their child earn the things they want. Other parents put up roadblocks to getting things or feel that even if they can afford something they shouldn't get it for their child because that would be considered spoiling. How would you feel if someone that loved you could easily afford something that you wanted and yet they wouldn't get it for you because they didn't want you to become spoiled? Is that what you'd become? Or would you become someone who felt incredibly loved and understood? You can read more on spoiling Here.

Our bottom line isn't red or black, our bottom line is that if our child really really wants something we will help them get it, unless of course the thing they want is a real live elephant. But even then we won't say no, we will say that while we don't have the room for an elephant right now perhaps some day they will.