Just this morning, I was having a dialogue with myself.
I found out about a Land’s End 2-day sale that ends today, for free shipping and 20% off your whole order including clearance. I took a look around there yesterday and saw some perfect pea coats for the girls for next year. Put them in my cart with a few other things for a huge discount, all great deals, and then left the site to think about it overnight.
Here’s where the plot thickens. I had budgeted money for April children’s clothes, at the end of March. We made a pretty lean budget because we are still trying to finish paying off the debt (and have some renewed energy about it since we are close enough to taste it!). And… I had visited Target on Saturday, only to spend the kids’ entire clothing budget then (plus whatever cash I had in my wallet of my spending money!). And that’s all we’d planned to spend for this month on clothes.
So I’m faced with a choice. I can either forget about the coats for now, planning to make do/wait until the last minute like I did last year (and got a pretty good deal on puffy coats). Or, I can talk to my husband about it, so we can adjust the budget – which means taking money allocated toward our debt and putting it onto the clothing. A third option does not really apply in this case due to lack of time, which is to make some extra money from sewing, etc so that I can apply it toward over-budget items.
I thought you would find it interesting that even after being on this mission to get out of debt for over four years, I still have these kinds of dilemmas and need to talk myself down. I even wrote out an email to my husband explaining the situation (because when we’ve agreed on a budget, we need to discuss any changes before rearranging) and thought to myself, “This is about coats… it’s the beginning of summer… what a ridiculous conversation.” Then I abandoned the email – and the shopping cart.
One of the most revealing things about doing this sort of talking-through regularly (and I’ll be honest, I’ve fallen in and out of the habit over the last four years – it’s a long time to remain truly intense about it without letting up) is how it really brings home the fact that God provides. I have learned a lot about myself and how I spend money and it’s been good to develop some new habits.
Here are some of the tips I have learned along the way about unplanned purchases.
True needs will occur to me apart from seeing an advertisement or display. If I am working in my kitchen day after day and I keep thinking, “Man it would be nice to have a citrus juicer,” chances are I probably do “need” it and would use it and that it would make my life a little easier. But I’ve noticed that something funny happens to me every time I look at a catalog or look online at a one day sale. I get the same feeling that I “need” something. I’m not saying when I look at a catalog and find something great I didn’t know I needed, that it’s always a bad decision to buy it. But I will say that if I didn’t think I needed it before seeing it, most of the time I’m being manipulated by the advertiser. I can’t afford to spend money based on manipulation.
There will always be another sale. One of the ways that we get caught up in purchasing something right away is with the thought, “It’s such a good deal! The sale ends today! I will never see this deal again!” That may be true, but what I’ve found is almost the opposite. We have really discovered that whenever I decide I need something, no matter how urgent it seems, most things can wait for a period of time while we think about it some more, try to find a better deal, and make do in the meantime. I have noticed that more often than not, I will run across the same item in a chance drive by a yard sale, or even brand new at a store or online for the same deal or better – if we don’t realize first that we don’t even need that thing at all, really! And for the few times it doesn’t hold true, all the money we save by not buying in the heat of the moment gives us more disposable cash to pay a little more for those items we need to buy at full price.
Making do is super fun. We have loved the challenge of it, the creativity it has fostered, and we wear the associated stigmas with pride. Some of our friends see that we use pickle and peanut butter jars instead of glasses, for wine and water, and feel sorry enough for us to buy us a set of wine glasses or plastic cups. 🙂 Which, of course, is so kind of them and we receive it gratefully. But we actually kind of like using a wine bottle as a rolling pin or an amazon box lined with a grocery bag as a trash can in the bathroom. Why? Maybe it’s because we’re “sticking it” to the consumerism that got us into this jam. Maybe because it’s a reminder wherever we look that we’re getting out of debt and it helps us stay focused. It’s a season of our lives, and it’s tough, but we can enjoy the little things. We can have fun at our own expense about it. Maybe it’s because when we looked into our cabinets and china closets full of beautiful things before, they pointed their little crystal fingers at us and taunted us with the fact that we hadn’t actually paid for them (or things like them). Those humble little mason jars are actually kind of symbolic of our commitment to one another and to working together toward a goal.
Waiting gives me perspective on my priorities. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get so excited about a deal or a product that I go into a little bit of a frenzy. Even if I think I happen to be thinking straight, it’s difficult to know for sure if I’ve flipped on my “must-buy-now!” switch, or if it’s a wise purchase. When I give it some time to settle, hopefully sleep on it, discuss with the hubby, I have more confidence in my purchase. I sometimes ask myself questions like “In a week (month/year) will I wish I had the money or this item?”
Waiting, even on things we truly need, gives us some room to see God provide for us directly. A few months ago, I decided that I needed bunk beds for the big girls’ room so I could transition the littler girls into sleeping with them eventually. So I started looking around on Craigslist. I immediately found two or three listings for just the kind of bed I was looking for. None of the listings happened to work out for me, so we had to make do with the twin size bed we had, plus a crib mattress on the floor. This was working out okay, so I put it on the back burner. A couple months later, I got a phone call from a friend saying “Do you need bunk beds by any chance? I have a friend who offered it to me and I can send them to your house instead.” Within the hour we had a brand new, free bunk bed delivered to our door.
It sounds like a fluke but I cannot count the number of times I’ve had something in my shopping cart (real or virtual), decided we could go another week without it, and then visited my mother in law’s house or a friend’s house and they were giving away just that item for free.
So, no pea coats from Land’s End right now. But that’s okay. We can always burn our stacks of old credit card bills to stay warm next winter. 🙂
(I’m still composing the blog post about our debt story continuation, and I also have plans to write more on the details of budgeting! Hope to finish those soon.)