A young child having a tantrum because their parents refused to cave to their “I wants” isn’t an unusual sight. But what about adults? Do we magically stop “wanting” once we become adults? I don’t think so. While we may have outgrown tantrums, we don’t always handle our grown-up “wants” much better than we did as kids.
As kids, we couldn’t wait to become an adult who couldn’t be overruled. We imagined a future where we never had to tell ourselves “no” and could buy ourselves whatever we wanted. Some of us outgrew those beliefs, while others of us learned the hard way that buying everything you want isn’t the right answer either. Let me show you a better way to handle the “I wants”.
Let me dispel a myth right away: A financially responsible person no longer wants things. Wrong. You are always going to find things you want and that is okay. Because some people believe that “wanting” is wrong, they react with guilt or shame, especially if what they want may be viewed as frivolous or unnecessary by others. Please don’t beat yourself up or make your kids feel guilty for wanting things either. There is nothing wrong with wanting things.
The truth is wanting something isn’t the real problem. It’s how you respond to wanting something that matters. How do you react? Apologize and feel ashamed? Buy it out of defiance? Or save for it and buy it with joy? What sort of an example are setting for your children?
To help you determine whether something that catches your fancy is something you truly want or momentary want, ask yourself the following two questions.
When you find something you want, the question you need to ask yourself is: “Do I really want this or am I feeding an emotion?” Money is emotional and fear, anger, frustration and boredom have caused many of us to make poor money decisions. As children, our emotions may have caused us to kick and scream when Mom and Dad said “no” to us, but as adults, we hand over our credit card and say “yes” to ourselves. In order to avoid this, you have to take a step back and assess your “want”. Is it truly something you want or a band-aid for something else?
If you are feeding an emotion, acknowledge whatever emotions you are feeling and figure out a more proactive way to handle them, putting you back in control, rather than your emotions. Now you can walk away from the item without regret. And if you are not feeding an emotion, then you know it’s something you truly want and can go onto the next step.
Sometimes an item is inexpensive and can be purchased with discretionary income. Other times you need to save for it and have to decide whether it’s worth saving for. To determine this, ask yourself: “Will this bring me closer to or further away from achieving my goals?” or “Is this worth delaying achievement of my goals?” or “What can I do to earn money for this?” – such as selling old items on Craigslist or eBay, having a garage sale or finding a side hustle. Your answers determine whether you save for it or walk away. It’s not often that I find something that is more important to me than my goals. But because I took the time to recognize the importance of my goals, I don’t feel deprived when I put the item back on the shelf.
I would also encourage you when you find something you want when you are with your kids to not internalize this process but share it with them. Ask the questions out loud and answer them, then ask your children for their opinion. Let your children see that “wanting” is normal and see you honor your goals.
And remember—just because you find something you want or like doesn’t automatically make it a goal. Sometimes it’s enough to acknowledge you like something, but not enough to make it a priority. We admire and appreciate it, but don’t feel compelled to have it or feel deprived that others have it and we don’t. This is a great lesson to embrace as an adult and pass on to your children.
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