Photo: ThinkstockBy Caitlin Shetterly
1. "The bills aren't my job."
I'm unfortunately very familiar with this lie. When the recession sunk its claws into our lives, and my husband, Dan, was left unemployed for over nine months before going back to school, we realized that there were some little lies we'd gotten into the habit of telling ourselves that were making it harder for us to bail out. By then we'd had our first child, and the combination of the recession and becoming a mom all in a matter of months had left me overwhelmed. One night, when my son was two weeks old, I said to Dan: "I can't do the bills anymore. They have to be your job." Now, it's true that busy families often divvy up the tasks--"You clean the kitchen while I put the kids to sleep"--and the bills can feel like just another one of those parceled-out chores. Except here's the problem: Dropping that mountain on one person's shoulders, especially during tough times, and thinking that they'll be able to manage it while you enjoy some blissful ignorance can lead to even more stress. It's really important that both people in a partnership know what's going on with the finances. Although Dan took over with aplomb, we soon realized that we needed to put our heads together and strategize. Soon, the cliff before us felt scalable.
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2. "If I order takeout, I can eat half tonight and half tomorrow--that's two meals in one, and it actually saves me both money and time."
Although takeout has never been a huge part of my life, I have a lot of sympathy for this kind of magical thinking because I can't count the amount of times I've thought it was "worth it" to buy coffee or a snack when I could easily have packed the rest of my morning's coffee into a thermos, grabbed an apple and put a few slices of cheddar into a Tupperware. The bottom line is this: No prepared drink or food is ever ever going to be cheaper than homemade, no matter how much time you save, no matter how you slice and divvy it.
3. "The cost of an ATM fee (three bucks) is less than the cost of my time running around to find my own bank."
Once you've talked yourself into the fiscal soundness of saving a few minutes at the ATM in McDonald's (which is not your bank!), you will justify the cost over and over. To turn your "calculation" on its head, consider this estimate from an organization called ATM Experts, which is trying to sell the idea of owning an ATM to business owners: "So let's figure that you have a total of 300 people a day coming through your doors, and let's say that you are charging a $2.75 surcharge per valid withdrawal...Take the middle road that 4 percent of the people that see the ATM machine will use it. Then you can count on...a minimum of 360 transactions per month at $2.75 per valid withdrawal. That comes out to $990 per month or a total of $11,880 per year. All that from one ATM machine at one location." So...someone is making money while you lose money. Sound like a good reason to take the extra five minutes to drive to your bank?
4. "I'll wear it forever..."
I met a woman at a book reading a few months ago who told me a story that really made an impression: She said that when the recession began, she told herself that for six months she would not shop for anything but the bare essentials. Everything she thought she "needed" she would either try to find a substitute already in her possession or she'd go without. Something truly surprising happened: Every time she thought she "needed" something, she'd go down into her basement--and she would find that thing or something just as good tucked away. We often trick ourselves into buying things by saying "I'll wear this or use this forever," but we've forgotten to look around and see if we already have something that might work equally well.
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5. "It's good for my marriage or my kids."
I actually feel pangs of sympathy and understanding when I hear this lie because I know how much we all want to make our spouse or kids happy. Yet the truth is that if you can't afford it, you really can't afford it. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul (or from your August budget to pay for a vacation in July) does not make good financial sense. I know you need a break, and so does your family. So here's what I suggest: Turn off your cell phone some Saturday and drive to a nearby park. Bring a picnic packed from home and some books, a blanket, a kite and some gloves and a ball. This is a break everyone deserves, and--even better!--everyone can afford.
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