Can't afford it? Or it's not in the budget?

I want you to try an exercise with me today. Take a deep breath, get out of your chair, and touch your toes.

Whoops, sorry - not that kind of exercise. Phew! You can stay sitting right where you are for this one. Sit, close your eyes, and take a deep breath (deep breathing is required for all kinds of exercises, it’s a rule).

Think about something that’s out of reach for you, financially.

This could be something grand, like a big international vacation - or something more mundane but also important, like getting a new couch when your old one kicks the bucket or funding your emergency savings account.

When you think of this thing, I bet you think and even say out loud, “I can’t afford that.” And you’re not wrong, per se. It’s not something you have the room to pay for given your other obligations. Unless you stopped eating! Which, technically, you could do, but’d die? Probably not a great plan!

OK, exercise part B. I want you to close your eyes again, take that deep breath (here we go again!) and think of that exact same thing that you want to do or buy or save for, that feels like it’s out of your reach. Now I want you to imagine someone asks you about it, like, “Hey, Marissa - when are you going on that big trip to Scotland you always talk about?”

And instead of you saying “I can’t afford it” like you always do, I want you to say, out loud, “It’s not in my budget.”

Did you feel it?

Did you feel that small, barely perceptible shift? Did you hear yourself whisper that tiny “...yet.” at the end?

When you think of something as being unaffordable to you, it is because of outside factors. It’s because you don’t get paid enough, or because of your student loans, or because of your huge stack of financial obligations that mean you can barely afford to keep shoes on your kids.

All of these outside factors are real, and they all impact your abilities to spend money on things that you’d rather spend money on. But when you say “I can’t afford it”, you’re saying (to the world, to yourself) that that’s the end of the story. Outside factors rule your world. Your money is just something that happens to you. Nothing to be done. Nothing to see here. Move along. SIGH.

But when, instead, you give your brain different words (not in the budget vs. can’t afford it), you shift your thinking just a little bit. If something’s not in the budget - who decides what’s in the budget?

Oh. Right. I do.

Suddenly, it doesn’t feel as out of your control, does it? If you put those things in your budget that makes you feel like you can’t afford the thing you really want, then who’s to say you can’t take those things out?

That’s not to discount the difficulty of some of those changes. Generally speaking, we all require shelter, food, safety - and those things cost money. But you might find, with some shift in thinking, that the exact ways you’re currently going about obtaining those things (or more likely - things like trying out the new restaurant in town or putting your kids into private school) are the actual things keeping you from doing the things you really want.

And you know what?

You might decide that that’s exactly how you want it.

After doing this exercise, and realizing that your choices* are the reason that thing is not in your budget (today) - you might decide that that’s great! Put it that way, and spending time with your friends enjoying new restaurants and living it up in this city is exactly how you want to spend your money, and is, in fact, more important to you than the thing you thought you wanted so badly.

But if you don’t? If you realize you want to shift something - then begin. Put it in your budget. Put $5 towards it. See how it feels. See what has to shift to make that a reality. See what suddenly feels less important.

What do you think? Did this help you shift the way you think about your financial goals and dreams? Tell me in the comments!

*This is not intended as a way of discounting the impacts of institutional systems that make changing your life circumstances difficult, the glass ceiling, racial disparities, or the crushing burdens of student loans or of the sandwich generation, but simply as a way to help you see the agency you do have in your own life and finances. You may not be able to change all factors, but you can begin to change something.