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Is It All Right To
Have Nice Things?

(or why I have an expensive briefcase)

By Keith Rawlinson
Volunteer Budget Counselor

In my financial counseling sessions, I spend most of my time teaching people how to get out of debt, save, follow a budget, control spending and not overspend.  In one particular counseling sessions, the man I was counseling seemed hesitant and doubtful about the information I was giving him.  Maybe I was going crazy, but it looked as though each time I taught him one of my financial concepts, he would get a confused look on his face and then quickly glance over at the briefcase I use to carry all of my counseling supplies and paperwork.

Well, it turns out I wasn't crazy.  He really was looking over at my briefcase.  My briefcase is a rich brown with brass hardware and built in combination locks on each of its two latches.  Covering most of the front of the briefcase is a beautiful, hand-tooled leather panel.  The hand-tooled design is exquisitely done in an outdoor theme.  Carved into the leather are three-dimensional carvings of leaves, acorns, twigs, etc.  In very large letters in the middle of the design my initials are carved in a gorgeous, three-dimensional scrolling script.  Granted, it is a fairly expensive and very, very nice briefcase, but I didn't think it deserved such attention from the man I was counseling.  Then finally, toward the very end of our counseling session, it came out.  As we finished up our session, he got a stern look on his face and said "That's an awfully nice briefcase for someone who's supposed to be good with his money."

It turns out that as I was teaching him the financial concepts that make people debt-free and wealthy, he felt I was being hypocritical for "wasting" money on such a nice briefcase.  I ended up extending our financial counseling session a bit longer so I could explain to him why I had such a nice briefcase and the implications of...

Having nice things.

The mistake he made was one I see quite often:  He thought that getting out of debt, budgeting, saving and being careful with every penny meant always living like you were broke.  In other words, he thought that if someone is good with their money, they should never spend any money they don't have to.  What he didn't understand, until I explained it to him, is that people should live like they are broke while they are broke, so they never have to live like that again.  People shouldn't buy things they don't absolutely need and shouldn't buy nice things (or expensive briefcases) while they are deeply in debt and financially stressed.

But, once we are out of debt, living on a budget and have money put away for emergencies, we now have some extra money available and can start doing some fun things and buying some nice stuff.  So, why do I have an expensive briefcase?  Because I wanted one and...

I can afford it!

That's really what it all comes down to.  We should live like we're broke while we're broke so that we can get out of debt, save and never again have to live like we're broke.  The late Larry Burkett of  Crown Financial once said:

 "If you'll do now what other people won't, you'll be able to do later what other people can't."

Dave Ramsey, who has a national radio show about personal finances, put it this way:

"If you'll live like no one else, later you can live like no one else."

They are both saying the same thing:  
If you will do the things most people aren't willing to do such as live on a budget, get out of debt, save and invest, you will eventually get to the point that you'll have the extra money to do things those other people can't afford to do.

There have been many times that people in my life couldn't understand how my family could be unable to spend money to go out to eat, or have to stop buying groceries because our food money for the month is already spent, and then buy a car, go on a nice vacation, or buy a horse (my wife's idea).  Well, it's simple, we had spent all the money in our entertainment budget for that month, so we couldn't go out to eat again until the next month.  We had already spent all of our grocery money for the month, so we couldn't buy any more groceries until the next month.  But, we hadn't spent the money set aside for cars, vacations or horses, so we were able to go out and buy those things.  That's all there is to it: the power of being out of debt and living on a budget.  Once you are out of debt and not broke, you can start living like you're out of debt and not broke!  If you try to do it before that time, then you will most likely always be broke and struggling to make the payments on stuff you couldn't afford and didn't really need.

How to know if you can afford it.

How do you know if you can afford something?  Simple, if you have already saved up the money for something and can pay cash without depleting your emergency savings, then you can probably afford it.  Keep this in mind--if you have to borrow money for something, then you can't afford it!  And don't forget that using a credit card is just a form of borrowing money.  The whole purpose of credit is  to allow you to buy something you do not have the money for.  The only time I advocate buying by borrowing is for a home, and then only if you get the right kind of mortgage, work to pay it off early, and make sure you have budgeted for, and can afford, the payments and all the extra expenses associated with owning a home.

In conclusion...

Do I live like I'm rich?  Certainly not.  Quite simply I am not rich.  

Do I live like I'm wealthy?  Nope, because I am not mathematically wealthy yet.  

Do I live like I am out of debt and have extra money I can afford to spend?  Absolutely!  Now that I'm out of debt and no longer broke, I no longer live like I'm broke.

So, what it all comes down to is this:

Live like you're broke while you are broke.  Live on a budget, get out of debt, have savings.  Get yourself to the point that you are no longer financially stressed.  Get to the point that you can afford to pay cash for the things you want and need.  Get to the point that you can have some nice things simply because you want them and can afford them.  It is OK to have nice things, but only when you can afford them.

So there it is:

I have a high-quality, expensive briefcase because I'm out of debt and can afford it!

Please know that all of the thoughts, information, suggestions and techniques given on this site are nothing more than the author's opinion on the matter being addressed.  Do further research before making any decisions.

This article copyright 2007 by Keith C. Rawlinson (Eclecticsite.com).  All rights reserved.

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