“I can’t afford…” (spoiler alert: it’s a choice)

I had a conversation with my mom this morning, and I was whining about how my front door to my house needs to be either re-framed or replaced. I was annoyed and made the statement “Ugh, this is so annoying, I can’t afford to replace my door.”  Then I immediately retracted. I said, “Well, I can afford to replace my door – I’m just choosing not to so I can go travel this summer.”  We laughed, and I immediately felt better. I was no longer whining, because I knew it was an active choice.

Saying “I can’t afford it” is a huge trigger phrase for me. It comes up a lot when I’m talking with people.  People consistently say “I want to, but that will never happen” or “I can’t afford it”.  And in my head I’m saying “You can, it’s a choice”.  Let me be clear, I’m not dismissing tough choices*. I am not dismissing the idea that sometimes people need to prioritize something like food vs going on vacation to Greece. What I am saying though is that by telling yourself that you are making a CHOICE to do so, you are actually empowering yourself.  I struggled with this for a long time- I always felt like I was “behind” in terms of where I “should” be in life- but reflecting, it was an active choice.  After college I waitressed  and lived with my parents instead of moving to the city (like everyone else) and jumping into a career. Why? So I could save up to take 8 weeks off to backpack across Europe.

I’ve talked with people who say “You’re so lucky, you can go traveling for 2 months… I could never afford that”. These are the same people who get their nails done weekly, drive fancy cars, own huge homes, and… hold your breath on this one… some of you won’t like this…have kids (yes, this is a choice).   Some I’ve talked to also prefer to stay in a fancy hotel rather than consider a hostel or Airbnb.   And you know what- each one of these things is TOTALLY their choice. I’m not judging! I know it sounds like it- but I truly and completely am not. Life is all about priorities. We all choose what we like and prefer to do, and that is 100% ok.  What’s not ok is treating yourself like you’re poor when you’re not.  You 100% COULD travel like me if you really wanted to*.  When we don’t really want to do something, we don’t make it a priority.  The problem is that then our heads get full of this “keeping up with the Kardashian’s Jones’s” idea that I SHOULD be able to afford that AND get my eyebrows waxed, AND have a fancy car, AND have a huge house, with a cleaning lady, AND a pool, AND a lake house, AND go out to dinner, AND send my kids to college, etc ,etc, etc. It’s enough to drive someone crazy.

Life’s full of tough choices- but sometimes we start feeling sorry for ourselves and miss what we have all around us.  If it was your dream to have a family full of kids, and send them all to dance classes, that’s amazing! Go you! Enjoy their little faces, and snuggles!  If you get yourself into a high paying job- and then you only get 2 weeks of vacation a year, celebrate it! Own it! If you busted your butt to buy your first home in the location you want, and it had everything on your “must have” list- that’s amazing! Be thankful!  If you’re in a job that you kinda like, and pays decent enough, but you get a TON of vacation time and flexibility which is great cause you love to travel- celebrate that!

It’s time we get out of our own way, and start realizing that every single thing we do is an active choice. “But Erin, I can’t quit the job I hate. I have a mortgage! I have kids in college!” Well, you can. You’re choosing not to because you want to keep your house, and pay for your kid’s college tuition. It’s not an easy choice, but it’s still a choice. “But Erin, what about the things that are out of my control, like getting married?”  Ohhh boy. Well,  that’s a longer post for another time- so all I can say simply is you may not choice over those things completely, but you do have choice over what you say in your head about those things.  For example- You could say “Boo Hoo, I’m not married, I’ll never get married, I’ll never go on a honeymoon, I’ll never have someone to travel with…”  OR  you could say “Ok, I’m not married. I’d like to be- and maybe that will happen for me, but for now, I’m going to choose to enjoy my life and do the things I still want to do.”   Listen guys, take this from a single woman who has this conversation in her head constantly. It works.  Maybe it was being brought up by a really strong mother (who happened to be married the whole while I was growing up, mind you) but I never, ever, EVER stopped doing something just because someone didn’t want to do it with me.  I travel solo, I go to the movies solo, I go shopping solo and I bought my house solo. Would I prefer to have a travel partner, and someone to share my mortgage with me?  Yeah I would. But guess what, I don’t- and that’s not going to stop me from doing the things I dream of doing.

So. If you want to travel and are constantly telling yourself you can’t, maybe try saying instead, “I would prefer to have my big house than travel. When I’m ready, I will start saving for a trip.”  If you really, truly want to travel around the world, perhaps consider downsizing. Say, “I don’t want to wait for a year of saving to treat myself! I love getting my nails done! When I can afford to do both, then I’ll think about traveling.”

But maybe, just maybe, you could….

Put the money to get your nails done into a fund for traveling. Do “girls nights in” instead of going out. Use coupons.  Cut the cord on cable. Get a family plan for your cell phone. Turn your thermostat down and put on a sweatshirt.  Get a cheaper car. Learn to fix your own sink.  Have a conversation with your children that it’s a priority for them to get a job and start saving for college to help out. Host on Airbnb.  Take a second job. Get a second hand treadmill instead of your gym membership….

Change your mind. Change your priority. Or don’t- that’s totally up to you.

—————

*Let me make a disclaimer here that I fully realize that I am privileged in that I have a  job where I can afford my basic necessities- a house, food, clothes- and that I was born into a middle-upper class family who lived in a safe neighborhood with access to good schools and a value on education.  I am not blind to the fact that there are some people who do NOT have the opportunity to travel like I do-  They may have a sick family member, or work a minimum wage job, or numerous other factors. Please understand that this post talks about prioritizing non-essentials and “wants” **

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