Is It All Right To
Have Nice Things?
(or why I have an expensive briefcase)
By Keith Rawlinson
Volunteer Budget Counselor
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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
Do I live like I'm rich? Certainly not. Quite simply I am not rich.
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
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!