Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Budget for some Soda

My sister is a bit of a health food fanatic. I'm more than a bit of a budget fanatic. Kim spends money on what she wants, when she wants. (She'll tell you that's not true, but ignore her. She's in denial.) I eat what I want, when I want. (I'll tell you that's not true, and I'd be right. I'm too cheap to actually buy what I want, unless it's on sale and I have a coupon.)

And so, when we went shopping together recently, our conversation inevitably turned toward our two passions. Cash and cola. Two years ago this month, my husband and I signed up for Financial Peace University, the Dave Ramsey course on how to manage your money. We'd always been good at managing our money, but the housing market crash served us a kick in the gut, as our mortgage was the only thing standing between me and staying home with my babies. We decided to get some serious advice, and make whatever tough decisions were necessary in order to meet our family values. The Dave Ramsey course saved our financial lives. So, like those in a lifeboat watching others on a sinking ship, we share our story with those who might be drowning.

My sister isn't drowning. She's on the deck of the Titanic... but instead of playing the somber violin as the ship goes down, she's two-stepping with her fingers flying across the fiddle. Granted, she is in a unique position. Her husband is in school, and in less than two years he'll be a doctor. That's when she'll really start to worry about money. "After all, it's hard to be worried about money when you don't have any." (Says her.)

Choosing a place for lunch was a compromise. I am on a very strict budget, and choose to spend my money in categories other than dining out... so I wanted fast food or low priced option. Kim didn't care what it cost, as long as it wasn't dripping in grease, served in a white carb wrapping, or have unpronouncable ingredients shortened into initials. We found ourselves at a bakery that served fresh sandwiches and salads, and Kim offered to pay for the meal. I told her I had budgeted for lunch (she loves when I say things like that) and despite her protests, I gave her five dollars from my wallet.

Over lunch, we discussed the health merits of her low carb lifestyle. As we sipped our water, we talked about our passions. My sister is very adamant that soda is terrible for you, and should be avoided at all costs. I drink a soda almost every day.

After lunch, we began looking for the perfect dress she needed for an upcoming function. As we walked through the mall, I found myself straying toward the altar of Saint Arbucks. I told my sister I couldn't remember the last time I'd had a coffee from Starbucks. She told me, "Go ahead, get one - I'll wait." Of course, I made my "budget face" and told her that I "couldn't afford it". I've been trying to get out of the habit of saying that, as we both knew very well that I could afford it. What I need to say is "I don't have the money... for that." She still encouraged me to get one, and even offered to pay for it.

"Kim!" I said, disgusted once again at her ability to spend money she doesn't have. "Would you stop it?"

"What?" she asked. "It's only a few bucks for a coffee. It's not a big deal!"

And that's when it clicked. It was a big deal. This is exactly what makes it so difficult for people in financial trouble to dig themselves out. "Kim, if I had told you that I wanted to buy a soda, would you have offered to pay for it?" "No!" she said. "Well, think of it like this: you see the value in making healthy food choices, and you certainly wouldn't encourage me to buy a soda. That's your passion. I feel just as strongly about us being responsible for our financial health as you do about us being responsible for our physical health."

I think a light came on for both of us in that moment. We each have a passion and we are willing to make sacrifices for it. She doesn't eat a lot of carbs, even though she enjoys them. I don't spend my money without a thoughtful plan for each dollar, even though it might be enjoyable.

We found the dress that we had been looking for (on clearance at half off!) and headed back to her house. We had a fantastic time talking, shopping, and just re-connecting. As I was leaving, my arms were filled with items to put in my car. She took that opportunity to tuck a note in my back pocket. "Kim!" I protested, "Did you just put that five dollars back in my pocket???" She smiled at me and said, "I love you. Now go buy yourself a soda."

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