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The Six-Word Phrase You Must Master to Improve Your Finances

To control your spending, instead of it controlling you, release the negativity and repeat after me: I cannot afford this right now.

Living within your means is about budgeting your purchases, and having the courage to be honest about what you can and can't afford.

Living within your means is about budgeting your purchases, and having the courage to be honest about what you can and can't afford.

Is gaining and keeping control over your financial health and resources a priority for you? Well, you can’t achieve that goal without learning a key phrase when making choices with your money. Actually, it’s just six words: I cannot afford this right now.

Unfortunately, too many people will do anything to avoid this phrase, including using credit cards to spend money they don’t have (which is actually abusing them). To many, the words “I can’t afford this right now” comes with negative thoughts such as, “I am poor,” “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m not deserving.” Many of us will do anything to avoid those negative emotions, which is why advertisers routinely appeal to our senses of entitlement and/or deprivation to get us to spend money even when it’s not in our best interest to do so.

You must reject that thinking. If you allow your self esteem to be determined by what you can or can’t afford at any given time (or worse, by what you want other people to believe you can afford), you’ll never be in control of your finances, or your own life for that matter. Your worth as a human being has nothing to do with what you can or cannot buy. You would do well to distance yourself from those who judge you in that way. If you have to spend your way to self-respect, you’ll never be able to afford it.

Controlling your spending and living within your means is not about deprivation or your worth as a human being. It’s about prioritization and timing. It means being honest with yourself about whether you actually have the funds to make a purchase, and taking the time to determine if the product or service in question is wanted or needed. And assuming that you decide you really do want or need to make the purchase, it also means taking the time to determine when you should do so, always understanding that right this instant is rarely in your best interest. In fact, the three most important words in this critical phrase are: not right now.

“I cannot afford this right now” does not mean you can’t have it. It means taking the time to prioritize the purchase within your spending plan, otherwise known as a budget. Remember, the ability to delay gratification is a key characteristic of effective wealth builders. Again, we’re not saying no. We’re saying not right now. So what do you do next?

First, always give yourself a cooling off period of at least 24 hours before purchasing an item you want to buy that is not budgeted for. Never worry about missing a sale or special price, no matter what the salesperson or ad says. There will always be another sale. And in the age of global mass retail, it is virtually guaranteed that the item will be available later, and likely at a lower price. Even if the item you saw is gone, you’ll be able to find a comparable product, even a better one, maybe even at a better price. After thinking about it, you may decide you don’t need the purchase at all. You might be surprised at how often people buy something on impulse that they “absolutely must have”, only to discover they already have it or something just like it already at home.

If, after the cooling-off period, you decide you still want the item, pull out your budget. Does the purchase fit into your spending plan? If not, you have options. You can forgo spending on something else in your budget, using those funds to make the purchase. You can postpone the purchase until you have the extra income to cover it. Or you can save toward the purchase, putting aside money on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis.

The point of embracing and removing the negative emotions from the phrase, I cannot afford this right now, is to train yourself to stop impulse buying and to plan, time and prioritize your purchases. You must do this if you are to control your spending, instead of it controlling you.

This blog is dedicated to my thoughts about money, entrepreneurship, leadership, mentorship and other things I need to get #OffMyChest. Follow me on Twitter at @AlfredEdmondJr.

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  • Pepper Miller

    Great article and very timely. This is speaking to me! It’s so easy to overspend during Christmas. A gift for them, a gift for me; a gift for them and one for me. You are right, not being deprived. It takes discipline and telling yourself the truth…. I can’t afford this now.

    • http://twitter.com/AlfredEdmondJr Alfred Edmond Jr

      The reality is, by being honest and unemotional about what you can’t afford now–in this instant–you are better able to plan to acquire the things you really want later, without wrecking your finances to get them. Thanks for taking the time to weigh in, Pepper!