Money-savin’ Mama: Learning to say no, and yes, to spending

Over dinner a couple of months ago, two girlfriends and I ended up in tearful fits of laughter as they teased me for being too cheap to pay the new $7 rental fee for a double stroller at West Acres. We joked that I’d start piling both kids in my single stroller, forever scarring them but paying for their college with the savings.

“It’s funny because it’s true,” my friend Erin sputtered, wiping her eyes.

I wear my “cheap” label proudly, and encourage others to do the same. When someone compliments my shirt, I usually reply by telling them how little I paid for it, or the thrift store where I bought it.

Frugality wasn’t always my forte, though. When I first started working full time, I went out for lunch and an afternoon mocha almost daily, not worrying how quickly that money added up. Then, I faced a jaw-dropping dental bill. I emailed my co-workers and told them I wouldn’t be able to join them for lunches for a while. I couldn’t afford it.

A recent article on Huffington Post Women talked about the difficulty that comes in saying those four words: I can’t afford it. Sources quoted in the piece say we often feel pressured to spend by our peers, and that women especially feel pressured to spend on their appearance.

They suggested having honest discussions with friends and families about your spending limits, and carefully thinking over purchases.

To me, there’s no shame in saying “I can’t afford it,” “it’s not in our budget” or “that’s not a priority for me right now.” It’s standing in your truth, as financial guru Suze Orman challenged readers to do in her 2011 book “The Money Class.”

Racking up credit card debt on unnecessary purchases means you’re pretending to be someone you’re not. It means you haven’t learned to live within your means, and to distinguish your wants from your needs.

However, I’m beginning to realize, being too cheap has its downfalls, too.

I’ve gotten so good at saying no to unnecessary purchases I’ve found it hard to buy things for myself even when funds are available.

I currently have a stack of gift cards that I just can’t seem to bring myself to spend. Because I don’t really “need” anything, I keep telling myself.

One of the gift cards was a bonus from my employer for my 10-year anniversary at The Forum. I was given my choice of merchants, and purposely picked West Acres, as I knew I couldn’t spend it on anything too practical there. No toilet paper, no diapers, no gallons of milk.

But now I’m struggling to splurge. I thought about buying a new outfit for an upcoming wedding, but then remembered the teal dress in my closet that I’ve only worn a couple of times. I could get a pair of killer nude heels but decided I probably wouldn’t wear them that much.

So I’m forcing myself to analyze my wants a little more. What indulgence, within the dollar amount of the gift card, would bring me joy?

I may have to go strolling around West Acres to find it, if I can bring myself to rent that $7 double stroller.

Sherri Richards is a thrifty mom of two and employee of The Forum. She blogs at