Consider the following scenario. You are perusing the menu at a restaurant, deciding what to order. The fresh, local salmon in a piquant sauce with sun gold tomatoes and tarragon has your mouth watering. It is $32. You definitely want fish, but immediately conclude that the salmon is simply “too expensive.” No, can’t do that. So you order cod, perfectly respectable, broiled – but plain – at $22. It arrives. It’s OK – but it isn’t what you really wanted.

We’ve all experienced this type of automatic compromise that seems so sensible we accept it as the “right” decision. Such thinking may become an unconscious principle behind our money decisions. This is the smart thing to do. But is it? Why do we so often deny ourselves what we really want?

One obvious answer is that it is about the money. Ten dollars is . . . well, ten dollars. Sometimes it is about the money. Perhaps the preferred choice would push the boundaries of your spending plan. Maybe you had decided ahead of time that you wanted to spend only a certain amount on dinner. There’s nothing wrong with behaving responsibly with money. But what if it’s part of a pattern of always going for the less expensive options? Could it stem from a belief that there will never be enough money?

Denying yourself can become habitual
Denying yourself can become so habitual that you begin to believe you can’t have what you want. Eventually you stop asking yourself what you really want. When you do get asked, “What do you want?” you may find that you don’t really know. And if you do, you “downsize” your dream because you believe there isn’t enough money to have it.

We default to our usual way of dealing with any choice involving money and what we want. It is easy and we seldom think about it. And it is the reason that I emphasize bringing awareness and conscious choice to how we handle money.

Recently I’ve encountered people who have experienced life threatening illnesses or permanent physical limitations and are struggling to understand the implications of these changes. They tend not to see how they now have the opportunity to make different choices, and instead, continue living exactly as they have been. Sometimes, again, it is about money, what it means to them, and the belief that there isn’t enough.

Possibilities your mind won’t let you see?
When faced with disruptions in life circumstances, it can be especially helpful to seek guidance from a financial planner. There are always possibilities and choices that your mind might not let you see because it is stuck in the same mode of thinking . . . “There isn’t enough money,” “my spouse will never go along with this,” or any number of the usual thoughts that stop you from taking action.

While the decision of what to order in the restaurant may seem relatively insignificant, it may highlight a way of being, not just with money. Deferring always to the less expensive (and perhaps, less desirable) choice limits the possibilities in your life. When something life-changing occurs, what may be needed most is a way out of your default mode of decision-making.

Opening the door to getting what you want
Often, looking at small choices can help us see a bigger pattern in our lives. Being aware of this can open the door to getting what you want in life and having a healthier relationship with your money. While it is true that you can’t always get what you want, sometimes you can. Next time try ordering what you really want, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.

Consciously evaluating your choices and making sensible tradeoffs is an essential part of responsibly managing your money. Sometimes spending that extra ten dollars can be worth every penny! Spending money on what matters most is the closest you get to money buying happiness.