Can’t Versus Won’t in Finances

Can't Versus Won't in FinanceNo one actually lives like that
. It’s impossible to retire early. Sure, anyone can say those things, but you’re not actually doing that. The amount of vitriol at the bottom of significant savings or early retirement posts on sites like Yahoo Finance could give the Fashion Police on E! some serious trolling competition. It is easy to dismiss comments like that, but once the barbs are peeled pack, many of the caustic remarks veil a similar sentiment: It’s not that I can’t, I simply won’t make that commitment.

Ending the Can’t Mentality

For a long time, I doled out excuses like a prolific Pez dispenser: I’d like to save more money, but we have no furniture. Eventually, we will live on one paycheck once we get ourselves a little more established. People who save half of their incomes aren’t trying to gut a house.

In a lot of ways, those statements are true. Moving into a new home–especially if it is a first home and you don’t have things like a bed–is expensive. Tackling renovation projects make homeownership even more costly. I could very easily continue to make those statements to this day.

But I don’t. During one particularly frustrating phone call home, my mom asked me an unanswerable question: “What’s your rush?” A million thoughts clouded my mind, but nothing came out of my mouth. Why was I rushing? What did it matter if our guest bedrooms sat empty? Who would care if there weren’t wall hangings or end tables in every room?

Suddenly, I was given a chance to refine my mindset. Instead of trying to accomplish everything at once, I would prioritize. Not only would devising this plan of attack make the task of renovations less overwhelming, but it also gave Mr. P and I a chance to outline our values and decide what really mattered to us as homeowners. With slowing down our new reality, we were earning more than we were spending and started earmarking funds for long-term savings, a new porch, a new A/C system, and so on. Once I took the can’t option off the table, I found a way to make my savings goal happen.

Realizing and Accepting the Won’ts

There are lots of things that I am willing to do to live a more frugal lifestyle. Sometimes, I press right up against the cheap box, but there are some lines that I am simply unwilling to cross. Sharing floss, taking napkins ketchup everything that isn’t nailed down from McDonald’s, showering together to use one another’s shampoo suds as body wash. Staged or not, I will never pretend to be an Extreme Cheapshake.

There are more reasonable things that I am unwilling to do as well. The heat setting never drops lower than 66 degrees when we are home. Organic produce stays on our grocery lists. I leave my hair highlighting up to the professionals.*

I could cut bigger corners and employ more cost-saving measures. But I won’t. As much as I relish the idea of financial independence in my future, I also value the present even more. Today is where our lives are currently playing out, so we have found a way to articulate our day-to-day living with our future hopes and dreams. By establishing what I am willing to sacrifice and what I value too dearly, I have made sure that the won’ts in my life are born of purpose, not habit.

Changing the Don’t Know

It is easy to be dismissive of what we do not understand. Early retirement and frugal living seem like alien concepts when juxtaposed with Black Friday advertisements and American consumer debt statistics. Understandably, people want to disregard those lifestyles as viable options. Once written off, they are no longer possibilities passing by or opportunities already missed. On a deeper level, those lifestyles really are not viable options without the knowledge that goes with them.** Perhaps even more important that identifying the won’ts of the world is targeting our personal gaps in knowledge. If you know where you do not feel surefooted, then you know where to place your focus.

The next time you hear yourself say that you can’t do something, take pause. Are you actually unable to do something, are you simply unwilling, or do you not know how? Unwillingness to do something could underscore your priorities. But if you are unwilling to do anything differently, you cannot expect much to change. Being unaware of something might point to a lack of knowledge. But that lack of knowledge is not permanent as long as you are willing to learn.

*Mostly because the blonde photograph on that grocery store hair dye box is not the same blonde that comes out of the bottle. I was the original Carrot Top, and my mom has school photos to prove it.

**Of course, this is when I start wringing my hands and gnashing my teeth at the commenters. If you don’t know how to do something, read the blog before bashing the blogger.

So Tell Me…Do you have any won’ts? How do you combat the don’t knows?


Disease Called Debt
Can’t Versus Won’t in Finances

14 thoughts on “Can’t Versus Won’t in Finances

  1. It takes some soul-searching to look at can’t vs won’t Penny. Some of my won’ts are, I won’t cut my own hair (but I will highlight it). I won’t stop using paper towels. I used to think it was weird to wear clothing more than once before washing but now I’ll put a shirt back on a hanger to air out and wear it again later in the week. I won’t buy diet coke (unless on sale) since the cheap Aldi diet cola tastes just as good. I won’t buy dish-washing detergent since I make my own, BUT I will buy laundry detergent because my home-made version is lacking.

    We will be quitting our jobs next year so what I don’t know is how it’s all going to play out. We think we’ve got everything covered, but we won’t know for sure until we get there. We’r tracking our expenses, planning for Obamacare and to downsize our home. We’re older, so it wouldn’t be as easy to go back to work if we find we need to, but I really don’t see that being the case. We have enough faith in ourselves to live with a little uncertainty. But quote me on that October 10th, 2016 (the first Monday after we quit).

  2. Recognizing your “wont’s” is incredibly important! To me, there is only so much you can scale back on before starting to feel a bit of deprivation. I take on the “don’t knows” by learning. Always staying curious. If I can’t figure out, I’ll be sure to find someone who has/is going to accomplish that something. What’s fascinating to me is how people judge before they even learn about the unknown. We can do almost anything, but by adding the “cant’s” and the elements that restrict us – that’s when we feel limited. Breaking out of those barriers is surely important to recognize your “wont’s” and your “don’t knows!”

  3. I so appreciate this post. Like you, I am unwilling to keep the heat at 55 or share floss, or visit a McDonalds for any reason. I really like the distinction you make about unable vs. unwilling (vs. un-knowing), as well as your focus on the fact that “right now” really actually *is* important. Like, yeah, I have a ton of student loans, and that’s a fact, but it doesn’t mean I have to exist in what would feel to me like a state of self-punishment until the glorious day when they are paid off and I can finally go and live my life.
    I’m willing to eat rice and beans, and use the library instead of buying books. In fact, I actually like doing those things. However, I’m not willing to wear mittens inside my own house. And that’s just how it is.

  4. “It is easy to be dismissive of what we do not understand. Early retirement and frugal living seem like alien concepts when juxtaposed with Black Friday advertisements and American consumer debt statistics.”

    That statement is too true. It’s mainly easier for people to dismiss because they choose not to understand, which is what ends up getting them into trouble financially. Love this post.

  5. I certainly have some won’ts…I think we all do. My biggest won’t is that I won’t skimp on healthcare and unfortunately that’s a pretty large expense in my household. That’s not to say I won’t look for reasonable ways to save on healthcare though! And there are just plain selfish won’ts as well, things that make life comfortable for me whether that’s a certain level of heat or an occasional meal out. But won’ts can be flexible…they can change if the situation changes. Can’ts aren’t flexible at all and that’s why I agree it’s important to go from a can’t to a won’t mindset.

  6. Great post!

    For ages I said I couldn’t do a lot of things but as soon as I put my mind to it I really could! I have my things I definitely won’t do – and like you – although I am intrigued by the extreme cheapskates on tv I am not going to use wash cloths instead of toilet roll or go without heinz ketchup! But I will wear 6 layers inside instead of putting on heating!

    I suppose it’s about knowing our own limits and what we can put up with and learn to understand! The haters will always be there – but who’ll be laughing when we’re retired at 40 and they’re doing their 9-5 in their cubical til they’re 67? 🙂

    Natalya x

  7. I won’t set the thermostat lower than 70. I won’t quit giving to my church or other charities, I won’t skimp on healthcare (though the way I pay for it may be changing soon),. I have no trouble driving an older car or living with old furniture.

  8. I’m really careful with the don’t knows because in the past things I never thought I could accomplish, have been accomplished! Such as paying off my car so quickly, making it through 3 months of unemployment without a hitch. Live evolves so I try to keep my mind open to the possibilities.

  9. I was just thinking about creating a post on this same idea! I won’t skimp on a few things, but I know I *could* if a situation absolutely required it. If I have a “don’t know,” I try to approach it head on. Anyone can do anything for a month and usually that’s enough time for me decide which category it falls in!

  10. “Showering together to use one another’s shampoo suds as body wash” – I’ve not heard that one before! Thankfully, I’ve never had to resort to quite so frugal a method before myself.

    My “won’ts” have changed over the last few years. When I was heavily paying off debt, I put my finances before my health in some ways – eating cheap budget meals that were full of carbs and not much protein, in order to save money. I always made sure my little girl ate properly though. Now, I wouldn’t sacrifice a decent meal to save money. I do try to save money in this area but I also spend a little extra to make sure it’s healthy too.

    I’m quite happy to give up expensive TV packages but I won’t do without Netflix. I won’t cut my own hair and I won’t give up my expensive foundation. I don’t spend money in beauty salons though and have a mobile hairdresser who is the cheapest in the area. I’ve found compromises on the the things I won’t give up I guess.

  11. I feel like my entire life experience has been “can’t versus won’t” when I tell people about how I live, my career choices, etc. I get a lot of “that sounds nice, but I can’t do that.” You literally can. You don’t want to, and that’s fine, but there is definitely a difference.

  12. My five second pitch for the cold thermostat: it’s not even about saving money (well, okay, it’s a bit about that), it’s about toughening up and realizing how adaptable we all are. We started keeping our house cold because we were shocked by our first heating bill, but as you may know, we are not extreme cheapskates in the least, and we’ve only stuck with the cold house because it makes us feel more awake and alive and self-sufficient. Plus, it makes the bed with its mattress pad heater feel like heaven by contrast. 🙂

    I think you’re completely right that the haters on those sites just aren’t willing to learn, or to recognize their own deal-breakers. And the crazy thing is, you don’t have to be super frugal in every case to retire early, you just have to be willing to question things. As we and many others like us have realized, it’s not actually that hard to save for early retirement, it just takes some re-prioritization. (And, oh yeah, it helps to understand math and believe in compound interest!)

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