25 Comments

  1. This is huge and I am right there with you. It is really hard to go from “Can I afford this?” to “Is this worth the money for me?” We’re raised to ask the former. Commercials get us to ask the former. The people around us ask the former. It is hard to break out of that trap, but super necessary if we want to build any long-lasting financial security.

  2. Sarah

    I have also been told so many times what I can and cannot afford by friends and family. This was honestly a concern I had when we bought our house recently and I told my husband, “oh no, people are going to think we’re rich now.” Friends who don’t budget themselves seem to think they know how our finances work and expect us to re-arrange our financial priorities to meet their needs. If you find a nice way to tell friends (that you want to stay friends with) that yes you have the money for it, but you can’t “afford” it and it’s pretty rude for them to assume that…. let me know!

    • That’s so frustrating, Sarah. Unfortunately, my homerun swing in these situations is usually silence…and then writing about it in the awkward series on my blog!

  3. You can afford it seems like such an odd thing for someone else to say about a good or service for someone else. So many people don’t even seem to have a good grasp on what they can actually afford, much less on what other folks can afford to do. Is it that they want us to spend money in order to validate their choices and opinions?

    I’m not sure, but I do realize “I can’t afford it” probably isn’t the right language choice for us. I try to couch my refusals in terms of “we haven’t budgeted for that right now,” “I’m saving money for X,” or “I don’t think that works for us right now.” It reflects the fact that we’ve made some other choices that work better for us (and that way I don’t have to defend the choices we have made, like beach trips.)

  4. Karen

    I heard “you can afford it” more commonly prior to 2008 crash. Now I find people are more circumspect, at least those that run in my circle.

    I do see people commenting that having a teacher’s pension upon retirement as an excuse not to invest. They’ll say, (inlcuding family members!) well you’ve got a pension, so you don’t have the need to save like we do! Yikes, that is some dangerous thinking imo!

    • Oh, jeepers! That is a terrible mentality. I would love to be able to bank on my pension, but it’s just not a gamble that I am willing to take!

  5. This post brought two related things to mind. First is the quote from Paula Pant (from Afford Anything), “You Can Afford Anything, but Not Everything”. I like the notion here. If there is something that you truly desire, not just in passing, but actually want, you can afford it. But you need to use judgment and discretion. Life is too short to say “no” to everything.

    Second is a documentary I watched called “Minimalistism” that really drove home the truth that more stuff does not equal more happiness. I think there is a balance here that most struggle to find.

    • You are right on, Oldster! There’s balance in both of your points, and I think people (myself included!) generally struggle with that.

  6. The “I can afford it” mentality burned me early in life. Sure, I could “afford” that $1,000 stereo I bought because I put it on my credit card at 19% interest. If I had to pay cash for it, however, I couldn’t have come close to affording it. And I certainly could “afford” that Jeep I bought because I took out a five-year car note. If I had to take out a three-year car note, it would have been out of reach. Damn! If this blog had been around 25 years ago, I could have avoided a lot of financial heartache. I love the way your mind works, Penny. She Picks Up Pennies Rule One: When you’re buying something, ask yourself if you really need the item in the first place. She Picks Up Pennies Rule Two: If you really need something, you shouldn’t need a credit card or a note with an exceedingly long term to pay for it.

  7. I think it’s ridiculous that someone should tell you what you can afford when they have no idea what your finances entail, and it’s not really any of their business anyway. One thing I can afford that I’m not spending on is the MLB Extra Innings package. It’s a cable TV package that would allow me to watch all the baseball games, including my favorite team which is not local. But it’s $200 for the season and I find that excessive, especially when I already get some of the games included in my regular subscription. Some things are just not worth it.

    • Ooof. $200 does seem like a lot! Though I think I paid $20 or so to watch one game of the Cubs in the World Series last year. We were entertaining guests. And the freaking CUBS were in the WORLD SERIES.

      I figure it was a one-time expense.

  8. Um, can I just go back to the “three month VACATION” comment?!!!??? Hopefully from someone who’s never lived with a newborn?!!??? Okay, I’m better now. 🙂 Totally with you on the “you can afford it” comments. We hear it a lot from my family, and it’s really easy to be sucked in to that mentality. I like the idea of making your commenter think, with your question, “But should we?” We’re all bombarded with that message so much from marketers, that and “you deserve it” that it’s hard to push back. Good reminder that we must!

    • To be honest, it’s part of why I blog anonymously. It makes me so uncomfortable when people guess at our money that I think it would be even worse if they felt they had more insight. Maybe I’m wrong, though!

  9. kddomingue

    I remember someone saying “just because we CAN do a thing doesn’t mean that we SHOULD do the thing” in a conversation once. I don’t remember what the conversation was about or who made the remark or the occasion where it was made. But the comment itself has stayed with me though everything surrounding it has faded away. I have tat comment running through my head a lot lately.

  10. kddomingue

    I remember someone saying “just because we CAN do a thing doesn’t mean that we SHOULD do the thing” in a conversation once. I don’t remember what the conversation was about or who made the remark or the occasion where it was made. But the comment itself has stayed with me though everything surrounding it has faded away. I have that comment running through my head a lot lately.

  11. As a physician, I deal with this all the time. Anytime I suggest going to a less expensive restaurant or not buying something, my friends will make comments like “But you’re a doctor” or “Did you lose your license or something?”. It’s hard to explain that I’m trying to live somewhat frugally so that I can become financially independent in a reasonable time frame.

    For me, the first step to not buying all the things is reminding myself of what my goals are (FI) and of how spending money is a barrier to those goals. The next, and much harder step, is trying to figure out what spending is worthwhile and what spending is not as valuable as investing the money I save. The latter is a constant struggle and is something that I expect will continue to evolve over the years.

    • Oh, gosh. I bet you get this ALL the time with a high-income profession. I’m sure people make all sorts of assumptions that they would be wise to keep to themselves. Thanks for doing what you do. Medical professionals are so important!

  12. Carolyn

    Yes I have heard the “you can afford it” and “don’t be cheap” lines too many times. My response is ” Yes, I could afford to…but why would I want to waste my money on that?”
    My vehicle is 15 years old, I like it, no car payment. I still have repairs, tires, brakes, etc, but I don’t need the latest model, I have others things I would rather my money go to that are investments to appreciate in value, not lose value rapidly. One lady who was at an event I was at commented my hair was so long, how do I wash it. I told her in the shower with shampoo. She told me it was too long and told me to write down the name of her salon and her stylist to give me a “proper haircut”. I told her I was not interested, my husband does my hair for me and I am very happy with his work. That is when she threw out the dont be cheap, he can afford it line. That is when I told her I want my hair done as I want, not as someone else wants. Why would I waste my money to pay for someone to cut my hair in a manner I don’t want, that is so rude that you would even suggest that. Well she mumbled she was just trying to be “helpful” as she walked away. Well I don’t need someone to be “helpful” by telling me I am being cheap, you can afford it to spend my money on something I do not want or need. So yes, that line is so overused, and it doesn’t change my mind.

    • I am clapping at my computer screen, Carolyn! Good for you! I need some of your sassy and smart responses in my real life.

  13. Like you alluded to in your last line, my response to “you can afford it” is usually “true, but only at the cost of something else.” I got to a place where I could buy things precisely by choosing not to do so.

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