Inspiration for the title of today’s blog came from a segment of the Suze Orman show called “Can I Afford it?” By the way, it’s a great show for those who want to learn something about basic personal finance issues. Another really good show for this purpose is called “Till Debt Do We Part.” Check them out. OK, now for the blog…
In today’s economy, millions of people are out of work and rightly worry about how to get by. And we’ve written about coping with money worries in previous blogs. If you have experienced serious financial setbacks, I recommend that you read books on the topic, watch a few of those television shows noted above, and do everything you can to address the problem. Sometimes that will mean making serious sacrifices or major adjustments in lifestyle. Economic conditions right now aren’t pretty and they don’t show signs of making rapid improvement in the near future.
However, today’s blog is about people who are actually doing fairly well. They are bringing in a decent income and getting by. But they feel that they never have enough. In fact, my wife (Dr. Laura Smith, coauthor of this blog series) and I were at a friend’s house the other day and they noted that their daughter was unable to afford the co-pays for speech therapy for their granddaughter. Our friend empathized with her daughter and was sorely tempted to provide help.
We would have felt similarly, but we knew a few things about their daughter. For one, she had recently gone on a vacation to the Caribbean (I never have figured out how to pronounce Caribbean the “right” way, but I guess it doesn’t matter for a blog!). For another, this young woman had spent lots of money on things for her and her husband recently. Something felt missing from this picture.
Upon reflection, I figured out the missing piece of the puzzle. Values and priorities. Our friend’s daughter certainly could afford the co-pays for her daughter. All she had to do was take the items she had felt she “needed,” (but didn’t really) and put the money into an emergency fund. Vacations, cars, home improvements, new furniture, fancy devices, and more could have been put off.
The truth is, for all too many people, “I can’t afford it,” means that they value luxuries and self-indulgence more than other things. Then they feel justified in turning to friends or relatives to help them on more urgent items. When those friends and relatives pitch in, they merely encourage (or “enable”) these misplaced priorities to continue.
If you find yourself in the “I Can’t Afford It” mode or in the “Tempted to Help” position, step back. Ask yourself if the values and priorities have seemed reasonable. Then you can know if you really “can’t afford it” and/or if giving help looks like the right thing to do.
Photo from taxbrackets.org, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.