How much can you afford to spend on something you want? That depends on how you define “afford,” and many paths to financial ruin begin by redefining that word.
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As personal finance blog Millennial Money Man points out, the most ideal definition of what you can afford is “what you can pay cash for right now.” However, many of us have to fudge this definition to get by. When you buy a car or a house, your definition becomes “I can afford the monthly payments.” Credit cards might convince you that the definition is “I have enough space before I hit my credit limit.” Every time the definition of the word “afford” gets farther away from the cash you have on hand, though, the easier it is to screw yourself over financially in the long run:
The word “afford” has really put people my age into financial trouble early. It’s a pretty innocent word, but can handcuff you in debt as fast as you can sign your name to a piece of paper or swipe a card. I’m terrified of the word, and I think you should be too. Anytime you are told that you can “afford” something, you are being lied to.
Of course, the author goes on to point out that sometimes you can’t help paying for something you don’t necessarily have the cash for (homes and cars, being chief examples). Even responsible financial decisions can begin with going into some amount of debt. However, it’s always a riskier move than paying cash. The next time you’re tempted to say you can afford something that you can’t pay out of pocket for right now, respond with a little suspicion. The word “afford” isn’t always to be trusted.