“What can I afford?”
Sometimes it feels like you can’t afford much of anything. I’ve been using the phrase, “I can’t afford that,” for so long that it’s become a tough habit to break — even when I can afford something.
Now that I study personal finance for a living, I’ve learned how detrimental it is to use the word “afford” all of the time. So, if you find yourself asking “What can I afford?” more often than not, listen up: That phrase is doing you more harm than good.
Getting to know your money mindset
When you think about money, it’s easy to forget that you actually have some control over it. And if the phrase “What can I afford?” runs through your head every time you want to buy something, then you’re relinquishing that control.
But you don’t have to.
Your money mindset dictates your money decisions. Therefore, getting to know your money mindset can help you make the best decisions possible. I’m talking decisions that put you in the driver’s seat.
There are a few different money mindsets, but let’s dig into those that will most likely lead to the usage of the phrase, “what can I afford.”
Dangerous commonalities between some money mindsets
The money mindsets to watch out for are:
- scarcity mindsets
- powerlessness mindsets
- mindsets that make you think more money will fix your problems
So what do these mindsets have in common? When it comes to improving your financial situation, they remove the burden from you.
Scarcity mindsets and powerlessness mindsets can lead to a feeling of hopelessness.
“I can’t afford that. And who knows if I ever will be able to.”
The more money will fix problems mindset can lead to thinking the only solution is more money, but if you don’t have it now then you can’t do anything about it.
“I can’t afford that. But maybe later I can if I get a raise/bonus/tax return.”
If you have these mindsets, you aren’t thinking about how you can change the situation. You’re either thinking about how it might never change or you’re hoping for a time when outside circumstances might lead to change.
Using the psychology of money to your advantage
Dr. Susan Chanderbhan is a psychologist who works with new graduates who are stressed about their finances.
“When you say you ‘can’t afford something’ it communicates a way of viewing money as something that controls you,” says Chanderbhan. “This can lead to feeling helpless and demotivated.”
But while this is a problem, it can be solved with a simple emotional shift. “Emotions shape behavior,” she says. “Approaching money as a resource that you control helps you feel empowered and free to create the life you want.”
So how can you do this? Simply by viewing your mindset as “software” that can be reprogrammed, according to CPA Michael Kay.
Kay lists a series of questions to ask yourself to find out if you feel the way you would like to feel about money. And if you don’t, he explains that you can change the way you feel by believing change is possible and “upgrading your software” to one that empowers you.
You really can use the psychology of money to your advantage — as long as you flip the script to one that focuses on you being in control.
Ditch the ‘what can I afford’ thought process
If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, the idea of feeling in control of money might seem impossible. I know the feeling. I’ve spent most of my life feeling like my finances were a house of cards that could blow over with even the tiniest gust of wind.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, having money saved in an emergency fund can help ease your financial fear. But I’ve found that over the course of my life, having more money never actually made me feel in control of my finances.
The only times I’ve ever felt empowered have been when I reminded myself that I have a choice — even if I don’t like the choices I have. I have to be the one to actively shift my mindset.
How to put yourself into a better money mindset
When you look at something and think, “I can’t afford that,” you’re giving away your power. Yes, your funds may be limited, but even with limits, you still get to decide how to manage the funds you have.
When you find yourself needing something that is truly out of reach, think proactively. Ask yourself:
- Can I purchase the same thing somewhere else for less?
- Can I take something else off my budget for the month to purchase this?
- Do I need this today? If not, can I save a few dollars a month for it?
- Can I take on a side hustle to save up for this faster?
- Is this the thing I really want to spend my money on?
We all have a choice. If you ditch the “What can I afford?” thought process for a “How can I make that happen?” thought process, you can shift to a more empowered money mindset. And finally be in control.
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