5 Money Euphemisms to Avoid
“I’m going to invest in a good pair of running shoes.”
“My neighbors just bought another car–their lifestyle inflation is getting out of hand.”
“I’m sorry, but I just can’t afford that outing to the lake.”
“We paid an extra $270 for the privileged traveler passes, but we have a kid so it’s worth it.”
“I know we could be saving more. I really need to look at our budget.”
Can you spot the money euphemisms in the statements above? (Don’t worry, I’ve said them all too.) Language powerfully molds the way we think about the world, often in subtle ways we might not realize. With each of those phrases, there’s a proper meaning that compactly expresses so much about reality. There’s also a potential euphemism that puts us in danger of believing lies that will keep us from our financial goals.
Let’s take a look at each one.
1. “I’ve already gone through three pairs of cheap running shoes this year. It’s time to invest in something better.”
Newsflash: investments are meant to make money. Let’s not confuse investing with spending.
Yes, I agree it is time to purchase some shoes that will last. They may be an investment in your health or sanity. But your stinky, sweaty, swiftly depreciating shoes are not a financial investment.
Here is the proper way to use the term: “I’m going to invest in Vanguard index funds.” Go you! “I’m going to invest in a rental property.” Good luck! “I’m going to invest in these stupid knickknacks that sell for four times my cost on eBay.” We’ll take it!
2. “I really fell into lifestyle inflation last year when I bought that boat.”
Forgive my frankness, but how much of what we deem “lifestyle inflation” is really just plain greed?
We’re all greedy at times. We all want more of something, whether it’s fun toys in the garage, gorgeous clothes in the closet, or money in our portfolio. It’s when we continually spend more than we make (exempting those in poverty) that we are allow greed to drive our lifestyle
Lifestyle inflation, or even materialism or consumerism, sounds a whole lot nicer than raw greed. But the first step to change is admitting you have a problem. Lifestyle inflation sounds like a minor indiscretion. Oops! Greed sounds like an ugly, deep-seated issue I’ll have to unravel through introspection, sacrifice, and accountability.
I recognize greed is not the only contributing factor to living beyond your income. There are societal pressures, keeping up with the Jones, falling prey to slick marketing, and soothing unhappiness or insecurities with spending. Look at the whole picture, but don’t rule out the possibility of old-fashioned avarice.
3. “I’m sorry, I can’t afford to go camping. Or pay a sitter. Or help the poor.”
Sometimes I’m tempted to say we can’t afford something when really, I just don’t want to spend my money that way. Or when I just don’t want to do that thing period.
Other times, we “can’t afford” something because we already spent the money in other ways. In that case, it’s not a problem of affordability. It’s a matter of choices. You are 100% entitled to make these choices with your money. But let’s stop using “can’t afford” euphemistically. In the name of honesty, I’m trying to replace “I can’t afford” with the truth.
Telling the truth doesn’t mean you have to be tacky and say, “I think it’s stupid you expect your friends to spend $40 each to celebrate your birthday.” A simple “No thanks” is often sufficient. You might also say, “I already spent my fun money for the month.” Or find a less expensive way of participating, like pre-gaming a restaurant outing.
Of course, there are things I truly can’t afford. Ditto for you. That would be the right time to say “I can’t afford…”
4. “We spend $50 at a restaurant once a month, but it’s worth it to get a date without the kids.”
Direct quote from yours truly. I’ve deconstructed and repented of this statement already, but I hear and read people all the time justifying their extra expenses by saying “it’s so worth it.” “Best money we ever spent.” “It’s invaluable to us.” “Worth every penny.”
This sentiment calls to mind the Mastercard commercials of the late 90s/early 2000s. They’d show a family on vacation and narrate: “Airline tickets, $800. Beach toys, $15. Condo on the beach: $1000. Your children’s memories? Priceless.”
It’s safe to assume that if you made the purchase, you thought it was worth it. So let’s not feel the need to justify every expense this way. And try not to care whether others agree about it being worth it. It’s your money, not theirs.
Let’s also be aware of the opportunity cost of our spending preferences. That’s how you truly ascertain what your money’s worth.
5. “I wish we could pay off debt faster. I should really look at our budget.”
Instead of looking at your hypothesis of what you’ll spend in the future, why not look at exactly how much you spent in the past?
Take three months of real data. This is called tracking, and it’s the other side of the budgeting coin. It’s reactive—you can’t change the past. But it can help you assess what to cut in order to meet your goals. Use tools from Personal Capital, Mint, or your bank’s online tools to track and visually depict your spending.
Runners up include “I got this half-off on clearance and saved $20!” and the word “mortgage” (hint: it literally means “death pledge”).
I’m sure to inadvertently use all these again since they’ve taken on colloquial meanings. Still, it’s good to strive for thinking accurately and speaking honestly about money.
Which of these have you used before? Can you think of any other money euphemisms? Please share!