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 moneyLet’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!

37 Responses to “5 Money Euphemisms to Avoid”

  1. Holly says :

    Ha! I think I have used many of these before. Like when you go to the store and buy something you don’t need, but you convince yourself you “saved” money. Old habits die hard!

  2. Tonya says :

    I think another one is “you deserve it…” This usually is not about food, shelter, etc, but more about that big vacation you’ve been wanting to take. No one “deserves” much of anything when it comes to discretionary spending. You want it? Fine! But make sure you have enough to pay for it. Just because you work hard does not mean you have the money to pay for it.

    • Kalie says :

      Great example! That phrase makes me cringe a little because it sounds so entitled. We’d do better to keep how fortunate/blessed we are in view instead of thinking we deserve luxuries.

  3. Brian says :

    “Time to invest…” I’ve heard and use that one many times. So true, unless its something that can earn you money its not really an investment. 🙂 No issue with spending a little extra on quality goods, just don’t confuse the two.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, I know most people don’t mean it literally but it seems financially wise to stick with the true meaning.

  4. Amanda says :

    Oh, so guilty of some of these! The first one I corrected several years ago was “I can’t afford that”, particularly with my kids. It’s important for my kids to understand that yes, I can afford things, but I choose not to spend my money in certain ways. My hope is the distinction will help them with their future spending choices.

    I do the “but it was so worth it” thing sometimes. Not sure who I’m trying to convince…myself or others.

    • Kalie says :

      That is such a good point about teaching kids the difference between “can’t afford” and not choosing to spend money in certain ways. Haha, yes I’m definitely guilty of tacking on “worth it” sometimes. It makes more sense to remind ourselves of it, in my mind, than to justify spending to others.

  5. Kevin says :

    What drives me nuts is the misuse of the word “save”. Like your runner up example, “The more you buy the more you save” type of advertisement. The word “save” does not mean buying at a lower price, it means “not spending”! And as much as I hate this, I use it myself when grocery shopping. hang my head in shame.

    • Kalie says :

      I think using “save” relatively sometimes for necessities like groceries is a relatively minor “offense”! It is very colloquial after all. But it can get pretty irritating when it’s used regarding extravagances.

  6. Harmony says :

    You make some really great points about these commonly-heard phrases. I think the word “afford” is a really tricky one. The first definition that comes up in a search is “have enough money to pay for.” When we say we can’t afford something, technically we’re using it correctly because we have so much debt. We don’t really have any extra money to pay for things. Otherwise, it’s about choice. We probably should all stick to that word instead of using “afford,” whether or not we have debt. Ex. “We’re choosing to pay off debt instead of going on that trip with you,” or “We’re choosing to invest money instead of spending on entertainment right now.”

    • Kalie says :

      How wise to take your debt so seriously and view it as meaning you don’t have money to pay for extras right now. That is certainly good to have clear in your own mind, but it may be clearer to others to express it in terms of choice. I just don’t want to use “afford” and sound like we’re down on our luck, when we’re not.

  7. The Green Swan says :

    I think we’ve all used one of these at one time or another. Saying we can’t “afford” something sometimes isn’t the right use of the word. We could probably “afford” to go to the outing because we have enough income streaming into our bank account. However, our budget might now “allow” for that activity this time around or spur of the moment.

  8. Apathy Ends says :

    Definetely pull out the “we can’t afford it” card all the time – its code for, I don’t want to spend money on that right now.

    I love this post, a few of them I picked up on but a few of them are sneaky and an interesting way to view the comments.

    • Kalie says :

      Afford is a bit of a code word, and sometimes it’s better not to get into the details of your financial choices with others, so I see why it’s used. I especially think it’s mis-used when it’s an excuse for something we simply don’t want to do in the first place.

  9. Dividends Down Under says :

    Saying we can’t afford something puts out the wrong signal, that we’re THAT low on money that we literally can’t afford that $20 item you want me to buy. You’re right, it’s much better just to say that you don’t want to – hopefully the person on the receiving end doesn’t get offended!


    • Kalie says :

      Yes, that inference is what I’m sensitive to. I don’t want to seem destitute when I’ve just got other plans for my money. There is an art to tactfully declining, to be sure!

  10. DC YAM says :

    This made me think of some of the other people in the United lounge (I had a 1-time pass from my credit card). I can’t help but think there were a few families in there with younger kids who paid up for the expensive annual credit card fee so they could go in there – and used their kids as an excuse.

    And yes I didn’t confirm this, but it’s what I thought of when I saw them.

    • Kalie says :

      Flying with kids feels very overwhelming, but it’s usually less horrible than expected. So I see how companies could easily squeeze extra fees out of people, but in my mind it’s not “worth it.”

  11. Mrs. PIE says :

    These are all wonderful examples of thinks I have probably said and will unfortunately continue to say – but hopefully not as much as I used to.
    To go off on a tangent a bit, this list remained me of a phrase that is also probably misused: “I haven’t got the time to do that”
    It’s true, we all have limited time, only 24 hours in a day right? However, I’m a firm believer that you make time for things you want to do – and I’m very guilty of this! Quite often “haven’t got time” means “that’s too low down my priority list to get to!”

    • Kalie says :

      That phrase is really quite similar. I’m continually guilty of thinking that way, but do try to catch myself and remember all the times I chose to use my time otherwise.

  12. Mary in Maryland says :

    My favorite came from my parents. When I asked for slipon shoes (as opposed to the oxfords I got ) they would say, “We don’t have that kind of money.” Huh? Did Dad’s pay envelope have bills that said “not legal tender for cute shoes”?

  13. Jeffro says :

    “I’ll quit tomorrow.”

    This is what I litigate with myself when I go through the McDonald’s drive through for another iced coffee. I certainly know better, but I always push aside my better judgement when I convince myself that $2.50 isn’t anything to balk about. It’s a tough creature-comfort to kick. But I just need to keep reminding myself that $2.50 a day for an entire year is a mortgage payment.

  14. Prudence Debtfree says :

    Guilty! I believe I have committed all of the above – some only before I yanked my financial head out of the sand, but alas, some also after that point. “I can’t afford” has got to go.
    Just yesterday, I left a comment, saying that we had chosen to “invest” in our daughter’s education and future. I think that’s an accurate use of the word, right? It won’t be for monetary gain – but I don’t think that all investments are. They are for future gain of some sort. What do you think?

    • Kalie says :

      We have always viewed education as an investment, so long as you spend in reasonable proportion to potential income. With any of these, it’s really more about your overall thinking about the topic than “precision of language” police.

  15. Latoya says :

    These are good ones, especially not being able to afford something. When I hear that most of the time I just think to myself, “why can’t you just say you don’t want it or don’t want to go?” etc.

    • Kalie says :

      Exactly! It’s unfortunate that it’s more socially acceptable to say you can’t afford something, than that you prefer not to.

  16. Frugal Millennial says :

    I love this post! I constantly hear people saying things like “I got this for 50% off. I saved $20.” No, you didn’t save $20. You spent $20. It’s amazing how people can justify buying items as long as they get them for a “great deal.”

    • Kalie says :

      That ohrase is certainly misleading. The only reason I made it a runner up is that so many people have written about it & dismantled it already. If I’d gone by frequency it’d probably top the list.

  17. Julie Millennial Boss says :

    I completely agree with money euphemism except for the running shoe one. Why can’t you invest in yourself and your health? So many of us in the PF world try so hard for money but don’t try equally as hard on our health so we can enjoy it. A solid pair of running shoes will keep you running more often without pain, improving your health. Just saying 😉

    • Kalie says :

      I absolutely agree that running shoes can be an investment in your health. They are just not a financial investment. I’ve heard people use the word “invest” to refer to all kinds of consumer goods that depreciate, and that’s what I’m getting at. It makes sense to take care of ourselves, though!

  18. Amy says :

    Yes, guilty! Thanks for the reality check. 🙂

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