What does it mean to you to be able to afford something? The word implies an ability to bear a cost without serious detriment, but that seems like an incomplete picture.
Two weeks ago I was invited to join my girlfriend’s family on a trip to India. I would be paying my own way and the word “afford” was used in conversation. That word didn’t seem fitting. I can afford the trip to India but the real question is whether the trip is something that I want to spend my money on.
Use of the word “affordable” illuminates the American propensity toward spending every dollar we make. Saving is seen as an elusive goal, not a given, and more than two-thirds of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. Too many people answer “yes” to the question of affordability without stopping to think “Is this how I want to be spending my money?”
What would make a trip to India worthwhile for me? Spending more time there. If I spend $5,000 on a ten-day trip to India that trip is costing me $500 / day. I would much rather spend $5,000 for four months there, having each day cost less than $50 and giving myself a more complete and immersive experience.
I am sometimes asked whether I can afford certain things in my quasi-retirement. The answer is probably “Yes, I can afford it but I’d rather spend that money on something else.”
So the trip to India sounds like fun and I can afford it, but I’d rather save that cash for ice cream. Lots of ice cream.