There’s a vacation you’ve been dreaming of taking. Maybe you’ve even dog-eared a few travel books or pinned all sorts of ideas and places you’d love to explore, but every time you actually consider booking the trip, what do you say to yourself? Those party pooping, dream killing, spirit dashing, soul crushing words:
“I can’t afford it.”
If we were on a Zoom call right now, I’d gently ask you, “You can’t afford it?
“Well, yeah,” Beth, you may say. “Going to France is expensive. It would be irresponsible of me to book a trip I can’t afford!”
While I wholeheartedly agree that no one should do anything that is irresponsible with money, my question would be aimed more at the words you’re using than the money in your bank account. Let me demonstrate with a little experiential exercise.
Think about a place you’d love to travel to. Think about who you’d like to take with you, what you’d like to do, and why it’s important to you. Say aloud to yourself those words you’ve said so many times before: I can’t afford it.
Now, just pause for a moment and notice what your body says about the words I can’t afford it.
Do you notice tightness? Queasiness? Another kind of discomfort? What emotions are present now? The words we use not only have linguistic meaning–they have a physical and emotional effect on us.
Okay, now take a deep breath, blow it out, shake off the ickiness of those now forbidden words, and keep reading.
The reason that the “can’t afford” language is so damaging is that it suggests that there is a fixed state in your life where you don’t and won’t ever have the money to do what you’d like to do. This message not only is unhelpful but quite likely untrue. I don’t know what the psycho- linguistic reason is for this, but the word can’t not only speaks to the current state but also tacitly suggests a permanent state:
I can’t speak Italian. I can’t dunk a basketball. I can’t stand rude people. I can’t do math. I can’t eat just one Lay’s brand potato chip.
The chances that I’ll ever enjoy the company of rude people is next to nothing. Even though I absolutely can “do math” and “learn Italian,” my brain is primed to believe it’s too hard for me, I’m too old, etc. I’m unlikely even to try to do something I view as being nearly impossible or at least a huge pain in the tuchus to attempt. The word can’t leaves me feeling powerless both in the present and in the future. Even though it is actually possible to do all of the things I stated above, my brain is primed to believe it is impossible, and therefore, I close the door on all other options.
So when it comes to you, your money, and your ability to have the resources you need to do the things you’d like to do, we can start by changing your words, and you’ll see how just this simple change can shift your perspective/mindset.
Step 1: Banish the “I can’t afford it” language from your vocabulary.
Step 2: Choose a Power Response to say and consider instead.
Empowered Response 1: I haven’t yet figured out how I can afford it, but I’m looking forward to finding a way!
Empowered Response 2: I haven’t yet, but I am going to start allocating/earmarking money for that trip today.
Empowered Response 3: I don’t intend to allocate money toward that because I have something else I want to do that’s way more important to me.
Let’s try it now!
Pretend we are meeting by Zoom, and you’re telling me about a place you’d love to travel. I respond by saying to you, “That sounds awesome! What’s stopping you from planning and booking the trip?”
You respond aloud with one of the above Empowered Responses, or you create one that fits you better.
You: Empowered Response
Now notice how your body responds to the new statement. What do you notice emotionally?
Take a few moments to notice which statement has the most positive impact on your outlook.
If you did the exercise, you know for sure the empowered response feels way better and gives you a sense of hope! Let’s explore why this may be!
When you use the empowered responses, even if you don’t know what to do next, you know on a deeper level that you can reach the goal because you have choices. The word can’t means you have no choice/not allowed. The word haven’t means you still can. The words how and can denote even more power and opportunity!
Not only is it important to use positive language when talking about spending goals, the connotation of the words you choose make a difference in your outlook as well. Consider the words afford vs. allocate. To afford something means you have the money to do it. If you’ve been spending blindly, you may have no idea if you actually have the money to do certain things. If you’re allergic to spending money, you may feel that everything must be saved, no matter what. On the other hand, to allocate money means to earmark a certain amount of money for a certain purpose. You can create a plan to earmark $XYY every month until you have enough money set aside to go on that trip. That, my friend, is how you know for sure you absolutely can afford to go on the trip and enjoy yourself! You don’t wait for affordability to fall out of the sky–you create it! You also won’t find yourself spending money that should have been earmarked for something else if you allocate. In turn, if you’re super thrifty, allocating money for leisure activities may feel much more comfortable for you. Whatever kind of spender you are, when you take charge of how you approach affordability, you create better financial habits.
If you crave support as you work on improving your financial life, check out the Embodying Financial Flow intensive here.