"I finally know what distinguishes men from other beasts: financial worries." - Jules Renard

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

By , August 22nd, 2011 | 5 Comments »

I had a roommate in college whose mantra in life was, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

She applied this to everything from dating (Just because you can date that drunk frat guy doesn’t mean that you should) to academics (Just because you can graduate with a D average doesn’t mean that you should). But the day she applied it to finance, a lightbulb went off in my head.

We shared a suite with a girl who was, to put it mildly, spoiled. Then her parents got divorced in the middle of the year. Everything that had previously been paid for was now this girl’s responsibility to pay. She fell apart. Instead of getting a job, she got credit cards. Instead of living low to the ground, she spent like mom and dad were still picking up the tab. At the end of the year she realized that she wouldn’t be able to return to college without taking on serious amounts of debt. She didn’t seem to think this was a big deal, though, and started the paperwork for a boatload of loans.

My roommate told her, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.” Our suite mate didn’t understand. She thought that if the loans were available, she should just take them. My roommate sat her down and explained about repayments, interest, and all the other fun stuff. She told our suite mate to get a job and work until she could afford to come back to school while taking on minimal debt. My roommate was smart, but more than that she was wise beyond her years. Her mantra has stuck with me through the years, particularly when it comes to finance. (Although it once saved me from a horrible wedding dress fiasco, too, but that’s another story.)

Whenever I’m tempted to blow money, invest in something I don’t understand, commit to a large purchase, or do something otherwise dangerous or foolish with money I repeat to myself, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.” Sure, I can spend a ton of money on clothes or shoes, but it doesn’t mean that I should. I can buy a bigger house, but I probably shouldn’t. I can do a lot of things financially that I probably shouldn’t.

A lot of other people are in the same boat. It could save some people a world of heartache if they just repeated this mantra to themselves before they got to the cash register, signed for that loan, bought that house, or applied for that credit card. It’s easy to get to the part of the thought process where you say, “Hey, I can do this.” It’s more difficult (and the mark of someone on the way to financial responsibility) to say, “But maybe I shouldn’t.”

If you stop and question why you’re about to do something, what you hope to gain, what you might lose, and whether or not you really understand what you’re about to do, you just might realize that you shouldn’t do it. It’s far better to get to this point sooner rather than later, when you’re paying the price for doing something you shouldn’t have.

Our suite mate did stop and consider whether she should take out all those loans. She ended up taking a year off from school to work, save some money, and let her parent’s situation settle out. She finished school and only owed a few thousand dollars when she graduated. Last I heard, she’s doing fine and working in the financial aid department of our old university. Ironic, isn’t it? She’s probably telling students, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.”

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  • Joy says:

    Great article!!

  • Christine says:

    A believe people would be a lot better off they would take this advice. I don’t know if it’s just the way Americans think, but most people believe that if they can do it they should and I think this gets a lot of people into financial trouble. I think your friend had a wonderful mantra and I hope that many more people will adopt it.

  • david says:

    On the other side of the coin, it’s important to remember that because you can, often you should. It amazes me the amount of people who can do small things to improve their finances, yet they never take advantage of this. I have friends who are still paying 7% of their mortgage because they just haven’t gotten around to refinancing. It’s absolutely crazy. I could be wrong, but I think more people have a problem with not doing what they can than doing what they can do what they shouldn’t.

  • Tim says:

    This is a great topic. It applies to everyone but it hits home for young readers who are just starting to deal with money and bills. I will admit, I have fallen victim the the idea “because I can I should” before. It is a lesson that I learned the hard way. The more people that see articles like these the better.

  • LivingWiser says:

    My wife and I applied this principle back in 2006 when we were debating whether or not to buy a house or continue renting. After considering what the true cost of a home per month would be, we found that while we could theoretically afford the house payment, we wouldn’t have any breathing room if there was an emergency of if the home needed unexpected repairs. So we decided to continue renting. Boy are we glad we did, because we did, in fact, have unexpected medical expenses later, and of course the economy tanked. But with a little belt tightening we’ve been riding it out. Fortunately neither of us has lost our jobs. Yet.

    One of my coworkers was facing the same decision we were at the time, and he chose to go ahead and buy a house. Then the economy tanked, his wife lost her job, and their adjustable rate mortgage adjusted and they ended up losing their home and all the money they had paid into it.


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