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November 28, 2010

Of Being Affordable and Paying For It.

Afford - to be able to do, manage, or bear without serious consequence or adverse effect; to be able to give or spare” (Source: Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 20 Jul. 2010)

The term “afford” is too often been used to justify someone paying more than someone else for the same thing. Or someone paying the way for someone else. Phrases like “You can afford to pay it” or “If you can afford this then you can afford to pay that” and so on are common dialog, particularly among public policy and rule makers.

This is a sadly mistaken point of view.

Just because someone has the ability to pay for something can not (should not) ever be mistaken with that person having the means to pay more and/or pay repeatedly. Such a point of view conveniently overlooks several aspects of reality.

Some examples:

- A person takes a lavish vacation. That doesn’t mean they will be able to take lavish vacations all the time. It may have taken that person years to save up for it.

- Your car breaks down. It will cost several hundred dollars to repair. You pay for the repairs. But that doesn’t mean you are able to pay several hundred dollars periodically for repairs again and again. (Alternatively, you choose to purchase a new car but that doesn’t mean you have the means to purchase new cars every time your current transportation breaks down.)

- The train is the only means of going everyday to/from work. It is announced fares are going up next month. You have no choice but to pay the new fare in order to get to work. But that doesn’t mean you can simply pay the higher fares any time the whim for a raise is floated.

- You lose your job. You have to draw on your rainy-day fund (that you have carefully disciplined yourself to establish and not touch) to get by until you find another (unemployment insurance not withstanding). You have at least 6 months worth of funds to draw on. But that does not mean you can afford to be out of gainful employment for 6 months.

These are but a tiny few examples.

At best in every case it is false to conclude the ability to pay for something must mean the ability to afford to pay for something. At the worst, it further divides and categorizes people based on the most superficial of indicators – What they choose to (or need to) purchase. Nor does it take into consideration the hard work, sacrifice, and/or length of time that went into the preparation for the ability to pay.

As the definition at the beginning of this article shows “afford” is a highly conditional state of being. The affordability comes at the cost of good preparation, dedicated/disciplined work, forethought, and most likely a sacrifice of some other aspect of your life. It simply didn’t happen due to the good graces of fate.

Something to consider when deciding who should be paying for whom.

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