Why You Don’t Have Money for the Important Things in Life and How to Get It


One of my close friends has a girlfriend who can’t afford a down-payment on a car despite having a full-time job. Each day my friend drives her to and from work. Her workplace is in the opposite direction of his and they don’t work similar hours, so a significant part of his day is spent driving.

Recently my friend told me this is both time-consuming and exhausting week in and week out. They both wish she could find the money to get her own car because it would make their lives significantly easier.

I asked my friend if she has a plan in place to save for the new car.

“The money just isn’t there right now” he explained to me.

I found this a little odd and didn’t pursue the conversation further because it would have led to me saying “Actually I do think the money might be there.”

I know his girlfriend has rent, utilities, groceries, student loans, and phone bills to pay each month and many of those expenses can’t be avoided. But I have also been around her enough to watch her spend mind-boggling amounts of money on new clothes, expensive lattes, $12 movie tickets, high-end alcohol, and going out with her friends most weekends. Her impressive shoe collection is even on prominent display in her living room.

This financial situation I’m describing is not unique to my friend’s girlfriend. Too often people spend hard-earned money on things that don’t matter and forfeit the ability to save for things that do matter.

More specifically, many people have a tendency to blow money on recurring expenses like bar-hopping on weekends, buying lunch at work, and attending expensive concerts, movies, and shows.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with spending money on any of these things as long as it doesn’t impeded your ability to have money for the important things in life

I have seen countless examples of this behavior. One of my coworkers recently turned 30 and was complaining about him and his wife being unable to afford a down payment on their dream home. They’re at a point where they desperately want to move out of their apartment and get a home to start a family.

From the outside looking in, I can see clear as day why he doesn’t have the money. Between watching him buy lunch at work each day, buy season box-seat tickets to the local college basketball team, and go out most weekends, I can run some quick back of the napkin calculations and easily see how much unnecessary money he’s spending.

I have another coworker who is in his late 50’s and jokes that he’ll never be able to retire because he “sucks with money”. Yet he recently bought a new Dodge Charger. 

I often feel as if people don’t fully comprehend the fact that this is our only shot at life. This is it. No re-do’s. There are some things that are wildly important in life: spending time with family, having the freedom to do work you want, the time to make an impact on others, for self-improvement and growth, for travel and exploration. But so many people don’t have this freedom and never will because mindless spending on unimportant things is stealing their ability to be financially free.

Part of the problem is the obsession with short-term gratification in our society. Many
people live for the weekends. They live for the next new car, the next night out on the town, the next piece of clothing, the next shopping spree.

Somehow people find money for the short-term expenses but can never come up with a significant chunk of cash to put a down-payment on a home, buy a car they truly need, or switch to a less time-consuming job to have more time to spend with family. These things matter. But it’s hard to tell based on the way people spend money.

If you never seem to have money for the important things you want in life, check your spending. Look at your credit card statements. Sit down and analyze where money is spilling out of your wallet on a regular basis. You might be surprised at how much you can save once you realize how much of your income is being wasted.

Prioritize saving for the things that matter in life, because this is it. It’s our only shot at life. Money is an insanely powerful tool we can use to craft our ideal life, but it also holds the ability to keep us trapped in poor financial habits, in stress and worry, in a place where we have no freedom to spend time and money on the important things.

You already know what the important things are in your life. You know what should take priority. Make sure your spending habits are aligned with your priorities.

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16 Replies to “Why You Don’t Have Money for the Important Things in Life and How to Get It”

  1. Ayuuuup. I was super guilty of doing this before our money overhaul a few years ago. I blew all my money on takeout, fashion, and random crap and then moaned about not having enough money to build my savings. The money is *there* if you have a stable, decent-paying job. We just don’t know how to prioritize our spending in a responsible way. Your friend is a very nice boyfriend to drive her around like that; I just wonder what she would do in the event of a breakup. Would it make her see the light and try to find her way?

    1. That’s a good question, only time will tell! But yes, in the short-term it’s so easy to find money for things and events that pop up and never actually save any money for bigger long-term goals. In general most people don’t have a long-term vision for what they want their life to look like, they simply live in the day-to-day.

  2. Hate to say it, your friend’s gf might just be too damn complacent with the situation and being selfish to see what she is doing to him – this kind of life gets old on both parties. Relationship goes beyond having one do more than the other but setting boundaries on taking advantages of the other person. I am not a fan of making the other person do more so I feel I am loved kind of person, but at this point of my life, I have seen enough of this sort of relationship end badly for both.
    Give your friend a nudge – or show him the feedback from your post – hopefully, the light bulb comes on – this is not love, this is abuse in a light version.

    1. It’s a tough spot to be in from the outside looking in, but I think it’s something they simply have to work out on their own. It doesn’t feel like my place to step in. I agree with you though, I think it always works out best when both people in the relationship are contributing the same amount and putting their best foot forward.

  3. I know so many people that lives that way. Living beyond their means and complaining that they never have money. Blowing up their student line of credit in order to have sushis every other night. Sometimes I feel useless because I would like to help them somehow!
    I started a frugal month challenge and it has opened my eyes to all the non-necessary spending I’m doing. I wish everyone would do the challenge and realize how much money you really have! By the way I have a salary of around 17 500$ CAD (master student in Canada anyone?) so anyone can reduce their spending if I can!
    p.-s.: sorry for any mistake in english, i’m french canadian 😉

    1. Cheers to you for doing a frugal month challenge, that’s awesome! I feel similar to you – I’d like to help out the people closest to me but sometimes people just need to handle their financial situation themselves without any outside help, unless of course they ask for help.

      It is pretty incredible how much money you can save by keeping a close eye on your spending. That’s why I like to check my credit card statements every Saturday each week to make sure I’m keeping my expenses fairly low. Thanks for the feedback Noemie and no worries about the English, your grammar is fine 🙂

  4. “Actually I do think the money might be there.” You don’t how many times I’ve been tempted to say that, as well.

    I think part of it is there are just too many priorities to spend your money on. So there’s a bunch of short-term stuff like the coffee and the clothes, and then the vague longterm stuff. It’s just A LOT easier to divert your attention to what you need to spend your money on in the present. And agree that the spending should align with priorities. To me, the GF doesn’t care that much about the car. If she did, she’d be doing something about it right now.

    But yeah, I get worked up when I hear people say, “They can’t afford $80 on a shirt.” I get many people don’t want to spend that much on clothes, but you’re seriously telling me you don’t have $80 chilling in the bank right now? For real? What you’re really trying to say is $80 on a shirt isn’t that important to you. Very different.

    1. I like how you call it “vague” long-term stuff because that’s really what it feels like. Throwing money in a savings account for some big long-term goal isn’t nearly as fun or exciting as spending money TODAY on something you can feel and hold. And good point about the word choice people use – it’s easy to mix up “don’t have money for that” and “that isn’t a priority”.

  5. “Prioritize saving for the things that matter in life, because this is it. It’s our only shot at life.”

    Wow, spot on. I could not agree more with you. Thank you for the excellent reminder today to focus on the true priorities rather than the fleeting moments or gratifications.

    1. I like that “focus on true priorities rather than the fleeting moments of gratifications”, it really captures the idea I’m trying to write about here. The things that truly matter in life HAVE to be a priority for us or else we’ll continue to chase short-term, often unimportant goals.

      Thanks for the feedback, Mrs. Adventure Rich 🙂

  6. Great post, Zach!

    Tracking and analyzing your expenses is a powerful way to distance yourself from the hedonic treadmill. And the more distance you have from the Marketing Machine, the better able you are to see what really matters in life.

    Every blog post you write provides multiple opportunities to wake up and “make sure your spending habits are aligned with your priorities”!

  7. “Live on the weekends.” I suppose people can visualize the weekends better since they’ve recalled enjoying past weekends and all the fun things they did and want to do them and then some more all over again. This becomes their priority. But at some slow point during the week, they briefly realize the reality of life. Again they probably don’t take any real action, and the cycle starts up once again.
    I understand you may think it won’t be helpful to suggest or put calculations on a napkin for your friend, but I still encourage you to do so. Numbers can be powerful and maybe you can suggest that they try to go out only once or twice a weekend and scale back little by little. Then they may start to see the result or savings of doing so 🙂

    1. You nailed it – most of us vaguely recall a past weekend being fun or eventful and we want to chase that feeling again each weekend. It’s a great way to kill your finances and never have money for the important things when the time comes.

      And there’s no doubt numbers and graphs can be a powerful way of showing people the effects of long-term saving and planning, but I often feel like it’s not my place to jump in unless they actively ask for advice. For now I’ll sit back and see how the situation plays out. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

    1. Introverts unite! I never have seen the appeal either. I’m not opposed to going out on weekends but I also make sure I don’t sacrifice my long-term financial and personal goals for short-term fleeting gratification. I’d rather have the freedom to do what I want every day of the week rather than just two days on the weekend.

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