Why “YOLO” Isn’t Worth the Fun

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"YOLO" is a popular term that means "You Only Live Once," and many use it to justify spending, but it can spell disaster later. Here's why yolo isn't fun.

“YOLO” is a popular term that means “You Only Live Once,” and many people use it to justify their spending. On one hand, I understand why so many people have grabbed on to this idea.

Sometimes, life seems short, and it can also get pretty sad. People pass away far before their time. Family members get sick. To a young person, it can make sense to live it up, even if you can’t afford it. After all, when will you be able to see the world, go out to a nice dinner, or enjoy a live sporting event if you don’t do it now? Why wait until you’re older?

Unfortunately, although it sounds great to take exotic vacations and wear the most expensive clothes imaginable, I can tell you it’s not worth the fun. You might enjoy it in the moment, but it can spell disaster for your future self.

YOLO = Debt


Right around the time I got married, I wanted everything: the nice townhouse with a ton of space, the honeymoon in a tropical location and the huge TV that I couldn’t afford. I got it all, and I didn’t even think about it. I was living on a small graduate school stipend and my husband had an entry level job in healthcare.

As I’m sure you can imagine, before I knew it, my husband and I were swimming in credit card debt with a very dismal amount of combined income. We were young and not very smart with our money. We were living it up YOLO style before there was even an actual term for it (something that came out in 2012 according to the Boston Globe.) In many ways, it wasn’t conscious, but there was that societal pressure on us to have the best wedding and the best honeymoon and to have a nice home to start our lives together.

In reality, we really didn’t need any of it, and it didn’t define our marriage. In fact, it probably hurt it more than it helped. So, here’s why I won’t live the “YOLO” life again, and why you might want to second guess the decision as well:

It’s Detrimental for Retirement


If you’re spending all your  money when you’re younger, you’re missing out on prime retirement savings. I know saving for retirement doesn’t sound as much fun as taking a trip with your friends to Vegas, but with the right amount of budgeting and discipline, you should be able to save a little and spend a little all at the same time. If budgeting sounds boring or impossible to do, you can use the free tool at Personal Capital, to help track your spending and find ways to save money.

The key to getting what you want out of life is to have goals, both long term and short term, and pay for them in cash whenever you can. Plus, Albert Einstein called compound interest the 8th wonder of the world for good reason. When you’re young, it’s the absolute best time to invest. According to Dave Ramsey, you can invest as little as $35 a week starting in your twenties to retire a very wealthy person.

IT’s Not Good For Your Self Esteem


You would think that going on fabulous trips would help your self esteem especially now in our social media centered world. However, when you have the YOLO experience, it’s just a temporary high. While you do have fun in the moment, in the end it comes crashing down. It’s almost like someone going on a huge shopping spree and then instantly regretting it when they get home and look through their shopping bags.

If you do this often enough, it can give you a poor sense of self worth. If you borrow your way into life experiences and then have trouble paying them off, it hurts your confidence immediately and down the road if you feel the pressure to keep up appearances.

The best thing you can do in life to really make yourself feel accomplished is to work hard towards a specific goal and find a way to achieve it without going into debt and without the YOLO mentality. Sometimes, it’s far better to reach a goal slower if it means the reward is better.

"YOLO" is a popular term that means "You Only Live Once," and many use it to justify spending, but it can spell disaster later. Here's why yolo isn't fun.

You Really Do Only Live Once


In many ways the meaning of YOLO rings true. You really do only live once. However, instead of treating this as an excuse to party and have a good time whenever you want, think of it as taking care of the one life you do have.

The best way to do this is to prepare for a financially successful life by starting to save when you’re young. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun ever; it just means that in addition to having a good time here and there, you’re also thinking about your future self as well.


Why do you think so many have embraced the YOLO mentality? What’s one thing you regret, financially speaking, that you did when you were younger? How could you save $35 a week now to set yourself up for future success?

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Catherine Alford is the go to personal finance expert for parents who want to better their finances and take on a more active financial role in their families. Check out her award winning blog,


  • I love the line, “instead of treating this as an excuse to party and have a good time whenever you want, think of it as taking care of the one life you do have.”

    Two weeks after I turned 18, I packed my bags and drove 3,000 miles from Michigan to Alaska. I had no financial plan about how to pay for this (aside from the $800 I got at my graduation party). My parents helpfully suggested that I take out a student loan to pay for college and living expenses, which they would gladly help me do.

    As a result of that experience, I’m $55k in debt.

    Would I do it again? Absolutely. No question. As you said, YOLO.

    BUT, there were SO many ways I could have been smarter about it, if only I had done some research for myself and known the full breadth of options. My only regret is not finding other ways to support myself.

    • Cat says:

      Those are definitely hard lessons to learn. At least you got a degree with it and didn’t YOLO your way into jail or something haha

  • Oh, I’m allergic with that word “YOLO”! I used to spend too much money before without even thinking about my future because I just wanted to enjoy the moment without even thinking that was totally a bad idea!

  • Josh says:

    The YOLO/Bucket List mentality exists in all of us to a certain extent. Eventually the cheap thrills are scratched off & you need to keep doing even larger items to keep the rush going.

    My most proud YOLO moment was a college semester abroad in Spain. Because I didn’t know my employment situation after college, I didn’t spurge as much as I could have. I wish I would have done some of those trips (YOLO), but it’s all good. I’m happy I was able just to have the experience.

  • Yep you don’t have to yolo all your fun and money in one day.

  • YOLO can be a ticket to greatness if you apply it as a good steward of your life. As you say, you have one life, take care of it and make it count. It can inspire you to do great things and to give of yourself. It can inspire you to set big goals and work hard to accomplish them.

    Too many people take YOLO as permission to do whatever they want right now and to live selfishly. It’s the wrong message, but it’s a seductive one. After all, everyone wants an excuse to do what they want to do.

    I’ve done big stupid expensive things I regret, and I’ve done big worthwhile expensive things that I don’t regret (semester abroad, Hawaiian honeymoon). I’ve let big expensive worthwhile things go by (chance to buy into a business I really liked). The real YOLO is saying, “Well, they were my choices. I’ll live with them.”

    • Cat says:

      Wow! What a nice response. I totally agree that it shouldn’t be an excuse but maybe some inspiration to take big leaps sometimes!

  • YOLO = Live below your means and retire EARLY! We are two weeks from early retirement (@49) and enjoying a week at Disney World. Feels great!!

  • I agree that you only live once. But I also agree that “you only live once, so, might as well balance between spending and saving”.

    I know a dear friend of mine who died at an early young age. He amassed a ton of money but focused too much on making money. The lesson I learned from his story is that there needs to be balance between spending and saving.

  • YOLO is so easy to live by in my opinion because it doesn’t require thinking or planning. It’s all about doing what feels great right now. It’s harder having to think about all the options and finding what’s not only best right now but also the future. I’m working on finding a good balance of not saving every penny but not spending it all over the place as well.

  • Addi Ganley says:

    This is a great post that sums up the word YOLO pretty honestly.

    Even if I try to tell myself to just “yolo” I may feel it for a minute but after a big purchase or that unworthy splurge you always go back to feeling the burn just like you mentioned.

    I may want to not think about how much a great vacation would cost, and how amazing it would be, but I know myself and watching that money go to waste would be DIFFICULT when we can make memories in so many other ways.

    I hope generations realize that “Yolo” can mean many different things and yes you do only live once so as you stated “take care of that one life you do have” 🙂

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