Is the YOLO (You Only Live Once) Mentality Dangerous for Your Finances?

When you are young and of limited means, access to experiences can be few and far between — at least without debt.

But to some, experiences are so important that they’ll head off on vacation in spite of mounds of debt.

One of the underlying characteristics of the “You Only Live Once” (YOLO) philosophy is that you should enjoy yourself now, before it’s too late.  What happens if you fritter away all your young and healthy years without truly living, only to find that your golden years are taken up by infirmity?  All that money you scrimped to build a nest egg just goes to paying medical bills.

YOLO says that it’s ok to be comfortable carrying a certain amount of debt, as long as you are pursuing great life experiences and enjoying the lifestyle you want to live.  In some cases, it’s even ok to incur more debt in order to travel the world — as long as you can handle the payments.

How YOLO Can Become Problematic for Your Finances

The main drawback to YOLO is that there seems to be an emphasis on using debt to fund the desired lifestyle.

Even if debt isn’t used to fund skydiving adventures or month-long treks to exotic locations, debt that you already have isn’t paid down very quickly.  Instead, loaded down with student loans, and possibly credit card debt, you continue to spend your money on experiences, rather than using it to reduce your debt as quickly as possible.

This mindset is something I can relate to.

I prefer experiences, and I think that almost any price is worth paying for an enjoyable time.  In fact, while I was in college, I took out student loans even though I didn’t need them.  I also ran up credit card debt.  There was absolutely no reason, with a scholarship and an on-campus job, for me to have debt as an undergrad.  However, I liked road trips, and my penchant for frequent travels outstripped my income.

the YOLO mentality can cause a snowball if debtAs a result, I spent years after I graduated repaying loans — with interest.  Compound interest can be a difficult thing to overcome when it’s working against you.

Instead of building up my retirement fund, and using my financial resources to grow my net worth, I was repaying interest.  I still have student loans from my time in undergrad.  Student loans that I shouldn’t have taken in the first place.

While it can be fun to see the world, and live carefree, and not worry too much about the debt you have, at some point, you need to consider the future.

Are you prepared for financial setbacks?  Will you be able to live comfortably in retirement?

I’m not saying that you can’t have fun now.  But putting off some of it for later can help you really get a handle on your finances.  Use your resources to accumulate real assets, rather than stretch out the high-interest consumer debt, and you could really live a few years down the road.

A Balanced Approach to YOLO

I understand the appeal of YOLO.  As someone who enjoys travel, and good food, and relaxing with a book, I get the idea of living now, and enjoying your money while you are young enough to enjoy it.  Especially when it comes to unique and interesting experiences.

My version of YOLO has changed over the years, though.

First of all, I make sure that the most important priorities in my life — the future, my son, the business of survival — are covered.  For the rest of it, my husband and I spend on what we enjoy most.  We’ve decided to cut out the things that aren’t important to us.

After all, you do only live once, so why spend money on things you don’t particularly want?

Also, we’re not too fussed about leaving our son a big inheritance.  We’re teaching him to be responsible for his own finances, and to work at building his own assets.

Yes, we want to give him a good start.  But we’re not planning on saving up a bunch of money that he can enjoy.

Nope.  We’re going to enjoy it before we go.

What do you think of the YOLO philosophy?  What does YOLO mean to you?

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Published or updated March 28, 2013.


  1. YOLO is the worst. It’s like giving a big eff you to your future self. You’d rather travel and loaf around while you’re young and able-bodied and then make your future arthritic self work until you’re 80, never going anywhere because you’re still in debt? I don’t get it.

    When you’re 60, you might look back and wonder what the hell your 30-year old self was thinking, robbing you of a sweet, sweet retirement.

  2. Christian L. says:

    Much like all indulgent things or activities, YOLO is great in moderation. I don’t really apply it to my finances in the sense that I don’t just blow all my money. I have plenty of accounts for retirement and emergencies.

    But some nights it’s OK to let loose as long as you’re within your means. It’s OK to come across “extra” money (e.g. cash back rewards) and get yourself something you’ve wanted. Also, I really don’t get the fascination or reality of traveling when I retire. Even if I have the good fortune of retiring at 50, I won’t be as energized or as willing to travel as I am now.

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

  3. William @ Drop Dead Money says:

    YOLO works very well if you use it as motivation to live right, because you get no do-overs.

    If you use it as an excuse for irresponsibility, then, well….

  4. I use it as a way to keep me from squandering my money. I only live once so I cannot earn it again.

  5. Bill Moses says:

    I think there is way too much emphasis on the need for money in order to be happy. Of course if you are going to allow yourself to become addicted to a high standard of living when young then you are are a possible candidate for suffering from withdrawal later in life. Anyone could lead one’s life in a simple manner and probably be a lot better off. I admit that it is a little unsettling to be at a party where everyone has a boat and has been to New Zealand. It makes you think there is something wrong with you. Therefore the biggest challenge is marching to your own drummer. “The best things in life are free.”

  6. How about YOLO. As in, you only live once so make sure you have your finances in order so you can enjoy your whole life, not just the moment?

  7. I believe the way YOLO is used by tweens-early college students is an excuse to engage in risky or rather foolish activities. Hopefully as this YOLO generation matures they will realize that choices have consequences down the road.

  8. Bucksprout says:

    There is an allure regarding YOLO but when I think back to where You Only Live Once originated, Drake and Lil Wayne with their song, “The model,” I’m immediately turned off by the idea. My life is totally irrelevant to the life of Lil Wayne and Drake. If I were “25 sittin on 25 mil” I would be following the model of the YOLO also.

  9. UGH!! I have a friend from college who is a highschool teacher and she was telling us a couple weeks ago over dinner about this new “YOLO” trend amongst our young generation. The stories she had were absolutely awful and it makes me unsure about the future of our country.

What Do You Think?