Offers like “Only 24 affordable monthly payments!” subtly twist the way we think about affordability. They imply that if you can “afford” so much a month, then you can afford the item that you want right now.

The truth is, if you have to make monthly payments, you can’t afford it. The very fact that you need to make payments means that you do not have the money to pay for the item in full right now.

Some people might read that and think “But who could save up to pay for a car full? You need payments to be able to afford a car.”

Well, you don’t.

What you need is the time and patience to save up and THEN buy. Or you need to buy something that costs less money. You don’t have to start out with a $35,000 car. You could start out with a $1500 one and gradually work your way up. (And a car worth only $1500 can be in excellent mechanical condition if you find the right one.)

Houses kind of fall into the same category. You can get into trouble if you use the payment amount as a measure of affordability, as many people with interest-only loans or ARMs are finding out.

The point is not to use payments as a way of deciding whether or not you can afford something. A house is about the only thing I’d ever again consider buying over time, and it’d have to be a relatively short period of time. Even that makes me leery. I wouldn’t pay more for a house in monthly payments than I would pay for monthly rent if I could help it. I’d either rent, or buy the house in cash. When I could afford it.