Why I Almost Never Say: “We Can’t Afford That”

posted by Andrea | 10/7/2014

we can't afford that

About 2 months ago, I shared a post about one of my pet peeves — when people complain about “not having enough time” for various activities.

The point of that post (which you can read in its entirety here) is that I almost never say “I don’t HAVE time for ______” because I know that if I really wanted or needed to, I could MAKE the time for that activity.

Instead I say, “I’m choosing not to MAKE the time for ___________ right now as I have other priorities.”

By simply changing the way I phrase things, I feel much more empowered, more in control of my time, and less defeated by everything I don’t get done each day. I know that I made the choice to do something else — whether it was tending to a sick child or taking advantage of really nice weather instead of doing my work or opting to make a big fancy meal instead of enjoying more free time — it was my choice.

Similarly, I almost never say, “We can’t afford that.”

This is not because we are “loaded” or have unlimited financial resources. It’s simply because I know that in almost every situation, we could technically afford whatever it is I’m talking about (going out for lunch, a new shirt, organic produce, flowers, a new coffee table, a weekend getaway, etc.). Yes, we have $20 in our bank account to go out for lunch. We have $30 for a new shirt. We even have $500 for a nice weekend getaway.

None of those purchases are bad purchases or a waste of money (if they are important to you). It’s just that they are not ways Dave and I would personally choose to spend our money right now. We’d rather spend our money on house projects, paying down our mortgage, buying new technology, or saving up for a new-to-us minivan (never thought I’d be excited about that!)

Yes, I realize there are many of you who would never want to ‘waste’ your money on these things — but for Dave and for me, that’s how we’d prefer to use our financial resources at this point in our lives.


I’m certainly not trying to negate the fact that there are, in fact, many people in the world who truly can not afford even basic necessities — let-alone splurging on fun “wants”; I’m simply trying to make a point that once again, by simply changing how I phrase my sentence, I personally feel more empowered about how I spend and save.

I don’t feel bad or deprived because we “can’t afford to go out to eat”. Instead, I realize that it’s MY choice not to spend money going out to eat and I can choose to have fun coming up with a new recipe or making a fancier meal at home and then putting the money we would have spent on dinner towards something else that is more important to us.

If going out to eat was important enough, we COULD afford it. We could even afford to go to a really fancy restaurant and blow $200 on one meal… but we don’t. We’d rather spend $10 with coupons and gift cards at Culver’s and use the other $190 for something else 🙂

Obviously, there are some things we legitimately do not have the cash to pay for; but when you stop and think about it, almost every time we say “I can’t afford that” we really CAN afford it if we wanted to.

stacked coins

Now that we have kids, I’ve been even more diligent about not saying “We can’t afford that.” because I don’t like the message it implies — like we’re destitute and lacking.

Instead, when Nora requests something at the store (like a toy or a game or crayons) I just say something like, “We’re not going to spend our money on those things today.” or “Maybe we can put that on your birthday wish list.” or “We have other things at home that you can play with right now — we don’t need more”.

I know she’s not even 3, but I still feel like if I’m careful about how I phrase things now, she’ll learn that money and time are just tools and resources we can use in many different ways — however, it’s up to US to decide on the best uses for our own lives.

And yes, I fully believe there are many “right ways” so spend our time and our money. We all have different wants and needs, so it only makes sense that we would all choose different ways to spend those resources.

The important thing for me to realize is that it is MY choice — so there is no sense whining and complaining about the fact that “I don’t have enough time for _____________” or “we don’t have enough money for ____________.”

I’d love to know… what are your thoughts on this topic?

photo source; photo source; photo source

Filed under: LifeFrugal Living

Leave a comment


  1. amy


    Wow, I like how you applied this verbal change into a mind set change and then used it in so many areas of your life. If it was critical or more important to a person, and everyone has different priorities and those change through life, there are many things we could make time for, use our money on, or choose to do.


    Andrea Reply:

    it sounds almost “too simple” but just changing how we talk makes a huge difference (for us and those around us)


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  4. Lisa


    My alternative phrase is “we didn’t budget for that.” It doesn’t mean we couldn’t have or won’t in the future, but it’s just not an option today.


  5. Michele C


    Love this! I am always saying the same thing to our kids. So many people say thy can’t afford something and it is just a matter of priorities. The same with time. Stop making excuses and take charge of your decisions. I tell my kids we are not spending on certain things because we try to be good stewards of what God has given us and focus on the things that are important to us.


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  7. adrienne


    I like this post. I also think its important to say no to our kids when they want something. We can say, its not in the budget this month. I also think we can be honest with our kids when it comes to our spending choices. My kids asked why we don’t have all the movie channels anymore. I told them, would you rather have movie channels or that special Xmas gift. I explained to them that now that I am a SAHM, we live off one income which means sacrifices. The perks are, I can attend their school and sporting functions without having to request time off.


    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, exactly! I have NO issue with saying “no” or “not now” I just hate it when grownups complain about “not being able to afford” going out to lunch or something small that certainly they could actually afford if it was really a priority for them.


  8. Debbi King


    This is an awesome article and so true. Most of us can always afford (find a way) to get what we want. Personal finance is very personal and different for everyone. Our coaching firm is totally about empowering you to do what works for you. Thanks for sharing!


  9. Bob at MoreMoneyThanMonth.com


    Terrific post. This is so important. I think one of the reasons many people fail to budget is because they think if they have a budget then it will keep them from having any fun. But the truth is a proper budget is absolutely the opposite. It’s about prioritizing what I really want to spend my money on so that I can get what really matters most to me. I can have anything I want, but I can’t have everything. What do I really want most? I think if people can just get that concept internalized it changes everything.


  10. Mel


    I like this article! I try to say to me children…”I’d rather spend my money on something else.” instead of saying we can’t afford it.