Why “I Cannot Afford It” Isn’t True

Shoes, or not?

“I cannot afford it.”

This is probably the most popular excuse for saying no to purchases. But you know what? It is never true.

Well, I suppose if you asked me to purchase Michael Jackson’s estate, I could tell you honestly that I couldn’t afford it. But what about the nice shoes that my son wants? Or the extracurricular activity my daughter wants to join? Or the extra night out my spouse wants to splurge on a date?

“I cannot afford it,” is the common response, but it’s hardly ever true. And your son/daughter/spouse know it. I propose to you this: claiming you cannot afford something is a whiny excuse for not purchasing it.

When you think about it, that’s a pretty bizarre concept. Especially coming from a father of 16 children. Trust me, I get plenty of requests for purchases. “I cannot afford it” is not the excuse I give. Allow me to explain why I don’t give this excuse, and what I say instead.

Those $100 Shoes

Being self-employed, my income varies from year to year, but averages around $50k per year. Hardly rolling in the dough, but not in extreme poverty either. If anyone has an excuse for “I cannot afford it,” it’s me. I know people who make twice as much as me who use the “I cannot afford it” with their children, their business associates, and so on. Stay with me if you’re one of these folks, because if you comprehend what I’m saying, you will, in the long run, bring great freedom to your financial livelihood.

Take, for example, those $100 shoes my son wants. I have access to $100 right now. In a snap. When he asks me for the money, guess what? I have it. He’s old enough to know I do. Like most sorta-poor people, I have $100 of non-discretional funds.

Teenagers included. My son makes good money working for our neighbor, selling homemade swords, and any other activity he finds the time to do. He’s a tough young man who wants $100 tennis shoes, and he has access to that $100 just as fast as I do. The argument may be made that I have more money than he does, but I can turn that table on him: he has much more non-discretional money than I do. I’m providing food and shelter for 16 people; he’s got his mind on designer tennis shoes.

So, it is not true that my son or I “cannot afford” the shoes. It is also not true that because I have more money than he, that I should buy him his shoes. While “I cannot afford it” is the excuse given by most people in this situation, what is the better thing to say? (Or the better excuse?)

What to Say Instead of “I Cannot Afford It”

If you have read Guy Kawasaki’s bestseller Rich Dad, Poor Dad, you get what I’m saying. “I cannot afford it” is the “poor dad” mentality. In other words…

  • “I’m a victim of my own limitations.”
  • “Life has kept privileges like designer shoes from me.”
  • “I am poor.”

The “rich dad” doesn’t settle for excuses like these, and though a “rich dad” and “poor dad” may have the exact same amount of money, the “rich dad” understands basic economics enough to liberate his family from such nonsense.

My son wants shoes, but not enough to spend it himself. A better response: “$100 is a big chunk of money; do you really think they’re worth that much?” The discussion turns to the value of the shoes – an economic discussion – rather than a debate on who is more impoverished. I inevitably turn this on him. “If you want to spend $100 on your shoes, you have every right to do so.” My son still wears nice shoes, but they aren’t the $100 ones that he desired before he was forced to think of their real value.

Really, this is liberating stuff. You may find yourself in family squabbles over what the family should or shouldn’t buy, based on this fallacy of “I cannot afford it.” My son isn’t trying to convince me that I really can afford it (which, by the way, he’d be right). Now he’s thinking of whether he really wants the stupid, overly priced shoes.

The Spoiled Alternative

Warning: Don’t get miffed if your son decides he really does want those shoes. Let him spend his hundred bucks. He’s learning the tough lesson of quantifiable value, and his value may be different than yours. That’s okay. As long as he understands the true economics behind his purchase, he will be much better off in the long run than those spoiled kids whose parents are buying them designer shoes.

Let me conclude on that point: the “spoiled” kid with the $100 shoes that you and I both know the kid did not buy himself. None of us wants our kids to end up spoiled and rotten, but buying them the shoes or ending up with an “I cannot afford it” argument does precisely this. Really, both scenarios lose. Picture the whiny kid in the back of the room with $20 shoes complaining about how his parents can’t afford clothes. He’s no different than the sporty jock in the center of his friends with brand new designer shoes.

Instead, be a “rich dad” and keep true economics in mind. You will liberate your children from an impoverished view of life, and regardless of how little you make, you will raise “rich” kids.

About Chris Jeub

Chris is the father of 16 children, busily running the family businesses and learning the depths of love along the way.

  • salamander9

    Great post and very timely for me!! Thanks!  My parents were very frugal as I grew up and we learned to do without a lot of “necessities” (for other people).  With $7 in his pocket when he got to this country, my dad worked hard, went to UOP and managed to purchase two homes, several acres of land and live out his dream. I hope to instill the same to my kids someday.

    • http://www.jeubfamily.com/ Chris Jeub

      Sounds like an awesome story. We need to be reminded about how times used to be. Your dad sounds like he was already “rich,” even though he had only $7 in his pocket.

      • salamander9

        Exactly!  He was so content and happy with few “possessions”.  his greatest happiness came from his family and working in his garden.  I strive to be like him.  :)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BZXHT7XDXDDSOBCWGPTUGYGV5Q Elizabeth

    For me it comes down to a want or a need. We all need shoes but expensive sneakers are a want. I have an adult son who’s as bad as Imelda Marcos when it comes to shoes. He has more shoes than I’ve had in 67 years of living. I occasionally bought him a pair of expensive sneakers if it was his birthday or something special but mostly he had to buy them himself.

    The other discussion I tried having with him was about who made those expensive shoes. He really didn’t care to hear about sweat shops and exploited workers in the 3rd world but I needed to say it. 

  • Bea76

    Both my husband and I are big into teaching our kids financial smarts so at the age of 10 they start getting a clothing allowance. One child will go to Goodwill, get a ton of stuff, and then spend the rest of the money on whatever her heart desires.  It took the other one a year to learn that getting the designer goods wasn’t going to go far as she would end up with a pair of jeans and a shirt and then would have to borrow clothes from her sister.  Also we did a month project and put the two oldest one’s in charge of the household finances.  We were leary about doing it but it was the smartest thing we’ve ever done.  They learned so much and also got an appreciation of how hard it is to keep everything in check.

  • Katie

    Good advice.  Amazing how much less desirable those shoes become when it has to come from his own wallet lol.

  • MumButterfly

     We have had great success with our cash envelope system, especially with the kids.  They know if it’s not in Mum and Papa’s budget, it’s not happening that month.  And if they REALLY want it, they can figure out how to get their own cash.  It even has stopped most of the “I NEED that” in the grocery store.  One of the best gifts I can give my children is a healthy fear of debt and a realistic view of how to make/tithe/save/spend money!

    • Peggy

      I totally agree with teaching our children not to go into debt – but credit cards do not have to equal debt! We use our credit card to buy what we do have money for, and we use a card that gives cash back at the end of the year. This cash back in december pays for our Christmas.

      In other words, credit cards are not sinful… People are!

  • Prayathomemom

    I so agree with you. The reason you can afford $100 shoes right now is because you normally choose not to!

  • http://twitter.com/anjanetteopal Anjanette Barr

    I struggle so much with this. My 4 year old is already picking up on my victim mentality. We are so blessed, and I say it often, but then I talk equally as much about what we don’t or can’t have. Even if I can tell myself that it’s not complaining, I usually know that I’m not framing the discussion properly. Even if we truly couldn’t afford something, there’d be a better way to say it.

    • http://www.jeubfamily.com/ Chris Jeub

      You may enjoy Rich Dad Poor Dad. It’s an easy read and helps a lot to keep the right perspective.

  • hailey

     I love this post! I have been thinking the same thing for a long time.
    I’m an entrepreneur in my mid twenties and have been saving up for years to purchase a home debt free in case my business ever ended. Everyone always wanted me to buy things and I would always say “I can’t afford it!” which was a lie because I had a large amount of money in the bank to eventually purchase a house. I finally purchased my house and one of the things I thought at the closing  was “I can tell people I can’t afford it and it wont be a total lie!” I guess I should say, “I just bought a house and don’t want it!”.

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  • Janetkiessling

    Well Said!!!!!!!

  • Anne

    Or, you get the people who say “I can’t afford $100 shoes” because if they bought them, they wouldn’t be able to eat. Your post reeks of “more poor than thou”. The bottom line of having your son pay for the $100 shoes is great! However, believe it or not, there ARE people in the world who DON’T have $100 on hand at any given time: it’s gone to bills and food. People who have no savings, because if they saved, they would go hungry or homeless. Wake up and smell the coffee poor people can’t afford!

  • http://creatingtreasures.blogspot.com/ Tereza Crump

    AT our house, when our kids ask us for something, we say ” We will see.” that means we will think, pray and talk about it and decide if we will purchase or pay for the wanted thing. We don’t say we can’t afford it. We just take our time deciding if it’s worth expending that amount of money.

    My kids are doing karate and they want some sparring gear. They know exactly how much it costs. They decided to pull their money together and are earning the remaining that is necessary. They are learning to wait, to work for it and to compromise for it. Instead of drinking tea they are drinking water at our week family night out to save a couple of bucks to buy their gear.

    We should be able to buy said gear by the end of May. God willing. :)

  • Kate E

    50K a year does not make you “poor” I make $8528.00 a year, and that includes child support.  Try living on that and buying $100 shoes whenever 2 kids want them.  Reality check.  If you are not below the poverty level you need to not judge as if you know about being poor.  Ever had to choose between toilet paper and paying the powe rbill???

  • Maiasaura

    Well, see, and this is what I heard and try to say, instead of “I can’t afford it”: that I don’t have it in the budget, or that I have the money but it’s earmarked for . THOSE are much more true. Yep, I have $100– but it’s for food this month. Or something else that is necessary. So in a sense, I *can’t* afford it for the shoes, but I could if I jettisoned something else. Like toilet paper, like Kate E said below.

  • Debra

    Kate…The author also is the father of 16 children…It is relative

  • Julia B.

    Wow! As I skimmed through this after searching up, “what to do if I want shoes that cost $225,” I feel different after reading this! I’m thirteen, and I have these same problems, but my parents know I’m smart enough to understand they’re not too poor to give me and my sister money. Now I really understand what those rich kids are actually doing from my school. That’s a shock to me because I’m never really given shoes that cost $100 on the spot. What about saying to your kid simply, “$100 is a lot of money, so not right now,” that’s what my parents do and it’s unfair. It’s really just saying another day I’ll get them for you, but it stops your kids from asking I guess. This article shows a good tactic though! Why it’s actually a waste of money.