No More "I Can’t Afford That"

Get EmpoweredIf there’s one phrase I hate more than douchebag (although it’s a close call) it would have to be – “I can’t afford that.” It drives me bonkers! Most people CAN afford “that,” they just choose not to (right Evan?). It’s a big difference if you think about it.

Saying you can’t afford something gives all the power to a magical object out there looking to tease you. It knows you want it, but guess what – You can’t have it! “Hah!” it laughs to itself. Little do they know how wrong they are. Sure, some things really are off limits (mansions, private jets, playboy bunnies) but the majority of stuff IS attainable – we just don’t desire ’em enough to trade our money for the other things we could do with it. We’ve got houses to save for and debt to pay off, ya know?

We are the ones who decide where our money goes and how to prioritize it, not some $50 tee or 60″ flat screen. So tell those jackals to back off. They’re not in control of us, WE are. We may secretly lust after them, but we’re not about to wreck our financial goals for the quick high… at least not today ;) And even if we did that would still be okay because it would be OUR choice – not theirs. We’re the empowered ones here, it’s important to remember that.

But before you nix it from your vocabulary (because I know you will now, right? RIGHT?), let’s get these objects out in the open for everyone to see! We’re not afraid of them – we just prioritize our money! We like money, and we like having options. So pray tell, what is something YOU can afford but choose not to? Here are some of the answers my V.I.P. Crew holler’d with:

  • New cars, mountain bikes, Louboutins, flat screens, computers, $300 jeans, soda makers (what the?), canoes, golf clubs, fishing boats, blenders, sewing machines, furniture, Wiis, hair cuts, and on and on and on…

There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing our money guys. It’s time to empower ourselves and acknowledge we hold a lot more buying power than we let on! We’re rock stars, and we’re proud to spend intelligently ;)

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  1. A Family of Geeks February 23, 2010 at 12:37 PM

    Doesn't bother me at all, because I can't afford some things IF I want to reach my end goal. No shame in acknowledging the facts of life.

  2. Griff February 23, 2010 at 1:55 PM

    Prioritize your money is great advice. My wife and I are going to sit down and do that together this weekend. thanks for reminder.

  3. Bucksome Boomer February 23, 2010 at 2:07 PM

    I used to use that that phrase with my kids when they were asking for something or other that I didn't want to buy them at the time.

    Now, I just say that it's not in my budget. Slight difference in words but but difference in meaning.

  4. Philip February 23, 2010 at 2:07 PM

    Had to google what Louboutins was! Not on my list.

    Anyway, how bout some alternative phrases to use when someone asks us why we have not gotten the new TV or bike or whatever else. What do you use?

  5. Karmella February 23, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    Okay, I am with you 90%, but reading this got me thinking – what's the substitute language? For my mental process, if I need it I'd probably go with "that's not a priority" — but what if you're out with friends, and you obviously want that pair of sunglasses and you sigh regretfully and put them down – what's the language? (No, you don't owe anyone an explanation, it's your choice, etc – all of that is acknowledged)

    Saying "ugh, I can't afford it!" communicates what you need to – within your financial construct, you can't afford it. It doesn't fit with how you run your financial life, and you won't like the financial or psychological consequences if you buy it. I think for most people, "I can't afford it" conveys that more than it conveys that you literally cannot afford it.

    In some ways, if you've gotten to the point where you're thinking through purchases and making good choices, you have taken back a whole lot of power.

    But I agree that language is powerful, and I'd prefer positive phrasing to negative, so we need a phrase that's short, conveys our message, doesn't sound holier than thou or induce eye rolling, and doesn't invite a request for explanation (to me, I see "that's not a priority right now" as doing that).

  6. Jen @ After The Alter February 23, 2010 at 2:41 PM

    I agree with Karmella! As My Journey to Million's wife (who was linked to in this post) I got bashed for using the "I can't afford it" language…but I think people know what I am talking about. When I say it I DO MEAN that I can afford it but choose not to…What's the alternative when talking about the Lexus truck that I drool over but know in my head that a car is just a car no matter what brand? "I can't afford it" Just seems to fit :)

  7. Evan February 23, 2010 at 2:41 PM


    Its a priority thing, and I think that is where the communication breakdown happened with the wife. I can afford almost everything you mentioned above (sans the Playboy bunny), but I know my priorities are different than the dude or female that goes and buys that stuff without thinking.

    For the commenter above, why can't you just say to friends or family…"nah, I am good" or if you don't talk like me than, why can't you just say, "I don't need it or want it right now."

    P.S. I am not a huge user of the word d-bag and if I am going to use it I simplify it to its "d-bag" form, but I did use it in a recent post lol

  8. Lulu February 23, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    I use the 'not in my budget' phrase all the time. I also say 'that is not my priority right now' because I am focused on getting rid of credit card debt.

    I see way too many people around me who think they can afford EVERYTHING and then it comes back to bite them.

    I do budget for splurges and once the splurge fund is at a level that is good then I go buck wild!!!!!

    But don't let Suze Orman hear you say that…as she is fond of saying 'Denied!!! You can NOT afford that'.

  9. J. Money February 23, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    Hmmm…yeah, guess I should have nominated a new phrase in its place ;) I like some of what you guys are coming up with though. I'd be cool with "It doesn't fit within the budget" or even better, "Nah, I'm good" haha…

    Or how about, "Yeah, I'd rather pass." It's not too complicated, you're owning up to it, and it doesn't invite any snarky remarks

  10. Brad Chaffee February 23, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    This is an AWESOME post J! I really love how you write dude! It is true, you do make personal finance fun! :D

  11. Dawn February 23, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    For awhile there, unless it was basic food and utilities, I couldn't afford it. I didn't mind using the phrase because it stated the truth and people really seemed to understand where I was coming from. It was especially helpful when friends were socializing – people didn't push if I couldn't go out.

    Now that things are better, I like the "not in the budget" phrase. It is truthful, and it clearly says that it isn't something that's a priority right now.

  12. J. Money February 23, 2010 at 4:45 PM

    That's a valid point actually – if you WANT to convey that you really can't afford something to people so they leave you alone. I have a friend or two that would drop the subject if I said that (since it leaves them no room to convince me anymore). I think if I said "it's not my priority" they might get mad ;) haha…

    This is great reading all the opinions. Discussions like these are great!

  13. Jenni February 23, 2010 at 5:26 PM

    I think I disagree … if my friends invite me out to dinner after we've just gone out last week, it makes more sense to say "Sorry, I can't afford that this month." Then it's not that I don't want to hang out with them, it's just that I can't/choose not to spend the money.

    Saying "No, I'm good" or "not my priority" doesn't necessarily get that across … it makes it more sound like the hanging-out-with-them part isn't my priority!

  14. Investing Newbie February 23, 2010 at 5:55 PM

    Isn't the definition of affordability your willingness to give up one thing in exchange for another? In that case, I think I can't afford that is a perfect use of the phrase because we have low "willingness/desire" to exchange money/goals/whatever for any of those items on the list.

    Mad love J.Money, but today, I'm not with you on this. I just can't afford to co-sign on this…LOL!

  15. J. Money February 23, 2010 at 6:34 PM

    Haha, no worries. I actually like it when people disagree ;) Adds more spice up in here & opens our eyes to another angle.

  16. Financial Samurai February 23, 2010 at 7:27 PM

    I can't afford to mess around with my finances now because life is too short!

  17. Jason @ MyMoneyMinute February 23, 2010 at 7:27 PM

    Great post, J. Money – it's true we can afford many things, but when you're trying to spread the gospel of financial responsibility, you sometimes want to try different verbage other than "I can't afford it."

    Maybe proclaiming "It's not a priority" will initiate a conversation about your spending habits. You might also exclaim "That doesn't fit into this month's discretionary spending" and foster a talk on budgeting strategies. Perhaps stating "I'm definitely saving up for that!" will spawn a discussion on paying cash & the dangers of credit card usage.

    Possibly, your friends will just roll their eyes and call you a D-bag.

  18. A.B. February 23, 2010 at 8:06 PM

    While I appreciate the point of empowerment, (there are some things I won't afford, even though I can), it seemed a little dismissive to the low-income/still digging out of debt group. Unfortunately, some of us do have to accept that there are things we can't afford. My grandparents wanted us to go to Alaska on a 7-day cruise with them to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Trust me we wanted to go, but couldn't afford it, even if we suspended everything but our minimum payments until then. It's depressing to be at a point in your life where you flat out can't afford things, especially when it causes missed opportunities. The empowering aspect is reviewing the good choices you are making now, and looking forward to the time when you can choose to afford something, or not.

  19. Abigail February 23, 2010 at 8:31 PM

    Actually, I gotta disagree with you. While we're in debt and earning $36,000 a year combined, we CAN'T afford things. In fact, there are lots of things we can't afford.

    Of course, you'll be happy to know I pretty much always add on "right now." So I'm not really imbuing the item with power, so much as limiting our current control. I say that, given our circumstances, we can't afford that thing right now. But later, when we're out of debt, maybe we can indulge. (Or, if it's needed sooner, we can save up for it/save up rewards points for it and afford it that way.)

    So how does that fit into your idea?

  20. fallingintofavor February 23, 2010 at 8:46 PM

    I love this post! With my relationship with God, saying I can't afford something and then saying God is my provider don't match up. I don't get asked why I'm not purchasing something. If I were I'd likely say, "thats totally not in my budget!" Or blame it on my other half and say, "my husband may flip!" Which he may if I go over budget!

  21. TeacHer February 23, 2010 at 10:55 PM

    I think I have to disagree with you on this one – the ideas in this post might apply to middle class people, but for the working poor – many of whom literally don't bring home enough money each month to cover necessities – a lot of stuff really is out of reach.

  22. Anonymous February 23, 2010 at 11:44 PM

    We are big fans of the phrase, "It's not in the budget right now." Especially with our kids! Saying we can't afford it implies to them that we are poor, but saying it's not in the budget has allowed us to explain what financial priorities are and why we have them.

  23. J. Money February 24, 2010 at 4:29 AM

    Yeah, I can see that :) I used to think the same thing growing up whenever my parents said we couldn't afford something! haha…little did I know they were working on sending us to college and saving for everyone's futures :)

    I admit too that my views are skewed more toward the middle class since it's what I know. I can appreciate what some of you are saying with REALLY not being able to afford stuff – my views aren't always going to apply to everyone's situations so I'm glared you shared them!

    I think the only time I really had absolutely NO money to my name was when I tried to survive NYC off $8/hr. 90% of my money went to rent (6 of us living in a 3 bedroom apt w/ 1 bathroom) and 10% went to food & beer ;) I couldn't save, and I couldn't buy much of anything, but that was the trade off I made to experience NYC for a bit, eh?

  24. Christina February 24, 2010 at 4:37 AM

    Prioritize where your resources go…It doesn't necessarily mean you can't afford, it's just that, you have other priorities in mind. Or if you really can't afford something, there's no harm accepting the facts. Always live according to your means.

  25. Hopper February 24, 2010 at 5:46 AM

    Great post J. Money. I agree that the language we use has an impact. For years I spent myself deeper and deeper in debt because the question I asked myself when shopping was "Can we afford the payment?" Now before ANY purchase I ask myself "Is this worth another day of being indebted to the bank?" The answer is usually no!

  26. Brad February 24, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    I took this post completely different than some. I took what J was saying as if you want to afford something you should be able to take the steps necessary to get it—whatever it is. Instead of saying you can't have something which pretty much hinders any future efforts to get it, you should say I can have it, and what do I need to do to get it.

    I kind of hate when people refer to poor people as helpless. It's as if they're saying they don't have the ability to make things better and I think that is a huge mistake. If poor people DO they can have just like the rest of us. I don't buy into the crap that singles them out as hopeless. There is more than one way out of poverty and it has nothing at all to do with sitting back and accepting handouts.

    Poor people: I believe you can have whatever it is that you want as long as you are willing to do what it takes to make it happen. To the ones that aren't, well I'm not sure they deserve what they want.

    Poor people are capable people. :)

  27. jennydecki February 24, 2010 at 5:37 PM

    I remember on my first date with my now-husband we went to the movie theatre and he said that popcorn was "too expensive" – I looked him dead in the face and said, "Nothing is too expensive, it's whether it's worth it to you to spend your money on."

    To his credit, he thought it through and agreed with me rather than argue. Which is good because if he'd argued he'd be with some trashy poor girl now instead of with is amazing wife :)

    My pet peeve is when people say something is "too expensive" – you either don't have enough money yet or don't want it bad enough.

    Sheesh – all this to say I AGREE WITH YOU 100%!! LOL

  28. Moneymonk February 24, 2010 at 7:30 PM

    I love this post. You are so right.

    When it comes to something I want I always ask myself "How CAN I afford it?"

  29. J. Money February 24, 2010 at 9:40 PM

    Thanks for dropping all your thoughts! The ones that agree with me, and the ones who don't :)

  30. Matt February 25, 2010 at 11:04 PM

    A little late to this, but I like the "This is nice/I want this, but I'd rather spend my money on X (trip to Costa Rica, going out with friends, my future Roomba, etc). This doesn't work in all occasions, but in most circumstances it gets the point across.

    I have to say it was very liberating to realize this justification to myself. It happened because I want a Roomba very, very much. I also want to go to Costa Rica. I realized that instead of doing both right now and stressing about it, I can focus on Costa Rica now and the Roomba when I'm done with that. After all, the Roomba will be much faster to save for.

  31. J. Money February 26, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    Yeah, especially if you keep your eyes out on! They have one there almost every week like 50% off or something ;) And you're right, it's definitely a great realization to come to! One you can hold onto for the rest of your life too.

  32. Meg February 26, 2010 at 5:48 PM

    J, just for the record, I did end up getting a pair of Louboutins. ;) $190 for a brand new pair, MSRP $565. Couldn't beat the deal, and I had to prove to myself money is just a tool to use towards happiness. I love my new shoes. ;)

  33. J. Money February 26, 2010 at 6:05 PM

    Picture please!

  34. Anonymous February 26, 2010 at 11:57 PM

    I can afford a new $20,000 car? thanks I'll go get one tomorrow. who's going to make the payment for me? this post makes no sense to me.

    there are many things I cant afford. that's why I don't buy them. people who buy them anyway are in debt up to their eyeballs.

  35. momondeals February 27, 2010 at 1:03 AM

    A part of me agrees and a part of me does not. I partly agree because I know someone who "can't afford" anything ever, yet smokes like a chimney and eats out about 4 times a week, ummm. On the other hand, there are things I really can't afford right now (like a minivan or a vacation), however, if I take the time to save then eventually I could afford them.

  36. J. Lynne February 28, 2010 at 4:37 AM

    I have to disagree. Some people really cannot afford some things. It isn't a matter of deciding to spend money on one thing or the other. I remember being so broke one month years ago when I was really, really underpaid and living paycheck to paycheck and that month I was not going to be able to pay all of the basics — rent and utilities. I believe I lived on the $5 that was in my purse and the canned food that was in my pantry at the beginning of the month. One day lunch would be beets and the next day it would be green beans.

    I think this post is sort of glib like all of those "just eat less and move more" recommendations to overweight people. It offers something overly simple and obvious but obnoxiously doesn't actually give real advice to get from A to B.

  37. Money Reasons February 28, 2010 at 2:14 PM

    Wow, that was a hot playboy playmate!

    Mental note, when J.Money has the first Millionaire club vacation meeting in Hawaii, if it's a playboy bunny party… Don't go!!! ;)

  38. J. Money February 28, 2010 at 5:46 PM

    Haha, I KNEW some of you would click that ;)

    @J. Lynne – you are right, it is true that not everyone can afford whatever they want. I blog from my own perspective and what I know and am used to, and for me most people I know and interact with CAN afford a lot more than they give themselves credit for. Not all of my posts are going to sit well with everyone, and that's okay :) I blog about what's on my mind and how I see it – sometimes people agree, and others not. Regardless though, I def. enjoy reading everyone's comments and their own point of views – so thanks! It adds even more to the community and gets us to think in other ways.

  39. Christina March 21, 2010 at 6:44 AM

    I don’t use the term “I can’t afford”, I usually, “not my priority”…very true, not that most of us can’t afford to buy something, it’s just not on the budget or not our priority this time. Great read.

  40. J. Money March 22, 2010 at 10:00 PM

    I like “not my priority” for sure :) Glad you enjoyed the read!

  41. Misskaoz June 4, 2010 at 3:29 AM

    Yeah, seems like some people don’t understand what it’s like at the bottom of the food chain. I tell my kids we can’t afford because we can’t. We can’t afford new clothes, we can’t afford toys. We can’t afford for everyone in the house to eat. Of course the children do, but Hey I’ve lost tons of weight. This is our reality. Not because none of us are willing to work, my husband works two jobs. Why don’t i work you ask. You would be surprised at how much a babysitter costs. Break it down for you a extra paycheck and a babysitter equals negative $40.00. Not about budgeting. Though we are never late on bills. Next comment someone would say , why didn’t you go to college. Oh wait we did , what’s college, but $40,000 you will be paying off forever,. I’m being mean lol, today has been hard, daughter’s b-day coming up, She’s turning 2, and she’ll get nothing, that’s sad been saving for months and my husband worked overtime, but if you budget remember this any money you save will find an Extra bill it can be used for such as a car breaking down that’s life. Sorry, folks, some of us can’t afford that either.

  42. Katie May 19, 2011 at 12:37 PM

    Empowering vs. Defeatist attitudes.

    I have been in the reality where I just couldn’t afford things. I have been in the situation where I could afford things that I weren’t my priority. I have been able to afford things that I refused to spend that much money on.

    Sitting back and saying “poor pitiful me” isn’t going to change the situation.

    Oh – and I went to college without incurring student loan debt while being a single mother to 2 children (4 and 7 when I started) and obtained my degree in 3 1/2 years- working 6 nights a week to keep the necessities and yes, I do understand how much babysitters cost. I guess it just really depends on how badly you want something determines how it becomes your goal and what you are willing to give up to make it happen.

    For me, doing something that could improve our overall financial quality of life was imperitive. Yes, I lost a lot of sleep. Yes, there were plays that were missed. Those were the trade-offs for making it happen.

    Just remember, just because you “can’t afford it” today doesn’t mean that you can’t work to afford it “tomorrow”.

    Don’t stand in your own way because you feel defeated.

  43. J. Money May 19, 2011 at 10:32 PM

    Where’s the “like” button?? :)