Should I Tell My Family: "We Can't Afford That"
One of your children comes up to you and asks you to buy a pricey item. It could be some pricey gadget. Perhaps it’s a toy for a younger child. It could also be a ticket to an event or something fun to do. What do you say?
Here are your choices:
- We can’t afford that
- We choose not to buy that
What is the difference between those two answers? They might seem the same. They are distinct and that difference is important.
"to manage to bear without serious detriment" Afford as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary
There are indeed situations or seasons where you truly cannot afford something. With that in mind, how many times is the phrase uttered when that is not the case? How many times have you or your spouse said it? How many times have you said the phrase when you could afford the purchase, but really made a choice not to buy?
It is understandable why we use the phrase because it’s an easy answer in the moment. Why can’t we buy that? We just can’t, ok son? It’s a more difficult path to say you have the money but have opted not to buy this electronic, toy, food, or trinket. The same challenge exists across life stages in your family. It’s just as difficult with a five-year-old that wants a doll as with a 15 year old that wants some nice clothes.
What your answer means
When you say your reason for not making a purchase is a matter or affording it or not, you are communicating several things:
If we had the money, we would buy this
If our family had a windfall tomorrow, we would but this in an instant.
Our choice to not buy this is out of our control
The decision to not buy this thing is based on our financial circumstances and not a choice we have made.
Buying decisions are dictated by factors beyond our control
Outside factors influence our spending decisions, not our own priorities.
We choose not to buy that
When you say your reason for not making a purchase is a choice and purposeful, you are communicating several things:
It says that your family makes choices to not spend every dime that is available
Just because money is in the bank account, does not mean it will be spent.
It says your family chooses to spend some money and not spend some money
We make a choice to allocate some dollars for spending and some to be saved.
It says that we balance choices, make trade offs, and we take responsibility for those choices
We make choices to spend money in some areas and abstain in others. We are accountable for those choices and live with that knowledge.
It says that sometimes we can do without things and that’s OK
We acknowledge that some things are needs and some things are wants.
It says that we can be patient and deliberate with spending decisions
We make choices to prioritize spending decisions and sometimes that means waiting for something. We choose the timing.
This is correct, but difficult
Now, I was not born yesterday. I too, have been in the grocery store standing on the precipice of my offspring melting down (toddler and teenager alike). The path we’re talking about here is indeed more difficult in the moment. There is no doubt about that. What will you gain though? Think about it this way. Do you want your son or daughter to ask difficult questions when you’re beside them or when they’re grown and trying to do it on their own?
"Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man's dwelling, but a foolish man devours it." Proverbs 21:20 ESV
What will you gain?
After you work on this as a family for a while, it will get easier. It will help change your family’s mindset around how things happen in your financial life. Things happen because you have control and make choices instead of things happening to you outside of your family's control. Your children, throughout their journey to adulthood, see their parents as captains of a ship. Is that ship’s course steered by the waves or by the captain and crew?
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