Some believe that using this phrase can induce anxiety in children, and where there are larger money issues I imagine that this can be the case. My own mother used the phrase often enough that when my teachers started talking about college, I was worried that (going away to) college--a near given since there were no Universities within commuting distance--would be far out of my parents reach. I never had any anxiety about my parents ability to afford food, utilities, a home, or many other things from needed shoes to some extracurriculars. But, I was convinced that college was simply out of reach. After all, they said no to so many other things that "everyone" else had.
In my parents defense, had they known that the 8th grade math teacher would try to scare us into higher academic performance by creating fears that if we were not straight A students with a boatload of honors classes and high SAT scores that we would never get into a top public University (we weren't exactly the wealthiest crowd of honor students), I'm certain my parents would have addressed the myths and facts of college admission and affordability sooner than later. Truly they were blind sighted. Being from blue collar backgrounds, they also didn't know that in more middle income segments of society, that the college frenzy begins as early as middle school.
For the most part, we try not to use this phrase in our home. I'm not worried so much about potential anxiety attacks if we were to use the phrase, but the phrase doesn't really work well for us, a middle class family, surrounded by more of the same. I believe that for families like us, the phrase is fairly meaningless to financially dependent children of all ages, if not somewhat deceptive.
We don't live in a time where money (or the equivalent) is visible and understandable. I can't point to the dollars underneath the mattress and explain that the $100 underneath the mattress need to last until the end of the month. Nor can I point to the cow in the backyard and explain that it only gives so much milk and therefore we only have so much milk to barter with/drink. Money is a rather vague concept when day-to-day transactions are mostly electronic. (This is a good argument for using cash as much as possible). Additionally, when credit is added to the picture, it is even more difficult to understand what "afford it" actually means.
Not only is money hard to visualize, there is a good chance that whatever the littler set asks for is actually affordable (so long as we simply define "afford it" in terms of the (electronic) cash being available to us). On top of that, most of us spend plenty and our kids see us spending plenty, and it makes little sense to tell them we can't "afford" whatever ridiculous thing they are asking for when we just dropped three times as much for something else. Where our children do understand that we have the money, I don't want them to think we are holding out, being cheap, what have you, on their accounting, or anyone else's accounting (a related subject is what to say to the myriads of organizations and individuals that call/knock on the door at all hours of the day and evening).
Since I'd rather not throw meaningless and/or slightly deceptive phrases around, here are some other ways to say "I Can't Afford It":
- "Just Say No." (E.g., NO I will not spend $600 on a pair of glasses frames. Period. End of sentence). Watch for an upcoming post for which this very subject.
- Say no while explaining why you don't want the item in the home period. (E.g., No I will not buy you a [fill in desirable toy or fashion] because we don't want this item in our home. . . ).
- Say no and explain that the price charged is beyond its value and invite the child defer their gratification and to search for a better value. (E.g., $60 is a lot to pay for a pair of tennis shoes. But they are nice, and I bet that if you watch the sales, that you can find the same shoes for $30).
- Point out that they can get much more for their money if they go somewhere else, (E.g., I see how much you like board games/craft sets. I bet you could get four games at the thrift store/consignment shop for the price of a single game at the department store).
- Just state the rules: "When we go to the grocery store, we are only going to buy what is on the list." "You are welcome to pick out whatever produce you would like for your lunch this week, but remember that we only buy produce that is $x per pound or less." "That is not in the budget for this month." Of course, if you state the rules, you should be prepared to stick to them too.
- When you do make a large purchase, say a newer car, mention that the car was purchase because everyone passed up things they wanted, leaving money available for such a big purchase.
Readers, what things have you said in place of "I can't afford it"? What things have resonated with your children? What other things have you said that you won't try to say again.