The "I Can't Afford It" Excuse

The “I Can’t Afford It” Excuse

About a month ago, a new neighbor moved in across the street from my parents. His driveway is directly in line with the driveway of my parents’ next-door neighbors.

The "I Can't Afford It" ExcuseOne day while visiting, I was sitting at the kitchen table, and I watched in horror as this new neighbor backed his truck into the mailbox next-door. It was like it was happening in slow motion.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an unusual occurrence. Someone hit my parents’ mailbox a little while ago. The mailboxes are all the way at the curb, positioned a little weirdly, making it all too easy to hit them.

Even worse, you have to have a specific mailbox, it’s a community standard. Of course, they’re not cheap. They’re all metal, and it costs $200 to replace.

They’re also cemented into the ground, so you have to get someone to pour concrete and then stick the post in.

Hopefully you’re beginning to see how much of a hassle this is.

“I can’t afford to fix it…”

Which is why I was surprised when news came that he once again managed to hit their mailbox a few weeks ago. Pretty sure that was twice in less than a month!

As we were outside talking to the next-door neighbors, they were visibly upset. These are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and no one has seen them so mad before!

It turns out the first time the mailbox was damaged, they spoke to the new neighbor, and told him they would be willing to take $80 for repairs, a hefty discount from $200.

I can’t afford that,” the new neighbor replied, handing over only $60.

Being the nice people they are, they accepted that and walked away. But this time, there was going to be a price to pay.

They ended up filing a complaint with maintenance, and he’s being billed directly for the services. They don’t have to listen to his excuses.

Let me give you a brief overview of why I think this is a load of bull.

In the month he’s been here, this new neighbor has purchased:

  • Storage space for his boat as it’s not allowed in the driveway
  • A fancy golf cart
  • A scooter
  • He had a classic car delivered (I think he owned it, it just made the move separately)
  • 8 palm trees ($260/each, plus installation)

He also owns an adorable dog that he can’t be bothered to leash so I kind of want to steal her if she ever lands near my parents’ house. (Joking…maybe.)

All of this (and plenty more), and he has the nerve to tell them he can’t afford it?! Yeah, okay. If that’s truly the case, maybe you shouldn’t have gone out and purchased all that crap!

To be fair, everyone in their community is either retired or working toward it. Golf carts are all the rage down there, but I still don’t see why you would need 4 different vehicles to choose from (including his regular truck)…

In any case, everyone is very unhappy with this guy. You can’t really screw over super nice neighbors and get away with it. He should have owned up to his mistake, and paid for it. Or at least offered to pay the rest when he could. I just couldn’t believe he managed to hit the mailbox again so soon! Wouldn’t you be looking out for it?

That time I said I can’t afford it…

I have to admit, I am guilty of using this phrase too, albeit in a different way. I would never try to use it as an excuse to get out of paying for something that I rightfully should.

I do say it when I don’t want to buy something. That doesn’t really make sense, right? R had to correct me on this weeks ago.

“Let’s go out to eat!”

“No, we can’t afford it.”

“Yes we can, you just don’t want to spend the money.”

It made wonder why I always default to saying that. It’s true – technically, we can afford it, but I choose not to spend my money on certain things.

Sadly, I think it comes from so many years of my mom saying it. Any time we went shopping, and I wanted something: “We can’t afford it.” It was clear we were there to only get what was on the list, and nothing more. That phrase was beaten into my head, and I felt guilty ever asking for (or receiving) anything.

In my parent’s case, they really couldn’t afford to buy more. It wasn’t an excuse. They were living paycheck to paycheck and in debt.

Thus, the “we can’t afford it” mentality made its way into my head over the years. I am plagued by the feeling of not having enough, when in actuality, I do. I’m just haunted by what my parents went through.

It’s definitely part of a bigger problem (I have a rather unhealthy relationship with money), but I’m trying to address it piece by piece.

No longer will I say we can’t afford something (unless it’s a brand new car or a house; those are out of our reach right now!), but I will acknowledge that I’m not willing to spend my money on it because I have other priorities.

Truthfully, I felt a little ashamed once I stepped back and thought about it. By saying I couldn’t afford things, I was doing a disservice to those who are in a much worse situation than me. We have a decent amount of savings, I just don’t like to think about it since I don’t like parting with money. But it’s there if we seriously need it, so I need to stop acting like it would be a sin to spend.

By saying we have better things to spend our money on, I’m not inadvertently saying we’re “poor” and can’t go out, and that’s a step in the right direction for me.

Have you ever had someone pull the “I can’t afford it” excuse on you? Have you had false beliefs about your financial situation before, or used a phrase without thinking it through?

Erin M.

Erin is a personal finance writer and virtual assistant who loves talking about money and how to use it as a tool to get what you want out of life. When she's not obsessing over numbers or working (which is rare), she can be found messing around in Photoshop, laughing at her cat, watching YouTube videos, playing video games, chair dancing, or any random combination of the above.

53 thoughts on “The “I Can’t Afford It” Excuse

    1. Ha. I’m wondering if it will happen a third time, honestly…hopefully he did end up paying the office, but at least the neighbors don’t need to worry about it.

      Usually, if my boyfriend presses on, I will eventually say something like, “There’s no room in the budget for it!” I’m going to work on saying that first.

      1. Like I said, the neighbors are very nice people. I think they wanted to try and settle it themselves (even giving him a discount) before going to maintenance. Once it happened a second time, I guess they decided not to deal with him anymore, which was a smart move.
        Erin M. recently posted: Being Grateful: Forty-First EditionMy Profile

  1. I think this falls into the “I’m just looking” when a sales rep asks you if you need any help. It’s our initial reaction to prevent us from invoking a conversation/situation that we do not to be involved with.

    Also that neighbor sounds like a creep who has prob got away with that type of stuff for a long time, prob overdue.
    Even Steven recently posted: Guys with Beards are Secret Frugal MofosMy Profile

    1. That’s a good analogy!

      I jokingly asked my parents if there was any way he could get kicked out of the community. Not many people are happy with him!

    1. Yes, that too! I don’t even consider buying something when I say we can’t afford it, and I guess that’s another mental barrier I put up to defend against spending too much.

  2. Should that neighbour even be driving? Holy moly talk about the worst neighbors you could ever have!

    I think when people say “I can’t afford it” I automatically translate it to mean “I choose not to spend my money on that” and since I endorse people being financially prudent (but not cheap), I’m okay with either statement. :-D
    debt debs recently posted: What is Your Vision of Retirement?My Profile

    1. I was honestly wondering how he managed to make it there in one piece…well, I think he did damage his boat a little. It’s sad, because the immediate neighbors around my parents are all super nice, and they have a good relationship, but this guy is kind of infringing.

      I don’t think it’s necessarily bad, it just depends on the mentality behind it. I can be too frugal for my own good at times!

    1. It’s not a distinction I ever thought about before, either. But after realizing where it’s coming from, I think it’s best to get to a better place! Negative thoughts can manifest themselves in subtle ways.

    1. Yep, that could very well be the case. It’s frightening to think of as he’s probably around 70 years old. I wouldn’t want to be in debt during my retirement!

    1. Sadly it wouldn’t surprise me, though I know he had a nice house in a very good location, so he probably made a decent profit when he moved. I guess he’s letting loose a bit.

  3. Wow! I can’t believe that story, and I hate when people say they can’t afford things when they are at fault. If he couldn’t afford to fix the mailbox, he should not be driving because he clearly can’t afford the liability of being the type of driver that he is. I think it’s easy to get in the I can’t afford it habit, and it’s true there is probably a better way to phrase it. I usually tell my son we can afford it, we are just choosing to make a smarter choice with our money.
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted: Show Me the Money So I Can Ignore ItMy Profile

    1. That’s not even half of it – within weeks of moving his truck also got a huge dent in it. Apparently it’s been in the body shop for a week or so. He probably should not be driving! Sadly he didn’t seem to care, as he left the mailbox as it was and didn’t leave a note the second time (neighbors weren’t home).

      I think that’s a great way to word it!

  4. i’ve done the same thing as you Erin. I say I can’t afford something, when I really can I just don’t want to pay for it. But if I honestly owed someone something for doing damage to their property, I’d find a way to “afford it”. At least R helped you realize your problem and you can work on it together.
    Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore recently posted: September 2014 Budget PlansMy Profile

    1. It’s strange how I’ve never thought about it before. R has no problem spending on things that matter to him, and I could definitely learn to be a little more lax!

  5. That guy needs to seriously consider some more driving lessons by the sound of it!

    As I read your post Erin, I realised that I’d said those very words to my daughter at the supermarket today. She was asking for some hair accessories, but I went in to get groceries and I really needed to stick to the budget (being in debt and all). She kept asking for them and so I told her we couldn’t afford it! I supposed I could have bought them and it wouldn’t have broke the bank so technically I could have afforded them but I didn’t want to stray from my budget because of my financial goals.

    I should have phrased it in a better way. I can see why you feel that way about money about watching your parents go through financial stress over the years.

    I need to read up on what Shannon from The Heavy Purse says to do again!
    Hayley @ Disease Called Debt recently posted: Creating and Selling Digital Products on eBay or EtsyMy Profile

    1. His license should probably be revoked!

      Shannon is an amazing source of advice. I know it’s really hard when you’re in debt as opposed to saving for something. It’s much easier to tell your child, “Sorry, we can’t buy that right now because we’re saving for a vacation!” That’s a positive. But, “Sorry, we can’t buy that because we have no money” still sounds awful. I was very aware that money was tight in our house from an early age, and it had a huge impact on me. Then again, I was about 7, I don’t remember anything from when I was 3 or 4!

      Perhaps you could highlight what being debt free will do for you? Or just, “Sorry, mom and dad are working really hard to save up right now, and we have to stick to the list!” This way there’s no negative connotation there.

  6. It’s good that your neighbors were able to get the maintenance company to directly bill the crappy driver on the block – otherwise he would have definitely tried to weasel his way out of paying in full like he did the last time. When I was young, my mom also would tell me the “I can’t afford it” sentence if I wanted something in the store – and she meant every word. I made the reverse mistake in the past trying to convince myself that “I can afford it” even when that was such a lie.
    Kassandra @ More Than Just Money recently posted: Mentors I Admired (and Why)My Profile

    1. He came home later that day and at least went over and spoke to them, so I’m guessing they were going to work something out. Credit cards make it all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking we can afford things!

  7. I’ve tried to become more specific and accurate with my wording because of my work, but I’m still guilty of saying “I can’t afford it” . It’s all about priorities and I prioritize certain things, but I could pay the money if I wanted to.

    Wow to your parents neighbour. I do agree with some of the commenters that he might be swiping his lifestyle and doesn’t have $200 in cash. I’d hope that isn’t the case, especially at his age in a retirement community, but who knows.
    Alicia recently posted: Transferring My Student LOC to a Credit CardMy Profile

    1. Right. Eating out isn’t really a priority for me, but R likes to go out once or twice a month. We can definitely afford it, but I’d rather put that money toward our student loans!

      I know! I can’t imagine being in my 70s and having no savings. Hopefully he just doesn’t have much cash laying around, but he could have told the neighbors he would drive to the bank. Just sounds like he wanted to get out of paying.

    1. I balked at that, too, when my parents first told me. It’s a bit ridiculous! Everything is kind of cookie cutter in their community, so I guess they have certain standards.

    1. Yeah I’m glad that they were able to do that as an alternative. The one neighbor was about to cry she was so mad, and she’s really the sweetest person ever. I felt so bad.

    1. I thought it was pretty crazy when I first heard about it, too. The HOA is probably making a profit considering how many mailboxes get knocked down.

      Haha, seriously – he had the golf cart delivered in the same weekend as the mailbox incident. Some people!

  8. wow that guy is a crappy driver! Perhaps he should invest, you know when he can afford it, in driving school. :) I’ve been guilty of saying that too, but realize how negative it sounds to people, so now I say “it’ snot in my budget,” and these days that’s more true than ever, so I’ll try not to run over any mailboxes. ha!

  9. I got angry that the neighbor refused to pay the DISCOUNTED $80 price! At first, I tried to sympathize and thought maybe he couldn’t afford it, but after you listed all the luxuries that he has, he was just being an inconsiderate jerk. You make a good point about using the “can’t afford it excuse.” I think it’s a trap I fall into sometimes too, but the better mindset is that sure we can afford it, but we have other priorities and goals.

    1. He really does seem like an all around inconsiderate person. I don’t like to make judgments, but from what my parents have said, it sounds like he enjoys talking a big game and bragging about his various possessions. He moved to the wrong neighborhood!

    1. I think “We don’t need that” can be powerful, especially as kids grow. It teaches them to evaluate purchases before making them, which is valuable!

  10. My mom did the same thing when I was growing up. I really thought we were very poor when I was a kid. Turns out my mom was just extremely frugal and perhaps a little misguided about the way she communicated that. I also grew up feeling super guilty for wanting things.

    If my husband wants to go out to eat, I just tell him if we already spent the eating-out budget for the month. If it is friends, I am very reluctant to say we can’t afford it or that it isn’t a priority. We COULD afford it! and spending time with friends IS a priority. I usually just offer a free or cheap activity instead- maybe coffee instead of lunch, or a potluck at our place instead of dinner out.

    1. My grandma has a habit of doing that. She’s in a decent financial situation, but she is very choosy with what she spends her money on. Maybe my mom inherited from her…

      I think it’s great to offer cheaper solutions! Our friends knew we were down for board games and potlucks, just not going out to eat at restaurants. Thankfully it worked out.

  11. What a jerk!!! I would be livid if that happened to me. If he has all of those fancy things, and has bought more while he’s lived there, maybe he should buy himself some driving lessons. Sheesh!

    As for the can’t afford it excuse, I admit I use that sometimes with B when he wants to go out. And it’s not that we can’t, it’s just that I get overwhelmed with costs sometimes and just say ‘we can’t afford it’ to shut down anymore expenses. I need to work on balancing fun with our budget!
    Melissa @ Sunburnt Saver recently posted: Link Love Saturday!My Profile

    1. I learned a lot more today now that I’m visiting my parents, too. Apparently he’s been having fun gambling up at the clubhouse, so it does appear he has some money!

      Yep, I get overwhelmed with spending at times, too. I need to improve on my lack of spending habits. It sounds so strange to say that!

  12. How awful for your neighbors. If I hit a mailbox I would pay for it because it was my fault. The guy should’ve been the same way and ‘owned up to his mistake’ as you stated. How could you not feel guilty for breaking something and then to turn around and say “you fix it”? I hope they do make him pay in full!
    Rebecca recently posted: 8/17: Sunday rambles and linksMy Profile

    1. Thankfully my parents got news he did pay for it. Apparently there’s been a lot more going on than I knew, he doesn’t seem to care about the community at all. Which explains his nonchalant attitude toward damaging the property of others.

    1. Hi Rob, thanks for stopping by! I’m of the opinion our thoughts do matter. It’s a subtle difference in mindset that makes the difference sometimes. “I can’t afford it” paints a different picture than “it’s not in the budget.” Then again, I tend to overthink things, too =).

  13. I can’t say I’ve ever suspected someone using the ‘I can’t afford it’ line when they really can. I’ve had people say that before, but I’ve always believed it was true. Your example of saying “I can’t afford it” when you really could made me smile…I’ve done that before…it’s not that we’re broke, it’s that I have better things to spend my money on, right?
    Travis @Debtchronicles recently posted: Are You Taking Care Of Your Money?My Profile

    1. Exactly Travis! I usually take people’s word for it, especially when it comes to friends or family. Thankfully I’ve never been in a situation where it would be detrimental to me (as is the case with my parent’s neighbors).

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