We can’t afford it | Sunday Observer

We can’t afford it

“We can’t afford it” is one of the most valuable phrases in the English language. All of us could profit by saying it more often. As a friend of mine says, “It keeps you from eating chicken one week and feathers the next.” But, it does more than that. It helps us sort out want or selfish desire from real need. The distinction can be rewarding.

Some years ago, when reconditioned automobile sales dipped sharply, an importer I knew faced a big reduction in income. Some men would have continued to live at their accustomed level on borrowed money. But, this man was not ashamed to say, “We can’t afford it.” He announced to his teenage son and daughter that they could not go abroad for their customary 10-day vacation in April because they couldn’t afford it. Instead, he said, the family would have a local country vacation together in their 8-seater wagon, hiking mountain trails, and sleeping in budget Rest Houses with cooking facilities.

That April, father and son sat down on a dozen evenings and worked out the budget and made the bookings with the Rest Houses. Mother and daughter planned a ten-day trail menu, utilizing rice, cereals, dried fish, flour and other lightweight non- perishables instead of high-priced concentrated foods. It became a family lark to cut costs for the “can’t afford it” trip.

In succeeding years, the family has been well able to afford the foreign holiday, but the children much preferred the annual hiking trip. “l don’t think the family has ever been so close,” the son told me recently. “That one bad business year not only taught us to save money, it built character in us.”

Four words

These four words should be part of every child’s education. A child who has never heard those words, and never been forced to abide by their meaning, has surely been cheated by his parents. Just as exercise strengthens the body, frugality strengthens the spirit. Without its occasional discipline, character suffers.

I know two husky, handsome teenage boys who have never been denied a request in their lives. I’ve watched them grow up since diaper days and, while the family is not wealthy, there has never seemed to be anything the boys wanted that the parents could not somehow supply. Teenagers themselves, during the difficult rationing-days, the parents made sure their sons got what they had missed.

Today, the two youths not only lack any sense of money values - never having had to go without or earn their own; they actually are greedy and discontented.

By contrast, a GCE -A/L Scholarship student I knew, a North East farmer’s son, had often been embarrassed because he could not live as high as his wealthy classmates. Before a father-son meeting one afternoon he listened silently as his roommate’s parent, a company executive, urged his father to send him to Thailand for a Christmas vacation. “The kid will have a great time,” the executive said.

“Perhaps so,” the boy’s father said. “But we can’t afford it.”

There was a long silence as the two men and the boy stood there. Then, the executive smiled. “My friend, neither can I,” he said with respect. “But I’ve never before had the guts to admit it.”

Terrible word

Later, the farmer’s son told me, he almost wept with pride for his father. “I stood about 10 feet tall right then,” he said, “and, I was never again embarrassed about not having money.” His father’s lesson enabled him to face himself and his classmates honestly.

When I was in the Fifth Grade, our class teacher told us, “can’t” was a terrible word. She said by saying we couldn’t do something, we were submitting to defeat, and making that barrier block the progress in our lives.


But now I believe, it’s not always so, and the phrase “I can’t afford it” is one exception. There is nothing wrong with that meaningful phrase. It makes sense.

Recently, my banker tried to talk me into buying the latest model of iPad. He offered me six months’ credit with a low interest. I said, “Thank you for the nice offer but sorry, I can’t afford it.” Admitting I can’t afford, isn’t selling myself short, it’s displaying my self-control. Now the question pops up. How do we stop wanting stuff that we can’t afford? Here are a few tips.

When you find an item, (or a service) you think you need or want, before you pay, you need to answer a few questions, for your own satisfaction. These questions should be personalized to your own buying habits, but here are some example questions:

Is this a planned purchase? Will it end up in the “crap” list one day? Where am I going to put it? Have I included this in my budget? Do I really want/need it? If so, why?

Custom build your questions to hit all of your weaknesses. If you make a lot of impulse buys, include questions that address that. If you experience a lot of buyer’s remorse, include a lot of questions that make you think about the use of the item after you buy it. If buying the latest and greatest technology is your weakness, ask yourself what problem the piece of tech (or service) solves.

If you can’t think of anything it solves or if you already have something that solves it, you don’t need it. Be thorough and build a test that you can run through your mind every time you consider buying something or some service.

People buy most things for emotional, not logical reasons. Almost all of life’s experiences have a rigid system of priorities and demands that can be sorted out only by asking, “Can we afford it?” From the bittersweet pangs of self-denial that inevitably accompany such choice-making grow strength, understanding and realism.