I Can’t Afford It

My favourite chapter from David Chilton’s, The Wealthy Barber Returns, is the one where he offers four words of advice to someone who was spending too much money going out with friends.  Chilton said, “Sometimes when people ask you to do something, you’ll have to reply, ‘I can’t afford it.’”

It sounds so simple, but few of us have the will power to pass up the chance to go out with friends and family for fear of missing out.

Related: Why do we save?

Our spending habits are heavily influenced by the people around us and that can hurt our ability to save and reach our personal financial goals.

A consumer trends survey conducted by Capital One for Financial Literacy Month revealed that despite two-thirds of Canadians living on a budget, half of them feel they’ve lost control of their personal finances and it might have something to do with their relationships.

Constant pressure from peers to go out and spend can wreak havoc on your budget.  According to the study, it’s acceptable to avoid social situations that can put you in an awkward financial position without any social stigma, which jives with what Chilton preached in his book.

Children’s activities can also take on the feeling of keeping up with the Joneses.  Take hockey, our nation’s pastime, which costs parents just under $3,000 per year on average.  A Globe and Mail article discussed how hockey is becoming a game for the rich, and that parents are struggling to keep up with the rising costs.

It’s okay to be cheap

An overwhelming majority of Canadians (92 percent) said there are acceptable excuses to be cheap, such as when you’re paying off debt, saving for a home, and saving for a child’s education.

Related: The burden of debt

To avoid stress, not only do couples have to be on the same page but so do friends and family.  There’s no shame in taking some time to get your finances under control, and the more open and honest you are about it with your peers, the better.

My wife and I got into debt before we were married and it didn’t help that we spent far too much at restaurants and nights out with friends.  Once we curbed our spending on entertainment we were able to quickly dig our way out of debt, and our relationships didn’t suffer.

The most acceptable areas to cut back spending include groceries, going out with friends, buying gifts, and planning your wedding.  Interestingly, 76 percent of women are willing to cut back on wedding plans compared with 63 percent of men.

Speaking openly with your partner can signify a strong relationship, but disagreements about where to spend money can lead to financial infidelity, where spouses keep money secrets from each other, including lying about purchases.

Although 82 percent of Canadians in relationships say they speak openly and honestly with their partners about money, one-third say their other half’s spending habits have hurt them in achieving financial goals.

Related: Does your spending need tending?

Chilton said it’s not an admission of failure to say no on occasion – it’s an acceptance of reality and no big deal.

Their spouses don’t leave them.  Their friends still call.  Their retirement plans thank them.

Do you ever tell your friends or family that you can’t afford to go out?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Michael on November 10, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with saying you can’t afford something. People always assume its a sign of weakness but I think it’s smart to know your financial limits and stay within them. I respect anyone who says they can’t afford a night out.

    • Echo on November 10, 2013 at 11:34 pm

      @Michael – There’s a mental shift that takes place when you finally admit you can’t afford something. It means you’re thinking about your finances and that’s the first step to start reigning in your spending.

  2. David Tucker on November 11, 2013 at 6:52 am

    Had a lot of respect for David Chilton when he put Kevin O’Leary in his place with regards to MER’s charged by mutual fund companies…not so much when he al of a sudden appeared on Dragon’s Den…

  3. Money Saving on November 11, 2013 at 7:38 am

    Wow – that’s really interesting that a higher percentage of women are willing to cut back on wedding expenses vs. men.

    I also think that if you’re friends are holding it against you that you’re trying to save money for your future, maybe they’re not he kind of friend you want or need.

  4. Shannon on November 11, 2013 at 8:28 am

    I cannot agree with this more! I see so many people put stress on their financial situation rather than just say “no” to friends. We should be honest with our friends and not feel ashamed. The fact is, more people need to be saving more than they do and maybe more honest conversation will help others.

  5. David writer on November 11, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I think most people don’t like admitting that they can’t afford something. In a consumer society, where advertising makes it seem like you really can have it all, people feel that “I can’t afford it” makes them look like a failure.+

  6. Fj9999 on November 11, 2013 at 11:41 am

    “Spending” in the context of this article is presumed to be frivolous. Unfortunately, some spending happens for reasons out of our control. Health problems (ourselves or loved ones) top the list of significant drags on our finances. Anyone who thinks we have a universal health system has never been ill. Drugs, dental, and many other costs are not covered, and even extended health plans have severe limitations. Then of course, there is the inability to work. So, let’s not put all spenders into one group we label irresponsible.

  7. The Passive Income Earner on November 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    I am of the opinion that saying “I can’t afford it” is not being cheap. It’s being responsible. When you are told that you are so cheap, it’s just a way to try and convince you to spend … I can usually turn around and start talking about their personal finances and show them holes.

    My wife hears that a lot from others when talking about spending choices and we end up talking about finances. The funny thing is that I sometimes cannot spend on something because I am spending on my kids to give them opportunities.

  8. Anne @ Unique Gifter on November 12, 2013 at 8:11 am

    I used to say “we’re willingly poor” when we were saving for a down payment. Unfortunately, anyone who knows us a little bit knows rough and dirty that we have a high household income and pretty much no debt… so it doesn’t fly as well as an excuse anymore.

  9. Kat on November 12, 2013 at 10:41 am

    For the most part, my friends were pretty good when I mentioned that I couldn’t afford to go out for dinner. We always try to make other arrangements especially when it gets them thinking that they were probably eating out too much as well.

    We now regularly go for walks, bike rides, etc. All free but still a blast. We do meet up once a month at a restaurant compared to 2x a week. We’re now fitter than before, happier than before, and still have a blast together 🙂

  10. Edward on November 27, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I don’t tell my friends, “I can’t afford it,” because they come back with “Yeah, right–as if you can’t! What a load of cr@p! You’re the only one here who doesn’t have a mortgage, a car, or any debt! We know you’re trying to make yourself rich…” They’re right though–I have mad savings where none of them do. So, I have to find some other excuse to bow out of happy hour. (Suggestions? The “illness in the family” thing is starting to get old with that group and I’m worried that the bad lying karma might come back and actually make someone sick.)

Leave a Comment

Join More Than 10,000 Subscribers!

Sign up now and get our free e-Book- Financial Management by the Decade - plus new financial tips and money stories delivered to your inbox every week.