Overcoming the Stigma of Saying “I Can’t Afford It”

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This is a guest post by Taylor Gordon.

It’s like a dagger to the heart.

 When you can’t afford something you really want. I’m not talking those instances where you make a decision to be frugal. Rather the moments when you don’t have much extra cash after paying rent, bills, and contributing to your savings account.

Whether it’s not being able to buy lunch from a food truck or that awesome jacket on display at H&M, you likely feel a combination of these emotions:

Sorrow, self pity, and shame.

I’ve been there.

I made a commitment to myself last year to pay off my student loan within 6 months and save aggressively. As I worked toward some ambitious goals, I found myself with little to no cash for luxuries since I refused to rely on credit cards or touch my growing emergency fund.

Because of this I avoided every situation that would result in money spent.

If I had the slightest idea that a conversation was heading towards “let’s go shopping” I would change the topic. Or if invited out for drinks I came up with a lame excuse like “I have to feed our cat.”

When the reality was – I just couldn’t afford it based on my financial goals.

Yet I was far too fearful of the stigma that comes with saying those words out loud. What would people think of me? Would they misunderstand my personal finance goals?

I wrestled with being embarrassed about my spending capabilities for a while. Then I came to some profound realizations that led me to proudly acknowledge that some purchases are outside of my comfortable spending zone.

And there’s no shame in admitting it.

Realization 1: No one can afford everything.

Not being able to afford something you want or need can feel isolating if it seems like people around you spend money freely. But remember this – no one can afford everything they want.

I bet millionaires yearn for what billionaires take for granted. It’s just a part of life. Own your financial position because it’s the only one that you have control over. Know that you’re not alone pinching pennies during your personal finance journey particularly if you’re paying down debt. You have thousands of other college grads right by your side.

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Realization 2: Facing it is commendable.

Do you admit to yourself when you can’t afford something? Kudos, not everyone can. That shows true character. After all, we can pretty much “afford” anything these days thanks to so many available credit lines.

Saying no and sticking to your guns means you’re aware of your spending capabilities and you’re responsibly doing what you have to do now to live financially stable later. Every time you recognize financial limitations you avoid overextending yourself.

Realization 3: The moment is fleeting.

Not being able to afford something you really want is only temporary. While repaying my student loan and saving I had to remind myself often that I didn’t need everything now, now, now. With some patience I could save up slowly for purchases and save myself the grief.

 Put self pity aside and focus on what your future financial goals are and what’s causing you to live the scaled back life in this moment. Sure the stress of being very money conscious was painful for me at the time. However, after that period of being uncomfortable the accomplishment of having completely paid off my student loan and being financially secure was wonderful.

Realization 4: Stigma comes from within.

My fear of shame made me reclusive during this period. I made assumptions about the reactions of my peers to not spend money before giving them a chance. After a while I felt silly coming up with reasons for staying home to cover up an legitimate one. (Plus, there’s only so many excuses you can make that involve taking care of your cat before things get awkward).

Friends and family were far more receptive to, “Sorry, can’t afford that” than I thought. Rather than feeling pity for me they were interested in finding out how I planned to repay my student loans. Imagine that?

Be careful that you don’t project your internal feeling of shame on others. People respect honesty and will probably be less judgmental of your actions than you are.

Final Word

It’s normal for us to feel a little sting as we enter adulthood not being able to afford all the things in life we envisioned when we were younger.

But the truth is, we’ll likely have this feeling many more times in our lives. So, instead of letting the stigma of voicing the dreaded 4 words get you down consider the silver lining:

Overcoming the stigma of saying I can’t afford it now is building up your endurance for reaching extraordinary future financial goals.

Taylor-GordonTaylor Gordon is a professional freelance blogger living in D.C. You’ll usually find her sipping Earl Grey tea or blogging about her journey to financial freedom at Trendy Cheapo. Follow her @TrendyCheapo.

Image Credit: Sharyn Morrow

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