I am a formerly broke person who had to tell people for a period of time in my life: “I can’t afford that.” Money can be a really sensitive topic for a lot of people for a variety of reasons. So I think it’s really important that we all develop a way to talk about it without being accusatory, without being defensive, without being negative. Also without straying into toxic positivity.
It can be difficult to navigate financial conversations with loved ones, especially if there is a big financial or lifestyle difference. With rising cost of living and limited spaces to hang in public for free, money is very much a part of all of our friendships today. We have to be able to talk about it. It’s important to be honest about what you can and cannot afford, but you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
You don’t owe anyone an explanation
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that your individual financial situation is your individual financial situation. You don’t owe anyone an explanation about why you can or can’t afford anything. You should never feel badly about setting financial boundaries in your life. If you need to hear someone say it, I’m saying it! It’s not only okay, but important to prioritize your own financial stability for your own future. It’s really important to make decisions that align with your lifestyle values.
Be clear and direct
So when you’re telling a friend or a family member that you can’t afford something, be clear and be direct. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t be awkward about it. Because that just brings a tinge of awkwardness to everybody. Start by thanking them for the invitation and acknowledging that you would love to attend. Then follow it up by saying, “Unfortunately, right now is just not the time.” Try to avoid using apologetic or overly apologetic language like, “I’m so sorry, I can’t do that. I’m such an asshole.” Don’t do that.
That brings up two really weird things. One, now you are making them emotionally responsible for you. They have to assure you, no, you’re not an asshole. Don’t worry about it, right? So that’s more labor, you’re asking for them. Two, it can come across as defensive because they invited you out. Now that’s kind of a weird dynamic. Instead, try to stress in the conversation that you love this person, you want to see this person and offer up a suggestion that works for you instead.
Give an alternative, budget situation
For example, you could say something like, “Oh, I can’t make that. But I would love to see you next weekend for X situation.” A more detailed example would be: “I can’t make that concert. But I would love to see you next Saturday for a picnic in the park.” That way your friend knows, yes, I definitely want to see you. I definitely want to hang out with you. I think you’re really cool. I just want to do it at the picnic in the park. You’ve taken ownership of an activity that they can now respond “yes” or “no” to.
If you’re anything like me, sometimes you can get in your own head about conversations that you have with your loved ones of like, “Wait, are they mad at me? Why did they say it that way?” Or especially if you’re reading a text. It’s easy to think: why did they put that period there?! It’s very easy to get in our own heads about stuff. So communicating in this clear way will help you avoid some of that nebulous.
Consider tone of voice
Another thing that’s really important to consider in many conversations is the tone of voice you’re using and your body language. You want to come across confident in the decisions that you’re making– even if you’re feeling a little nervous or uncomfortable. Something that works really well is using “I” statements. So if someone invites you out to dinner, instead of responding, “Wow, that’s a really expensive restaurant.” That sounds kind of defensive. That sounds kind of negative. We don’t want to do that. Instead, we want to use an “I” statement. You can say “I’d love to go out to eat, how about we try x place instead?”
Now, some people may push back on your boundaries, and try to get you to spend more than you feel comfortable with. In these cases, try to avoid getting defensive or reacting in anger, but remain firm in your decision. You’ve set a boundary and it’s absolutely okay to enforce that boundary. We don’t want to get mad and get into a fight about things.
If they continue to push it and they’re really beginning to get on your nerves, you can say something like: “I really appreciate the invitation, but I just can’t swing it right now. I hope you can understand.” It’s that last part of the sentence. I hope you can understand. That’s your one-two punch for the knockout because now you’re saying, “Hey, man, chill out.” But you’re doing it in a nice polite conversational tone.
Have a conversation up-front
If you’re in a situation where you have a long term financial constriction, for example, you want to save for a house or you’re trying to pay off $30,000 in student loans, you know you’re going to be turning down some expensive things more frequently. It can be really helpful to have a conversation upfront, rather than during these one-off invites with friends.
Now, I’m not saying that you necessarily have to sit down all your friends and be like, “Look, I’m trying to pay off my student loans, don’t invite me to shit.” You can do that if you want. But that’s not what I’m saying. Instead, in casual conversation, it’s important to reiterate how you are working on these financial goals.
While you’re just all hanging out at brunch, at someone’s house, or you’re watching Love Is Blind and you’re just chatting, you can bring up these financial goals that you’re working towards. Like I mentioned, this can and should be super casual, something along the lines of, “I’m really working on paying off my student loans over the next couple of years. So I don’t think I will be able to go out of the country anytime soon. But I’m really looking forward to trips around this local area.”
This is a more subtle way of communicating
You’re just kind of generally talking about your lifestyle, generally talking about money, you’re not directing it at any one person or because of any one event. But having stuff like this kind of sprinkled into conversation a couple of times repeatedly over a period of time, will let people know your general social situation and your general financial situation. Anyone who is socially aware or emotionally intelligent will begin to pick up on these things. They’ll know, “I shouldn’t invite Kara if we want to go get drinks at the W because those are going to be $17 cocktails. But if I’m planning a camping trip, I know she’s totally down.”
No one is going to care about your money as much as you care about your money.
So in conclusion, telling a friend or a loved one that something’s not in your budget, it doesn’t have to be a confrontation. It doesn’t have to be weird and it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Be clear, be honest, be direct. Try not to get defensive and have these conversations in casual hangs over a period of time.
Remember that no one is going to care about your money as much as you care about your money. So it’s important that you set your financial boundaries and you stick to them and be confident in your decision. It’s your money, it’s your life, you get to do what you want.
If you’re more of a visual learner, we have this advice in the video below. Be sure to like and subscribe on Youtube for more.