What do you say to your kids if you can’t afford something?

posted by in Budgeting

Child and calculator

What do you say to your kids?

Children are always asking for new trainers, mobiles, clothes, video games and much more. But it can be tough to say no if you can’t afford it. We asked our Facebook followers how they do it…

There might be many reasons you’d like to buy your kids the latest products and gadgets. You want them to have the things you didn’t have, you don’t want them to be bullied for appearing ‘uncool’, or you just want to give them a treat.

But if the money’s tight or it’s budgeted for other items it’s better to stay strong and resist the temptation to splurge. But how do you tell them that, so they understand that it’s not you being mean, but that finances are tight?

We asked our Facebook page followers how they deal with telling kids they can’t afford new ‘stuff’. We got some brilliant answers that showed a range of approaches: some were ‘to the point’, while others wanted to educate. And some were a bit cheeky!

1. Straight to the point

Tell it like it is!

Kevin: We can’t afford it.

Vinnie: I can’t afford it and they accept it

Scott: It’s simple… no. Or I tell them they need to work for it.

Amanda: I tell my kids it isn’t in the budget at the moment.

2. Teach them

Financial education is a good way to explain to children why you can’t afford something – but will they understand?

Donna-Michelle: They can’t have it. Explain you don’t have the money – simple. If you haven’t got the money they can’t have it. It’s hard to hear as a child but being truthful is a lot better than trying to borrow money that you will not be able to pay back.

Jill: Yes, I agree with the above. It teaches the kids the value of money. I have been honest about our debt and they now know the cost of credit. Hopefully when they grow up they won’t make our mistakes 🙂

Tyler: Teach kids about smart money, not dumb money. Quality over quantity.

3. Have a strategy

More involved, and perhaps some kids wouldn’t listen. But long term benefits of instilling good habits might be worth it…

Cara: Years ago I just said no and that causes all sorts of problems. Now I create a mind map, analyse all the issues with them, identify why they wanted it, the timescale, create a money jar to save with them each week and project manage it. That way they learn about budgeting and money and there are no tantrums from me.

Faye: My children have a beach fund (for days out); we put loose change, change from my daughter’s dinner and if I don’t have to use my car park money into it. If the kids ask for something and I say I don’t have the money they will ask if they can take it out of there. They’re 4 and 5 and building good habits out of my bad ones. Let them pay for things in shops so they see the change they get.

Rebecca: I like that too Faye. The self-service checkouts in the big stores are a great way to teach them and they enjoy scanning the barcodes themselves! I tell my son I don’t have enough pennies. He already understands that people have to work to earn pennies and we pay for the house and everything first and we get treats if there is anything left. Keeping the language simple but truthful works for me. He’s only 4 and just says “OK Mom”.

Today he wanted to go the beach and get an ice cream. I said how about we make a picnic up with what we have in the house as it’s more exciting. He loved filling his bag up, we got to the beach and he didn’t ask for an ice cream once because he was too stuffed! Result.

4. And cheeky…

Not sure if these would work more than once!

Pete: If I had children I’d suggest that they ask a kindly aunt or uncle!! 🙂

Lisa Jayne: I tell them to get a job 😉

How do you deal with telling kids you can’t afford something? Which approach is best for you? Post your thoughts on our Facebook thread.

Peer's the digital content manager at StepChange Debt Charity. Apart from contributing to the MoneyAware blog and overseeing the charity's website and social media content, he’s walked to the top of every mountain and hill in the Lake District. Twice.

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  • Marc RG

    Kids don’t need much in reality and it’s always the low cost or free things that keep them entertained longest. My suggestion would be to keep a look out for freebies and free activities that can keep them busy during the school holidays. Gratisfaction UK posts family focused freebies all the time and they’ve got a ‘kids’ section so you can peruse the latest offers and keep your kids busy for free! http://www.gratisfaction.co.uk/kids/