Home / Family Articles / Explaining to the kids when you can’t afford something they want

Explaining to the kids when you can’t afford something they want

Explaining to the kids when you can't afford something they want

Written by:

It might be the latest games console, pair of designer trainers or even a trip to Disneyland. Sooner or later, there will probably come a time when your child asks for something that you really can’t afford. If your finances won’t stretch far enough, how do you tell your child that she can’t have the item she really wants?

Don’t come right out with it

While it’s admirable to want to be honest with your children, this is one instance where a white lie can be useful. Kids have wild imaginations, often having little concept of the value of things. Therefore, in their minds, not being able to afford something might mean; you’re only one step from ending up out on the streets or not being able to eat. Also, saying you can’t afford something can lead your children to have a negative view of money. They might decide that they want to be rich, become miserly or they may go down the path of being irresponsible with money.

So how can you deal with it?

If funds really won’t stretch far enough (or indeed you’d rather see the money spent on something you feel would be used more) then you have a few options.

Delayed gratification

As soon as they discover something they’d like, most kids want it now. However, delayed gratification is something everyone has to learn to accept, this might be the perfect opportunity for a lesson in it. If, other than the cost, you have no objections to your child having the item, suggest they put it on their Christmas or birthday list. This will give you a chance to save up to buy the thing your child is craving, also allows a cool-off period. If your child is still adamant that she wants it, a few months down the line then you can be pretty sure that it will be well used and taken care of. On the other hand, if it has been forgotten about by then, you know it wasn’t worth the money in the first place.


Explaining to the kids when you can't afford something they wantOlder kids, who receive pocket money or cash gifts, can be encouraged to chip in to cover part of the cost. They can save up for or spend their birthday money on the item they’ve set their hearts on. This approach adds value to the item, as the child has paid for part of it herself and so will take pride in owning it. It also means the cost to you won’t be quite so high.


If Christmas or a birthday is coming up and friends and family are asking for gift ideas, there’s no harm in suggesting they all pool together to buy, or put cash towards one larger or more expensive present. Some people might take offence to being asked for money towards something, you’ll know your own folks well enough to decide whether this is an option.


Depending on what the item is, you may be able to find a compromise that makes your child happy but also protects your bank balance. This could mean buying second hand or agreeing to buy a cheaper item instead.

Just say no

Nobody gets everything they want all the way through life. No matter how rich you are, it’s a fact of life that there are some things that people just can’t have. Discovering this is an important lesson, as long as you give clear and understandable reasons why your child can’t have the item. She will learn to accept this and learn a valuable lesson. This, can also be a valuable way to teach your child how to deal with disappointment and find alternatives.



About Maria Brett

About Maria Brett

Maria is a freelance writer with over 10 years' experience producing content for a variety of publications and websites. When not working or looking after her two gorgeous sons, she can usually be found playing flugelhorn in a brass band, helping out at her local hospital radio station, shouting at the television while watching Formula 1, at the cinema or plonked on the couch with a cold glass of wine.

Website: Maria Brett

View all posts by