“We can’t afford NOT to buy it” is an Expensive Sentence

Whoever first coined the Expensive Sentence “we can’t afford not to buy this” deserves an exhibit in the Spenders Hall of Fame. This assertion brings a brilliant and dangerous twist into the dialogue of buy-or-not-buy. Like a Jedi mind trick that works on the simple, the idea that NOT buying something is the more costly path suggests a larger perspective and economic wisdom, and it’s often persuasive.

It’s essentially saying, “You think you care about saving money because you don’t want to buy this – but I’M the one who REALLY cares about saving money, and that’s why I do want to buy this!”

A-ha, so the tables are turned. Will the argument work on you?

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.



When you extend the logic of these absolute statements – “we don’t have time for that” or “we can’t afford this” – you end up in a very tiny box. The truth is that every organization has finite time & resources, and you can afford to spend either on exactly what you prioritize. Only a Sith speaks absolutes. (Candy for Star Wars nerds – sorry.)

Usually this Expensive Sentence is code for a rush – somebody wants something FAST. (Maybe because they’re hot to get their toy, or because they’re lazy, or because there is some other reason they don’t want a purchase to undergo scrutiny and process.)

The Obvious Question

Whatever the reason, don’t let the implied threat of financial doom keep you from doing your homework. Instead, use this Expensive Sentence® to prompt the right conversation and solid analysis, starting with the obvious response: “Just how much would it cost us NOT to buy it?”

That answer (in the first two columns of the whiteboard) requires at least a summary understanding the purchase, its impact, and its value relative to standing still. (Of course, this has to be calculated on a total cost of ownership, including transition costs, risk, labor, etc.) If the numbers show that TO BUY is indeed better than NOT TO BUY, then you have the first part of your answer.

The Not-so-Obvious Question

But there are always more options, so you need to ask: “If we can’t afford not to buy this solution… are we sure there’s not something else out there that we can’t afford… even more?”

The goal is not simply surplus, but maximum surplus. As long as you’re talking about real savings, take it the next step to economic value added.

The $95 Burrito

If you were starving in the desert with $100 to your name, and I presented you with a burrito dinner for $95 and no other options… you would buy it. There’s surplus there – your life is worth more than the $95.

On the other hand, if I drove you to the food court, you’d be a fool to pay $95 for a burrito. Is eating still worth most of your value? If you compare it to NOT eating… well, sure. But that’s a false comparison, because you have far more options. That’s true with almost everything you consider about buying: there are many options, including the option to wait.

Should you wait? Should you buy? Should you keep shopping? These questions will help you find the right answer:

  • “How much are we losing every week we don’t make this purchase? Is that direct cost, labor cost, or opportunity cost?”
  • “The purchase from Company X sounds like a good move; I agree. Have we scoped out the leading competitors to see how they stack up? “
  • “Is there a reason we haven’t done this already, or were we only recently enlightened?”

So has anyone bought a $95 burrito at your company? Maybe, maybe not… but when you hear about something that someone can’t afford NOT to buy, lazy analysis and lazy buying probably aren’t far behind. Maybe you’ll only pay $15 or $20 for your burrito… but wouldn’t you rather pay $6?

How’s this for an Alternative:

“We’ve considered multiple solutions from several quality vendors, as well as the scenario in which we stay on our current path. The best 2 year ROI is Plan B, and you see that we recover our switching costs after just four months.”

You can’t afford not to hire the guy who tells you that!


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