Mastering the Art of Saying 'No' for the Sake of Your Budget

Shopping spree bags.

Hello readers! Before we set off on the regularly scheduled post, I wanted to extend an invitation to a party I'm throwing in a few months. It's called Donutpalooza and it's going to be great. A live rendition of Game of Thrones. All the cookies you could ever hope for. Puppies… so many puppies. And, of course, Stephen King will be grilling kabobs.

The price tag isn't too bad, either! $6,000.00-ish give or take. Plus some food expenses. You in?!

As you probably guessed, the above invite is for an impossible party. Please forgive me for misleading you. Believe me, if I could hire Stephen King to host a barbecue on the beach … I would. And you'd all be invited. That being said, I intro'd with a fake party invite because I wanted to give you the opportunity to practice saying turning down an opportunity to spend. "No" is a word that can give you a lot of power in your financial future but it's often difficult to express. It takes some practice. So start here.

Imagine your most epic party, or vacation, or get together. When someone invites you to do something that sounds amazing and all your friends are going – it's really, really, reallllly hard to say no. Who wants to say no to having fun? But (and isn't there always a "but") there's also a very real argument for being mindful of how you dole out your yes's and no's. The truth is, sometimes you just have to say no in order to meet your financial goals. Doing so with intent can help you to stay on track with your goals.

First things first, why's it so hard to say no anyway?

Let's just call it out for what it is: turning down an offer to do something because you're saving money is tough. Not only is it tough but the simple act of actually saying "no" can be extremely challenging. So what's the big deal with saying no? Plenty (according to the social brain). For instance…

  • We don't want to miss out on an experience.
  • We don't want to appear rude/we don't want to disappoint the other person.
  • We feel obligated to say yes.
  • We feel some social/professional opportunity hinges on saying yes.

Habit From a young age, we're guided to take on as many projects as we can. To have as many friends as possible. To network constantly to grow our career. Our social foundation puts more emphasis on saying yes than it does to saying no. This early introduction lays the groundwork for saying yes as we get older. It's hard to say no because it's become habit to say yes.

Social expectations We're often led to place importance on satisfying the greatest number of people with least amount of social turbulence. Enter: the desire for agreeableness and lots of "yeses" to avoid rocking the boat. When faced with a choice between saying yes and saying no, saying yes can seem like the easiest way to maintain harmony without upsetting any social balance or hurting any feelings. But we've all been in the situation where our mouths are forming the words "sure" even as our brain is busy turning over all the reasons why we should really be saying no.

"Should" has become a guide for how we display our public persona Ever had the thought, "I should say no, but I feel like I can't" or "I feel like I should stay in to save money, but they look so excited!" It's difficult to say no when we feel like we should be saying yes. This is why it feels difficult to turn down a friend's plea for help moving even if we truly can't work it into our schedule. Alternatively, we feel guilty for saying yes when we feel like we should be saying no. For instance spending money on a concert when we haven't budgeted for the expense.

Fear It's not so much that we're fearful of saying no – it's that we're fearful of what comes next. Will we be judged? Excluded next time? The fear of judgement is powerful and can throw a huge weight on our decisions. Fearing the repercussions of our answer (even if it's the most financially responsible one) is an easy way to say no despite our best intentions.

Tips to effectively communicate "no"

Despite any contrary advice, turning down an offer involves more than simply telling another person "no." There are egos and emotions involved. As seen above, social pressure makes turning down opportunities the exception rather than the rule. So what's there to do but implement a little strategy in how you say no? 

Pause You don't have to answer immediately. Give yourself a moment to assess your options and truly recognize what it is that you want out of a scenario. This pause will prevent you from saying yes out of kneejerk habit. A pause can last enough time for a deep breath, or you can request some time to think about it or to check in with your schedule.

Reframe Take yourself out of the situation and think objectively for a moment. Feel pressured to make a decision? Don't let this stress guide your answer. Take out all the emotional parts to the equation and answer as you would advise another friend to answer.

Recognize (your goals) Dedication to a goal is an incredible motivator. Use your imagination and stir up all sorts of daydreams for your goal. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Imagine the details.

Proceed with your answer The layout of your  answer isn't one size fits all. It doesn't have to be a long conversation nor does it have to be a quick "nope." It will depend on the person and the unique circumstances. But while the actual answer can differ from situation to situation, there's always a reason to…

Be honest and genuine Saying no doesn't it have to be an emotionally sterile exchange. Say no as you would want to hear it. With compassion and respect.

PS It's also OK to say yes sometimes!

No is a powerful tool for sticking with your financial plan but it's also only a single side of the coin. It's also important to incorporate flexibility in order to achieve balance. That means saying yes to the occasional splurge or budgeting for goals that aren't entirely targeted at paying off your debt. Creating a plan that you can stick with is more important than creating rigid boundaries.

Bottom line

Remember, even the richest person in the world couldn't agree to spend money on every single opportunity that came across their path – it's simply not feasible to say yes to everything. By communicating "no" effectively you can maintain the balance that's essential for reaching your long term financial goals.

Claire Murdough is a personal finance writer for ReadyForZero, a company focused on helping people pay off debt. She is a Bay Area native with an affinity for travel and food who enjoys writing about how to get out of debt and many other topics. You can keep up with her on Twitter @ReadyForZero.

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