When was the last time you stared down something you really wanted in the store and walked away? Were you able to tell yourself no? How about the last time someone asked you for help, but you didn’t really have the time or money to help? Did you turn them down?
I struggle mightily with both scenarios – saying no to myself, and to others, but it is something I have vowed to work on. Not because I am mean, or unwilling to help, but because no is a powerful tool to protecting my family’s finances, and at times, my own sanity.
Saying No to Yourself
Much of the economic problems our country faces can be attributed to our inability to say no to ourselves. No to more spending. No to a bigger home we cannot afford. No to accumulating more debt. Why is it so hard to tell ourselves no?
As kids, we are quite accustomed to hearing the word no. I went through a very curious stage myself where I’m told I tried to get into all sorts of things. My mom joked that she was afraid I’d grow up to think my name was “No Jason.”
Then we reach a stage in life called the teen years, where we are told to still say no to bad things, but occasionally say yes (and work hard to keep it from our parents!). But the older we get, the less accountable we are to others, and the more accountable we are only to ourselves.
I’m reminded of a famous quote on the subject of integrity: “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.”
Well, to me this describes our decision-making process as young adults. After all, if young and single, chances are you are accountable to no one regarding personal decisions. This is why continuing to say no to yourself is so difficult.
The problem is before we wake up by the age of 30 with a spouse and two kids, we can do a lot of damage. I know; we squandered much of our 20s over-spending and accumulating debt on cars, school and other more frivolous things.
Looking back, I recognize we missed a great opportunity to get a jump on building wealth, and providing a more stable financial foundation for our family to come. If only we’d said no more often.
Saying No to Others
For some, saying no to others is infinitely more difficult than telling themselves no. These people are often categorized as “pleasers.” They put their own needs aside to please others. They are unselfish, to a fault.
There are plenty of good reasons to tell others no. Whether it is to protect your schedule, your sanity, or your wallet, the simple act of saying no often creates healthy boundaries in relationships with others.
In the personal finance world, one of the biggest problematic relational situations I see people get themselves in involves cosigning loans, or outright loaning money to friends and family. Obviously, when approached for a loan from someone you care about, it is hard to turn them down. However, if you are not in the financial shape to help others then saying anything other than no is to put your own financial well-being at greater risk.
Personally, I don’t loan money to anyone because I don’t like the idea of creating debt for others. We worked hard to experience debt freedom, and the last thing I want to do is enable others to owe money – especially when I might have to be on the collecting end of that relationship.
So, instead of loaning money, I give it away (when appropriate, and when I can afford to). This is a little softer approach than flat out denying someone help, and allows us to help a loved one with no strings attached.
I encourage you to resolve to say no more often – to yourself and to others. Do not allow yourself to become over-committed by saying yes to everyone, because that leads to stress. It also makes you less effective at the few things you really do care about. Identify those few things that are most important to you, and build your “yes” responses around those, while blocking out other distractions.