The Power of Saying No

I’ll start by saying, no one likes the feeling of being left out. I remember sitting at my work desk and instant messaging with a co-worker to ask why I’d been left out of happy hour the night before. “Truthfully, you always say no,” he typed out. “So I just assumed you wouldn’t be able to make it.” I sat there a bit stunned. He wasn’t wrong. I did have a habit of constantly saying no to social engagements if they were either a) going to cost more than I wanted to spend or b) conflicted with a money-earning opportunity. Thursdays were a common babysitting night for me, which meant I picked earning $80 to $100 over going to drinks and probably spending $30. In that moment though, I didn’t regret my decision. My priorities to bolster my savings, stay out of debt, and survive in New York City on a paltry salary aligned with why I said no.

Sometimes it’s critical you learn how to harness the power of no, even if it feels a bit awkward at first.


When it’s a budget buster…

Granted, 30 dollars spent at happy hour wouldn’t have exactly been a major budget buster – but a consistent practice of mindless spending on social engagements would’ve been rough for my early career salary. There have been times in my life I’ve had to say N.O. to invites because of their budget busting nature (here’s looking at you 5-day bachelorette party trip to New Orleans).

Occasionally you may be able to negotiate with friends, co-workers, or family to pick a more budget friendly option – but other times, just hit the decline button.


When your life feels out of sync with your friends…

One of the struggles about post-college life is when your friends’ careers and life choices begin to drastically deviate from your own. You might be working a job that nets you $45,000 while your friend is closing in on six-figures. You might not have entered the phase of marriage and kids while your friends are all starting to couple up and pop out babies.

These differences in life paths can easily cause struggles with your budgets. Your friends earning the big bucks may want to partake in more lavish activities that you just can’t afford. Maybe your friends offer to cover you once or twice, but eventually that gets old for everyone involved. Your friends with kids suddenly not only have less wiggle room in their budgets, but much less free time.

Now, I’m certainly not saying you should stop investing both emotionally and financially in your friendships simply because your lives are currently on different tracks. However, you must learn that you can’t always keep up with your friends who out earn you and you can’t always be the one paying and taking vacation time to go to visit your friends, even though they have a kid now.

Be honest with your friends. Tell the ones with the big salaries that you can’t always afford the same lifestyle, but you still want to spend time with them in a more budget-friendly manner. Be empathic that your friends starting families may not be able to travel so easily to visit you, but you’ll make more regularly scheduled FaceTime calls and pick dates for trips way in advance to so you can both save up.


When it’s a time suck…

(This is especially important for my fellow self-employed people).

Time is one of the most (if not the single most) precious commodities you have. This is particularly true for the self-employed who may struggle to set boundaries with clients and customers and therefore end up truly working 24/7. The scarcity mindset makes it easy to be constantly refreshing your email, even on vacation, wary of ever missing a potential opportunity.

The other danger is letting yourself be sucked into the vortex of coffee meetings and lunch dates from companies interested in pitching you or folks wanting to “pick your brain”. You may occasionally get a free meal or latte, but do a serious audit of how much time it’s costing you. When you work a regular job and are often getting paid for these networking meet ups, it’s not quite the same conundrum. But when it takes you 45 minutes to get to and from the restaurant and then you have to sit there and get pitched for an hour about a person, company, or product that you know you’ll never work with or review – you’ve wasted nearly three hours of your life for a mediocre meal.

Plus, you’re paying for the gas or the public transit swipe to get to and from the meeting. Was it even worth that amount a money?

A few rounds of these meetings and I quickly learned to say no to about 95% of them and counter that I’d be happy to hear more via email if they had a press release or other details to send through.

Phone meetings aren’t much better because it still wastes your precious time! Run the cost benefit analysis before you accept every meeting offer that eventually floods your inbox.


When it eats into your vacation time…

Listen, sometimes you just can’t help your vacation time being coopted by other people. Weddings, family reunions, the birth of nieces or nephews – there are a lot of justified reasons why other folks may lay some claim to your vacation time. However, considering that the average American worker receives such a meager 10 vacation days a year, you need to be judicious about how you spend them.

This could mean occasionally turning down a wedding invitation or saying you can’t attending a bridal shower because you’d prefer to be at the wedding itself. Maybe it means you only go to a few days of the week-long family reunion. Ultimately, you should reserve some of the vacation time for your own trips, even if it’s just a staycation to recharge your batteries a bit.


But, you have to say yes sometimes.

I’ve basically just ranted about a variety of reasons you should harness the power of no, but there is merit to learning when to tactfully say yes. Rotate in going to happy hour with co-workers or out to lunch once a month. It might mean giving up some side hustle money and spending $30, but it could also lead to fostering healthy relationships with people who can help your career progress. Start a savings fund to offset future trips to visit your best friend’s baby or attend weddings or even to just party with your more affluent friends. The real power of saying no is so you have the funds to say yes to what you truly want.


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