The Power of No


That one simple word can wield so much power is amazing. It’s often the first word children learn to speak. It’s a word my dog is terrified of, literally cowering when she hears it (she was a rescue, the poor thing). It’s a word that many of us have to learn how to say without feeling guilty.

While most of us associate the word with negative feelings, it’s a word we shouldn’t be afraid to say. Saying “no” can be the difference between staying on track financially and starting the slip into ruin.

Let’s take a look at some real-life examples.

1. It was a cold morning and I was on my way to work. I had forgotten my coffee at home but I passed a chain coffee shop on the way to work. I knew it would be opening in a few minutes, wow could I go for a coffee. I told myself no, because allowing myself to do it just once would open the door to doing it twice, three times, etc. It was far too easy for me to stop by the drive-thru for my morning fix, and even the $2 house brew a few times a week would add up to a tank of gas each month.

What I do: I figured out how long I had to work to pay for my favorite drink at the shop. I realized that working 20 minutes (at a job I hated) was worth a whole lot more than a giant specialty coffee. The same thing goes for when I realized I was spending $35-40/week on lunch when I was working, my 30 minute lunch break was costing me 3 hours of work!

The result: When I forgot my coffee I opted for a large glass of (free) water once I got to work. I did end up buying a refillable coffee mug at a gas station for $3, once a week or so I’d stop and refill it for $.99. I stopped buying lunches out when I added up how much I was spending, opting to either pack a lunch or skip lunch and eat when I got home. Yes, sometimes I was very hungry, but I knew my body wouldn’t shut down if I waited until 2pm to eat lunch.

2. My child wanted to play a community sport. The cost associated with joining was astronomical, definitely out of our budget. When I added in the cost of needed equipment, uniforms, driving to practice 5 days a week 45 minutes from home, the cost of traveling to play other teams and the cost of having dinner outside of the home so often (even if it was picnic-style); well there was just no way we could afford it.

What I do: Knowing that my child was more interested in trying the sport and socializing rather than actually playing, I told her no. I encouraged her to find friends who were interested in meeting casually to play, offering to help connect her with other kids her age. I encouraged her to save her money to buy equipment to get started, to see if she was still interested after a few weeks and to help pay for the team fees (which were in the hundreds of dollars!) I even suggested she look for a community sport that didn’t require as much of a time or financial commitment. I told her that I would help her but left a lot of it up to her, figuring that if she really, really wanted to play this sport she’d find a way to make it happen (or at least ask me to help her make it happen.)

The result: The desire quickly faded when she saw how much work and money was needed, as I suspected it would.

3. A few years ago my oldest child decided that she wanted to wear brand-name clothing only. I highly suspect it had something to do with fitting in at school, but that’s another topic for another time. While I’d like to give my daughter everything she wants, I simply cannot. I can’t afford to give into her every want, first of all. Secondly, she’s old enough to know that we only get the things we want (and need) by working for them.

What I do: When it’s time to buy clothing I tell her what the budget is. I let her pick where we look but I try to steer her toward discount outlets. If she wants something that is more than what we have budgeted she has to come up with the difference. Ultimately, as long as the clothing meets my modesty guidelines (which is harder and harder to do it seems), the decision of what to buy is up to her.

The results: My daughter has developed a taste for discount shopping, she understands now that $50 can get her one or two name-brand shirts or an entire outfit and shoes. She recently volunteered at a masquerade ball that required formal dress, she picked a dress that cost $15 and shoes that cost $20, both purchased new at Ross. While buying used clothing is always an option, we’ve had much better luck shopping at discount retailers.

4. Another child likes to go out with friends. She never asks directly for money, but the things she wants to do take money that I know she doesn’t have. $60 for a ticket to a theme park’s holiday party. $30 to go to a concert. $20 to get lunch when she goes out with a friend.

What I do: I first ask “Do you have the money to do this?”, which is usually responded to with “No, but I can work around the house.” *sigh* This one really hits me hard. I wish I could just say yes but the fact is, I’m not an ATM. Sometimes working around the house for a financial reward is alright, but it shouldn’t be a given. In other words, I don’t pay children to do household chores, especially the things that are required for everyday living (washing dishes, folding laundry, sweeping, etc.) I usually don’t say no, but I let the child know that I cannot and will not give them money every time they ask to go out.

The result: My child has learned how to say no to her friends, even the ones who keep pestering her and asking why we just won’t give her money (that one really irks me and it’s starting to irk my daughter too!) My daughter has started saving some of the money she earns from babysitting and other odd jobs, and she sometimes schedules going out around meals or packs a meal to take with her.

Learning to say “no” to the things that cost too much, financially and time-wise, is freeing; and it’s one of the best things we can teach our children.

My daughter’s $15 formal dress


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