The Power of “No”

Knowing when to say “no,” and acting on that knowledge, is important.

The last few years we’ve had water in our basement when it rains hard. This has gotten worse and worse until now multiple days can be ruined by a downpour.

I can tell you that dumping a shop vac full of ground water at 3:00am is no fun at all. This led us to finally taking action recently and spending money (thank you emergency fund!) on a basement dewatering system.

These extra expenses are making it tough to do everything that we wanted to this year. After some careful discussion, my wife and I agreed that it wasn’t financially responsible to fly our growing family out to California and Utah this year for family reunions.

These reunions are extremely important to us, so we didn’t reach this decision without exploring our options. At the end of the day, however, the right thing to do was say, “no.”

Though it’s going to be hard missing the reunions this year, something interesting happened when we made the decision not to go. It was like a weight was lifted. I hadn’t realized it, but there was some serious stress derived from the mental energy expended on wondering how we were going to be able to pay for a trip that was, unfortunately, just too expensive this year.

Being able to say no can free you from financial slavery and bring you financial peace.

“No” brings fulfillment.

Have you ever over-indulged? I certainly have.

When I was in high school I hurt my back doing dead-lifts, and then again on the football team. Nothing major. But the interesting thing is that whenever I eat too much, my back starts to hurt where I injured it. Weird, right? If someone has thoughts on how that works from a medical standpoint, feel free to let me know.

It feels really good to be disciplined and to sacrifice. My wife and I like to brainstorm and commit to goals for self-improvement. Sometimes we focus on how much we want to run every day, or what time we want to get up, or go to sleep. Much of the time we set goals for what kind of food we are going to eat, or what kind of food we are NOT going to eat.

There have been times when we’ve set goals and have failed to keep them. (Actually, that happens with more regularity than I would like to admit.) But there have been a few times in particular where we’ve been in outright rebellion against our goals. Interestingly enough, and maybe you’ve experienced this too, I get really discouraged and mentally/emotionally deflated if I don’t feel like I’m being disciplined. It appears to me that there is a human need to be responsible and do what you say you’re going to do.

My kids have shown me a lot about what it means to be disciplined. On their own, the two oldest decided to give up sugar for a year. Are you kidding me? They’re doing it for a nice crisp $100 bill each. You know what is even crazier? They already did it last year. To be completely transparent, we do let them slide on some things (like honey and whipped cream—I know, I know), but they take a pass on candy, including cake and ice cream at birthday parties. Without any pressure from us, they’ve committed to a goal and they’re sticking to it.

There’s potentially an important takeaway here. Do you find yourself wanting to say “no” to something, but having a hard time committing? Maybe try rewarding yourself for successfully saying “no.” I haven’t been as committed as my kids, but I have tried to give up sugar, bread, and dairy from Mondays to Fridays. How do I do it? I reward myself with some delicious ice cream at a local place on Friday night. I’m not changing the world with that goal, but I have lost some weight.

This isn’t to say that all your goals should be around diet and exercise. Whatever is important to you, try giving yourself a little reward for accomplishing it. That reward might give you the power to say “no” when you’re tempted to give in.

“No” brings financial peace.

You know what . . . it’s really hard to not compare ourselves. Naturally, we want to keep up with the Dr. Joneses. I’m totally guilty of it myself, even though I know it’s not good to do. Honestly though, I wouldn’t be surprised if our ability to say “no” correlates with financial security and overall net worth. Income is finite, but there are an infinite number of things we can spend it on.

Remember, much of financial planning is simple, but not easy. It’s similar to trying to stay fit and slim. Most of us want that, right? How hard can it be to eat less and exercise more?

(Now let’s look down at our bellies.)

I guess it’s harder than it might seem.

William Bernstein in his brief book titled, If You Can: How Millennials Can Get Rich Slowly, put it this way:

At first blush, consistently saving 15% of your income . . . seems easy, but saying that you can become comfortably well-to-do and retire successfully by doing so is the same as saying that you’ll get trim and fit by eating less and exercising more. People get fat because they like pizza more than fresh fruit and vegetables and would rather watch Monday night football than go to the gym or jog a few miles. Dieting and investing are both simple, but neither is easy.

Here are some important (but very difficult!) things to say “no” to:

  • “The perfect house” that is just outside a reasonable price based on your savings and salary.

  • The 2019 Subaru Ascent (man I like that car!)

  • The 2019 Tesla Model S (man my wife likes that car!)

  • Eating out four days a week (man I like Taco Bell!)

So I guess those are things that I have a hard time saying “no” to. You’ll have your own. I encourage you to get really good at saying “no” to them. You’ll be happier for it.

Knowing when to say “yes!”

Life is definitely not all about saying “no.” And when is it okay to say “yes”? I’m not sure that I can answer that one for you. And there’s a good chance that you’ll stumble a bit and fall, just like I do, as you learn this for yourself.

As a general rule, you’ll probably learn that saying “no” to material things, and “yes” to time and experiences with your family and loved ones will enrich your life in ways you simply didn’t think were possible before. And time and experience with loved ones don’t need to cost much either. Some of my favorite memories with my siblings as of late have included Google Hangouts and a game of Risk on our smartphones together.

That being said, here are some ideas of when you might be getting closer to being able to say, “yes” more often:

  • You have paid off all your credit card debt.

  • You have a plan to pay off all other debts (including the mortgage).

  • You own the right disability and life insurance.

  • You have a will and other relevant estate planning documents.

  • You’re saving 20% of your gross income.

  • You’re giving a portion of your money away in meaningful ways.

Some final thoughts.

Saying “no” is important.

At some point though, you’ll have accomplished the major financial planning tasks, and will be in a situation where you’re simply monitoring your circumstances and making adjustments along the way.

Perhaps at this point you’ll realize that you don’t lack anything at all. You have a place to live, food to eat, and people who you love to spend time with. You realize that you have “enough.” And that’s a powerful word too.

Those who are richest, after all, are those who know they have enough.


The content you just read is for informational purposes only. Yes, I’m a financial advisor, but this article really isn’t intended as advice for you specifically. Your unique situation needs to be taken into account, and the ideas presented here may not apply.

So, please make sure you do your due diligence BEFORE implementing anything. Due diligence may include hiring a qualified professional who understands your situation completely and can offer you personalized advice.

Donovan Sanchez