There's no getting around it — being on a budget is challenging. It's particularly tough when you feel pressured to spend by friends or family. Whether it's an invitation to eat out or a destination wedding that requires an expensive ticket, saying "no" to spending can feel daunting.
Illustration by Nick Criscuolo. This post originally appeared on Ready For Zero.
It's something I've had plenty of experience with, although I'm still not the picture perfect model for saying no to social spending. There are lots of instances when I've been swayed to spend despite being on a budget, or caved and made choices that didn't really fit my spending plan. That being said, I did learn how to find the confidence to say no — though it took some work and practice on my part.
What helped the most was pinpointing the habits that were making it difficult, and thinking about ways I could work to change them. Here are five of the biggies, along with the switches that helped me to stay on track with my financial goals.
The Habit: Making Excuses
Stretching the truth to avoid hurt feelings is so tempting. I'm a bit ashamed to admit it, but I've been known to make excuses when faced with the pressure of spending. For example, if asked to eat out, I would say I was too tired or needed to pick up dry-cleaning. Little did it matter that I don't own a single thing that requires dry-cleaning. Little lies to soften the truth weren't intentionally harmful, per se, but were problematic in the fact that they covered up a larger reality. They didn't solve the problem and only diverted the attention temporarily.
The Switch: Being Upfront About Financial Circumstances
The number one thing that helped me to stop being led by peer-pressured spending was honest communication. Not only being honest about my financial circumstances, but also being honest if I was disappointed. It doesn't need to be a speech. What's been the most successful has usually been short, sweet and truthful: "I want to, but I can't afford it right now."
You can't control someone else's reaction to, but you can control your level of honesty. When I initially made excuses, people would show their clear disappointment. Once people were aware of my financial situation via honest communication, they were overwhelmingly understanding.
The Habit: Making "One Last Time" Promises
I often found myself saying the same thing when faced with peer pressured spending: "I'll stop after this time." The problem was — I usually didn't. I'd just make another "one last time" promise the next time. Soon enough, it became an excuse to push off the responsibility in facing my budget. "Next time" was intangible, and flexible so I treated it as such.
The Switch: An Immediate Start
To truly stand behind my choice to stick to a budget, I had to understand the importance of an immediate and instantaneous start. That meant acknowledging that "one last time" was only a way to justify the immediate spending. I stopped pushing it off, and took the cold turkey approach. Or rather, the "no more cold turkey deli sandwiches for lunch" kind of approach.
The Habit: Ignoring the Invite Entirely
There came a point when I became so uncomfortable saying no that I did what any well-intentioned person would do — I ignored the invite in hopes that it go away. I'm not sure if I need to explain why that didn't work. Let's just say I wasn't making any new friends or strengthening any relationships via that route. I also felt pretty cruddy about my actions. It felt like I was hiding from something, when in reality I was putting myself in that uncomfortable mind-frame. Ultimately, it only worsened my ability to think clearly about how I could be responding.
The Switch: Responding in a Timely Manner
Ignoring something doesn't make it go away — an important life lesson, but sometimes difficult to remember nonetheless. Delaying a response or ignoring the invite completely was only making it more stressful. In addition, I wasn't giving the inviter the level of respect they deserved. Timeliness and a quick response actually made it easier to decline when I wasn't able to fit in an event or a purchase.
The Habit: Taking a Backseat in Social Planning
The pressure for social spending usually came about when I was in a situation that was led by someone else. Not a bad thing, by any means, but not having control also left me feeling vulnerable about my budgeting choices. More often than not, it led to pressured spending.
The Switch: Investigating Budget-Friendly Activities
Taking the reigns over the planning of a social gathering gave me the opportunity to keep it a low-budget event. That didn't mean I began suggesting that we play with sticks and drink rain water. I found things that were genuinely interesting, and found people with similar interests to take part. There are tons of options out there, but it's important that you have genuine interest in them. That means seeking out things that align with what entertains or makes you happy. Things like hiking, community theatre in the park, video game conventions or public science talks.
The Habit: Making Choices Based on Fear of Social Embarrassment
I found one of the scariest things about saying no to spending while on a budget was the fear that it would set me apart. That somehow being on a budget, or not wanting to spend money was an embarrassing proclamation. But if you think about it, everyone has a spending limit, even if it doesn't match yours or mine. For instance, if you were to approach a group of friends and ask them to buy a solid gold sculpture of a T-rex, they'd probably (and rightly) say no. Because it sounds unreasonable. No one is immune to personal limits to their spending.
The Switch: Finding a Spending Comfort Level
Scaled down, the same can be applied to everybody's view of spending. Eating out might seem unreasonable to you, but not to someone else. When you explain your limit, they should understand. It took me some time, but I finally found greater value in balance than I did in always saying yes. Now, before I accept or decline an invite, I take a minute to ask myself, "Am I within my limits?" as a way to double check my motives.
Though peer pressure is an issue often associated with kids or teens, it continues to pose a challenge as we age and advance in career or social circles. Since it's an ongoing challenge, it's important to learn ways to deal with situations that cause you to feel pressured into something you wouldn't normally do. Learning to say no confidently comes about through trial and error. But it does get easier. A new mindset led by a few mental switches can help to fortify your desire to stick close to that budget.
Saying No to Peer Pressured Spending [Ready For Zero]
Claire is a Content Intern at ReadyForZero. She has an affinity for travel and food, and she enjoys writing about personal finance and many other topics.