In the words of Jane Fonda, “I’ve only known for 10 years that ‘no’ is a complete sentence.” For most of us, “no” can be one of the hardest things to learn how to say, especially when it’s directed towards the people we care about. When we’re hit up for money, telling a friend or family member in need that we can’t help them out can sometimes be the hardest. But it doesn’t have to be.
The thing is, we all need money. But you are not a bank. No matter how tough it might be, you have to look out for yourself, and sometimes that means saying no. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean you have to burn bridges to do so. After all, if someone respects you and you’re upfront, they’ll respect your answer too.
Ready to avoid another awkward money talk that leads to anxiety, hurt feelings, an unpaid IOU, or a fight? Here are 10 tactful ways to say no.
Even if you walk in ready to say “no,” you should hear them out first. If you say no too abruptly, your friend or family member may feel dismissed, ignored, hurt, undervalued, or insulted. And nobody wants that.
Most times, people who need financial help aren’t just asking for money. They’re also asking you to listen to their predicament and to be understanding of it. They may also be uncomfortable and embarrassed about asking in the first place. So let them be heard. By listening and making an active effort to understand the nature of their problem, you’ll be able to reassure the person asking that you care about and respect them through your attentiveness, even if you ultimately no.
Make it a Rule (and Stick to it)
Saying no doesn’t have to be confrontational, complicated, or personal. Create a rule for yourself right now. From here on out, you will not lend money to friends, family, or anyone else who asks. By making this an over-arching policy, you can remove any feelings of guilt.
It’s much easier to tell one person no when you’ve decided that’s your answer for everyone. Let the person who is asking for money know your cardinal rule. This way, they’ll be able to grasp that it’s not really about them; it’s a matter of principle. And once you’ve let it be known, put your money where your mouth is. In other words, stick to your stance and don’t fold.
Conversations about money are rarely pleasant, especially when they involve rejection. So it’s natural to dilly dally and avoid answering the question outright. However, delaying your answer, especially when it’s a hard no, isn’t doing either of you any real favors.
The longer you wait, the harder it will likely become to tell them the bad news. With everyone’s well-being in mind, be prompt. Saying no in a timely manner isn’t hasty, it’s considerate. So don’t make them wait if you know the answer. With that said, it’s okay to give yourself a moment to consider the request. Otherwise, a “no” that flies out of your mouth too swiftly will imply that you haven’t thought about it at all.
Or, Ask For More Time (But Use it Wisely)
Sometimes, the person asking doesn’t just ask for money and await your reply, they unwittingly (or intentionally) tack on mounting pressure. They might make it sound dire or project their financial anxieties onto you. Or perhaps it’s just apparent that you’re the only person they’re comfortable asking. Whatever the case, they’ve made it clear that this is a big deal. So respond accordingly.
Since it’s understood by both parties as a big deal, taking your time to think about lending money will come across as reasonable, not indecisive or reluctant. Give them a timeline of how soon you can get back to them so they’re not just waiting with no end in sight. Setting a waiting limit will help you set your own parameters around the decision as well.
Be Clear, Concise, and Kind
Beating around the bush might make you feel more comfortable at first, but the person on the receiving end is likely having the opposite experience as the conversation unfolds. The longer you put off giving an answer in your delivery, the more it will just sound like a no. You might think you’re letting them down gently, but if you’re dancing around your answer to do so, that’s how it’s going to come off. You may also wind up creating confusion. So be direct and polite when saying no.
Oftentimes, when we give a long-winded explanation with too many details, we open the floor for debate. Your answer is not up for discussion, so don’t send the wrong message by giving them things to pick apart or call into question. Keep it short, simple, and get your point across. If you’re unable to give them money right now, say that. If you’re uncomfortable, tell them outright. A quick “I’m sorry, but that’s not feasible for me” is enough.
There’s a difference between being aggressive and assertive. Being assertive is not rude; it shows you mean business and you care enough about them to be honest without sugarcoating things. And remember, it’s your money. You don’t owe them an explanation for not wanting to give it to them. So say no in a clear, concise way. Then move on.
Know Your Limits (and Create a Cap)
If you are okay with lending money once in a while, only allow yourself to give what’s in the budget. The best way to do this is to create a fund specifically for helping others out and setting a cap.
If you’re frequently asked for money, you will know what you have to lend and you’ll be able to definitively say when you have it to give and when you don’t based on the allotted amount. This strategy will help you diplomatically decide who to give your extra money to during times that you want to say yes.
Help Out in Other Ways
Money isn’t the only way you can help out the people you care about. If they’re coming to you for help, they may believe you know a little more about handling money than they do. Help them create a better budget or find other financial solutions if they’ll let you.
Perhaps there are things you can offer that will alleviate their current financial burdens. Offer to babysit or cook them dinner. If you’re coworkers, see if they’d like to carpool. Most notably, people in financially bad spots are often in need of emotional support just as much. So if nothing else, let them know you’re someone they can confide in.
Whatever you decide, be clear about the fact that you’re unable to help them out financially, but you’re happy to offer them other kinds of assistance that are more within your means.
Turn Money into a Gift
Giving money as a gift might sound insincere, but it’s anything but when you think about it. In a world where most people could always use a little extra cash, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. However, the average person is reluctant to put it on their wish list. So take the initiative with this one.
Check your calendar. Who has a birthday on the way? When’s the next big holiday? Plan to give money as a gift to those who you think could use it. Or maybe give them a gift card to a spot you know they frequent. You’ll be helping them out financially and doing so on your terms.
Giving others money as a gift removes pressure from both parties. It’s a natural transaction (with a budgeted amount), and it doesn’t involve an IOU. Now that’s something you both can celebrate.
Consider Your Relationship
When asked for money, one of the first things to consider is the nature of your relationship. If you’re extremely close and you’ve always mutually helped each other out, your bond may not be damaged by giving them money. More importantly, you trust them to pay you back or be there for you in the future.
In contrast, anytime someone falls under the acquaintance umbrella, proceed with caution when it comes to money. If you don’t have an intimate or longstanding relationship, you may be taking a much bigger risk than you realize. And you should never use money as a way to get closer to someone.
If you don’t know them very well, there’s no shame in a quick no. It’s also important to consider that how we enter a relationship often sets a tone. What we allow early on alerts someone else of what’s okay, not okay, and what’s the norm. If you tell them yes out the gate without hesitation, you may feel guilty, or even unable, to tell them no as the relationship progresses. Ultimately, saying no when you need to is not just about protecting your finances or a growing bond, it’s about protecting yourself when it counts.
Keep Your Financial Status to Yourself
If you’re making fat stacks, good for you. But I wouldn’t go around shouting that from the rooftops. If someone knows you’re well-off, they might be that much more comfortable asking you for money. They may even expect a yes. This reality may leave you feeling pressured, guilty, or stingy when you tell them no. But it shouldn’t.
Telling them you won’t give them money was not your mistake; telling them your financial status likely was. Furthermore, it may not serve your relationship to give someone money. So again, consider the source. If someone you know has a gambling problem or is generally frivolous, you’re likely not helping them by lending money just because you have it; you’re enabling them to continue the vicious cycle of collecting debts they can’t pay off. So telling them you have extra money they can’t touch might be a bad idea.
Bottom line: No one needs to know your salary, what’s in your savings account, how much your bonus is going to be, or what you spend on yourself regularly. It’s okay (and often advised by financial gurus) to keep those details to yourself. With that said, it’s also okay to talk about money with those you know and trust, when and if you’re comfortable. The rule of thumb is always this: make sure you know your audience. Otherwise, you might reveal too much.
Don’t say maybe. Don’t be vague. And don’t imply that things might change in a week or two, even if they technically could. When you say no, stick to it and move on. No matter how you say it, “no” shouldn’t come off as one of many possible answers. No is the only answer and should be presented as such.
Again, you don’t need to give an explanation, excuse, or lengthy apology. Doing so will likely only open a discussion/objection door that’s better off closed. So don’t imply it’s up for discussion. Remember, you are entitled to your stance. Period. If you say “I’m sorry, but I can’t” and they say “well, why not?,” politely let them know you just told them. Or repeat it.
If you’re firm enough, they’ll take your first no as the final answer, and eventually, they should stop asking.