The Sucker Factor

Alan wrote in with an interesting situation:

My problem is that I can’t say no to people. I am a sucker for girl scouts selling cookies. I am a sucker for salesman at stores. I am a sucker for my church when they need money for something. I am a sucker for friends and family who need to borrow money. I am a sucker for the Green Party or Green Peace when they call and ask for money all the time. I have heard it called “The Disease to Please” before and I just wanted you to know how much it affects me not only with a lot of stress and anxiety, but also financially. I don’t think I am alone either. […] I am trying to empower myself by saying “No”
to at least one person a day. It is not easy though. I always fear hurting people’s feelings or making them angry. Your article today about the left and right brain was fascinating. It got me thinking about other parts of a person’s psychological make up that could potentially affect their spending habits. For me, if I could grow a back bone and say no to people, I would probably save one or two hundred dollars a month. Sometimes more.

I have some of these weaknesses, too. The biggest one is Thin Mints. Thin Mints are one of my true weaknesses in life – curse the person who invented them. I also have a weakness for school-related fundraisers, especially those “discount card” fundraisers that seem to be popular around here. Kids will stop by and sell a discount card that will get you some bargains at local businesses and the proceeds for the card go to help out a youth group – I’m a sucker for these, too.

What I’ve found that works well for me is deciding about my giving up front and then sticking to it. Here’s the game plan I use to avoid the guilt that I’m not giving enough to others.

How to Avoid the Guilt of Not Giving Enough

Budget your giving

Each year, my wife and I decide right off the bat that we’re going to give a certain percentage of my money to charity – it’s usually 10% of our pre-tax income (yes, I’m a Christian, and I do view that as my tithe, but I don’t feel that my tithing necessarily needs to go to the church, though I do admire some their charitable works) but sometimes it’s been higher than that. All of our giving comes out of that amount. We allocate pieces to various things, including a set amount for Girl Scout cookies, for community fundraisers, for school fundraisers, for my church (we actually break this down, too, and give amounts to various projects at my church that we agree with), for a few other specific charities (Iowa Public Radio, Iowa Public Television, etc.), political campaigns, and so on.

We basically set this budget in stone. Once we decide how much I’m giving for the year and what I’m giving to, it’s done. We freeze it. If a good cause comes along, we’ll consider it for the next year, but this year is locked.

When new causes come along, such as telemarketers who call for donations, I tell them the truth. “I’ve already decided my charitable giving for the year. I’ll keep you in mind for next year.” Then I hang up. In fact, I usually knock that charity down a notch because they’re harassing me at home with their demands.

This same logic applies for all charity mailings we get in the mail. I just chuck ’em unless they’re a charity on our list for the year.

What about salesmen? I completely ignore them unless they’re helping me find what I specifically want. I don’t go into a store without knowing what I’m intending to buy, and I view it as a deep personal failure to leave with anything else. Salespeople are there to cajole you into buying something not on your list, so just ignore them. If they bug you, just say, “I’m fine,” and walk away – that’s what I do. If a salesperson is particularly persistent, I leave the store and shop elsewhere – I know that if I listen to them, I might get seduced into buying something, plus they’re eating up my time and distracting me from the purpose I had when I came to the store.

I use a similar approach if someone comes to my door. If they’re on my “list” – like the girl down the block that I’ve bought Girl Scout cookies from or the boy who lives three doors down trying to fund his trip to Mexico with his youth group – I’ll listen. Otherwise, I just quickly say “No thanks” and end the conversation immediately.

That leads into another great tactic: end it quickly. As soon as the sales pitch begins and you recognize it as something not on your list (either shopping or charity), end it immediately. Say “no thanks” right then and hang up or walk away. The longer you stay, the more likely they’ll break down your guard. Do it fast and firmly and don’t give it a second thought.

It takes practice

Especially for tenderhearted people who aim to please, but by not saying no, you’re actually taking money out of the hands of the things you really care about. Saying yes to the salesman in the store means that you now have less money to spend on stuff you actually need – or on charities you actually care about. Saying yes to the person knocking on your door means you have less money to give to the people you actually care about who need it.

Every time you say “yes” outside of your plan, you let down something you care about even more. Once you really learn that, “no” becomes a much easier thing to say.

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