Know when to say ‘no’

The underlying pattern is the tendency to put others’ needs ahead of yours, jeopardising your financial situation in the process. The need to care, nurture and sacrifice is inherent in most women


My friend A called me early on a Sunday morning, just as I was leashing up Leo, my three-year-old Golden Retriever, for his morning walk. “I have to see you now, or I may never see you again.” Her urgent, tremulous voice indicated no room for negotiation. Hopes of a lazy Sunday faded as my friend’s chilling tone meant I had to get to her as fast as my Reva could zip through the 3-kilometer distance.

Twenty minutes later, I was ringing her doorbell. As I stirred her a cup of lavender tea, I was the one shaken by her story. A year ago, she had co-signed a Rs50-lakh loan for a friend. The friend subsequently fell ill with pancreatic cancer. The treatment and rehabilitation would be expensive and extensive, with no guarantees of success.

Her friend had quit her job because of ill health. Without immediate family or significant savings, she depended on A to fund her expenses. After the friend defaulted on her loan for 4 months, the collection agents from the loan provider started harassing A. As a co-signee on the loan, she was now on the hook to pay her friend’s equated monthly instalments (EMIs). The previous night, A had received several calls from an agent, threatening her with dire consequences unless she paid up.

A had agreed to co-sign the loan as a favour, since she had a better credit record than her friend. The loan would not have been disbursed otherwise. But A had certainly not signed up for what she was being put through. Her credit record and her financial independence were on the line, all of which was avoidable.

A’s case is an extreme version of an affliction that I warn my women clients about. The inability to say ‘no’. The voice of reason hammers away in your head, but you hear yourself say ‘yes’. Heart rules over head yet again. Do any of these situations resonate with you?

1. You are struggling to run a business, and your client asks you for a discount or a free service that you can ill afford. You agree as you don’t want to lose her business.

2. An acquaintance tells you about her temporary cash crunch and you agree to bail her out. She never pays back.

3. You pay for movie tickets for your friends assuming the cost will be divvied up later, but it’s forgotten.

4. You are constantly helping a sibling with her money problems, even though you are struggling with your own.

5. A sales person coerces you to buy two sarees when you want one; or a salon beautician sells you an expensive package you are unsure of.

6. Your husband wants to start a business; you grudgingly agree to sell your assets to finance his dream.

7. You fund the family’s expenses with your income, while your partner accumulates assets with his income.

8. You co-sign an education loan for a nephew on his assurance that it is a short-term arrangement till his scholarship comes through.

9. You give in to your daughter’s demand of buying an expensive dress for a party, racking up further expenses on your overstretched credit card.

The underlying pattern is the tendency to put others’ needs ahead of yours, jeopardising your financial situation in the process. The need to care, nurture and sacrifice is inherent in most women. We believe relationships are strengthened by acts of giving. This explains why so many women are comfortable offering, but not receiving help. Consider approaching the above situations differently.

1. You can offer your friend a discount, but in turn get four references, so you can expand your client base.

2. Tell your cash-strapped friend that you can help sell her sketches, or help design her website.

3. Send a message to your friends that you enjoyed getting together, with each person’s share of the bill and your bank details so they can transfer the money.

4. Educate your sibling about organising her finances, and the need for building an emergency corpus.

5. Tell the salesperson or beautician that you like the products or services and will send more customers their way.

6. Tell your partner that your assets are a backup in case the business fails. Help him raise funds through other sources or assist him in improving his sales.

7. Divide your joint expenses with your combined post-tax income to determine the proportion of income each will allocate to expenses and asset building.

8. Co-sign the nephew’s loan only if you can afford to make the payments. If not, politely decline and assure him of help in finding an internship, or drafting a resume.

9. Encourage your daughter to design her dress and have it stitched. She will derive creative satisfaction and you will save money.

If you want to be generous with your money, be aware of its consequences too. If you can write off the money without risking your finances, then go ahead and be magnanimous. Even then, ensure that your help is not a short-term measure, but an instrument in begetting a long-term behavioural change. If someone doesn’t have the financial discipline today, it’s unlikely she will have it later in life. Get used to saying no. If you don’t, you are telling the world to take advantage of your goodwill. Apart from putting you in financial mess, it will take away your self-worth and confidence. It is your money and you have the right to make choices. It is the only way to build strong relationships with people, money and yourself.

Priya Sunder is director and co-founder of PeakAlpha Investments.

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