Can I Borrow $20? When to Say “No”

For a while now, I’ve been really good at saving and budgeting, leaving myself a nice cushion for unexpected expenses or for lending money to my family.

As you might recall, I got a car a couple of months ago. What I didn’t tell you was that on the very same day I unexpectedly lost my job. So I found myself with a new car, a depleted savings account and limited income. To say that I felt desperate would be putting it mildly, but I trusted myself to make the best out of the situation. I tightened my belt as far as it would go and managed to survive until I got a new job, which to my relief didn’t take that long.

Though everyone knows that I lost my job and have been making many sacrifices to try to avoid having to sell my new car, people have continued to ask me to loan them money.

Everyone in my family gave up plastic a long time ago after going into debt and struggling to pay it off. Instead, they now take advantage of the fact that I have a credit card and I’m real good at keeping track of my expenses. Often, I pay for their stuff with my card and they pay me back before I have to make the full payment, which usually gives them plenty of time to get their next paycheck. This has worked well enough and in if ever someone couldn’t reimburse me on time for some reason, I’d normally just pay my bill in full anyway and give the family member an “extension.”

However, last month events collided to teach me a hard lesson about loaning my good credit. I had to give one of my family members an extension and that wasn’t as easy as it normally has been because of my job situation. Another friend asked for a loan one day we were out together because the ATM was broken – he’s taken two extra weeks in paying me back. The treasurer of my community service group forgot our club’s debit card at home and I ended up paying for things we needed to do an activity. And finally, my mom and I have been missing each other, and consequently, she hasn’t paid me back some money I loaned her.

Do you see a pattern here? I’m sure none of these people realize they are putting me in bind. I let myself get in a position where people are comfortable not paying me back on time. My credit card payment is not due for another week, but I was lying in my bed last night wondering if this is going to be the first month that I won’t be able to pay my credit card in full.

Then I started to think about all of the sacrifices I’ve made these past few jobless weeks and how ridiculous it is that I am ashamed to ask people to give me my money back. But most importantly, I realized my stupidity in not saying “no” to these people in the first place, when I clearly was in no position to lend money.

Last week I ran across a quote by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “The most important thing I learned when I turned 40 was to say no when it’s no.” This hit home for me. Do I really need to wait until I’m 40 to learn how to say no?

When it comes to money it is particularly important to learn this lesson sooner than later. I’m not advocating that you turn Mom down cold if she’s in a difficult financial position and you are able to lend without getting into a bind yourself, but I’ve decided that, except for extreme, extraordinary circumstances, going into debt for someone else is simply not wise.

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