Q&A: How do you kindly say “no” to outings with friends because you can’t afford it?

How to Graciously Say "No"

How do you kindly say “no” to social outings with friends and keep a positive attitude? I find we can’t go out to most of our friends’ events because we can’t afford to. I am tired of explaining that we just “don’t have the money.” -Christa

Oh, Christa! How I can relate to this!

I well remember the days when Jesse was in law school and it seemed like we couldn’t go to so many different social outings because we didn’t have any money to spend. It was discouraging — and sometimes embarrassing.

So, first off, I just want to encourage you that you’re not alone in this struggle. Many of us have been there or are currently there.

Be Gracious

When explaining your situation to your friends, be sure to be incredibly gracious. Let them know that you’d love to come but it’s just not in the budget right now.

Make sure you say it in a way that doesn’t condemn them for choices they are making. True friends will understand and will not make you feel guilty or less than just because you can’t afford something.

Be Honest

There’s no need to come up with lame explanations and leave your friends wondering if they’ve done something to offend you and that’s why you don’t want to get together with them. Instead, just be honest. Let them know you’re struggling financially, or on a tight budget, or trying to pay off your debt, or whatever it is that is keeping you from being able to afford the outing they’ve invited you to.

Don’t apologize or make excuses. Don’t guilt them into feeling like they need to help cover your costs. Just be straightforward about it and let them know you’re working really hard to get to a place where you’ll have wiggle room in your budget for such an outing, but for now, you’re going to have to decline the invitation.

How to Graciously Say "No"

Suggest an Alternative

Whenever possible, instead of just saying no, come up with an alternative that you can afford. Offer to host everyone for desserts or snacks at your house if you can’t afford to eat out at the expensive restaurant they want to go to. Invite them to come over for games, a movie, and finger foods instead of going to the theater.

Or, see if there’s a compromise you could propose. For instance, when Jesse was in law school and some of his friends were having a party, the host asked if everyone could pay $4 each to cover the costs of the party. We didn’t have $8 extra in our budget for both of us to attend, so I emailed the host to ask if I could bring snacks and drinks (that I’d gotten for free or almost-free with coupons) instead. She was so gracious to say “yes” to my offer — and we had a fantastic time at the party!

Remember Your Why

Saying “no” is hard. It can be uncomfortable. It can make you feel discouraged. It can wear you down.

Constantly remind yourself why you are doing this. What is the purpose behind your short-term sacrifices. Think of the benefits you are going to reap in the long-run by sticking with your budget and staying the course with your goals.

Keep this at the forefront of your mind every time you have to say no. It will help you stay resolved to make the right decision, even when it’s hard.

Find Some Frugal Friends

If most all your friends are constantly inviting you to do extravagant things that you can’t afford to do, it’s probably time to find some frugal friends — people who “get” your weird desire to stick with your budget and live beneath your means.

Think about it: if everyone you associate with it spending money pretty extravagantly and telling you that you “deserve” this, that, and the other — even if you can’t afford it — it’s going to be hard to stick with your resolve to live frugally. On the other hand, if many of your friends are living frugally and simply, if they are content and understand when you talk about buying something secondhand or saving up to pay cash for things, it will be a lot easier to keep on your slow and steady journey toward debt-freedom or achieving your other financial goals.

In addition, when you hang out with frugal friends, you are inspired with new money-saving ideas, you are motivated to not give up, and you can laugh at all the crazy things you do in order to stay on budget.

If you don’t know a single frugal friend, don’t despair. Start looking for them at your local library, mom’s groups, church, thrift store, used book sale, or gardening club. You just never know where you’ll find an amazing frugal friend, but if you keep your eyes open, I’m sure there are some other frugal folks who live in your area!

In the mean time, read money-saving books and blogs to help you stay motivated and inspired. They aren’t the same as real-life friends, but they will still help you stay motivated. And if you have trouble finding local friends, see if you can find some good accountability partners online — maybe even people that you meet in the comments section here on MoneySavingMom.com.

What advice and suggestions do the rest of you have for Christa? I’d love to hear!

photo credit; photo credit

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Q&A: What kind of bread machine do you have?

zojirushi-bread-machine-bbcc-x20

What kind of bread machine do you have? Do you find it’s better for the machine to do it all, or just make the dough? -Stephanie

If there’s one tool in my kitchen I would never want to be without, it’s my bread machine. My aunt and uncle got me one as a wedding gift and I used it so much it finally was giving out.

Just around the time it was starting to breathe its last breath, my dad surprised me with a Zojirushi Bread Machine for Christmas. Let me tell you, this bread machine is the king of bread machines!

It’s high-tech and offers quite a few different options — including the dough cycle that I mostly. It’s also roomy, so you can make larger loaves and bigger batches of dough.

Make Your Own Homemade Bread

My favorite thing about the Zojirushi Bread Machine is that it has two kneading paddles. This creates a much better and softer texture in the dough which translates to softer, better-shaped bread and rolls.

Make Your Own Bread

I rarely ever bake bread in my machine, because I’ve found that the crust is much softer when I bake the bread in the oven. It does mean that you have to be home and remember to take the dough out of the machine and bake it when it’s done, but it’s still so much easier than making bread completely from scratch.

I can stick all the ingredients in the bread machine for Bread Machine Buttery Rolls and and hour and a half later, the dough is ready to be shaped into rolls. No mixing, no kneading and no worrying about setting a timer. Truly, in about ten minutes of total prep time, I can have a hot and fresh batch of rolls made.

My Favorite Simple & Easy Homemade Bread Recipes

Do you have a bread machine? If so, what kind & do you like it?

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Help! We love books, but they are taking over our house!

How to Keep Book Clutter to a Minimum

Hi Crystal! I wondered if I could get your insight about children’s books…namely what to do when they are taking over your house! We have SO many books that our kids’ bookshelves are completely full…But we LOVE to read and I would say that we read and love just about every one we have. However, I just feel like the books are taking over their rooms. It’s much better than toys, but still…what to do!? Thanks for your advice -Courtney

I love books, as you probably well know. :) But we actually don’t have shelves and shelves and shelves of them at our house. Why? Because I can’t stand clutter — even book clutter.

I’ve had to be really intentional with this, because otherwise our rooms would be overrun with books, too. Here are some things that help:

1. Define Your Book Boundaries

We have a shelf in the living room where we keep our very favorite books. I have books I’m currently reading in my bedside table drawer. The kids can keep a small stack of books in their room. And we have two large bookshelves in our basement that hold books we haven’t read yet.

Keeping our book boundaries to about three shelves total has really forced me to not collect or hang onto to books we didn’t absolutely love.

How to Keep Book Clutter to a Minimum

2. Only Keep Your Absolute Favorites

I know, I know, this is so hard to do. But if you love books as much as our family does, you have to draw a line somewhere. If a book didn’t radically impact me in some way or just seem overall amazing, I don’t keep it. I just can’t — unless I wanted to have all our walls lined with books. :)

3. Swap/Sell or Bless Someone With Your Extras

I love PaperBackSwap — not only because it saves money, but also because it’s a great way to keep your book collection under control. Why? Because you can’t earn book credits unless you get rid of some of your books.

You can also sell your books, though you often won’t make a lot on them. My favorite way to get rid of books is to share them with others. In fact, even if I loved a book and it’s one I’m planning to hang onto, I’d rather loan it out or pass it on to someone else and let them enjoy and be inspired be them than have them sit on my shelf collecting dust.

What do we do with all these books?

4. Become Best Friends With the Library

The library is a frugal, minimalist mom’s best friend. :) My kids can check out stacks of books each week and then we can return them all the next week. And provided you return them on time, in the same condition you checked them out in, it’s 100% free.

If your library doesn’t have a great selection, check Inter-Library Loan to see if you can get the titles you’d like through there. It seems they have (or can get) just about any book under the sun.

 What are your suggestions for Courtney? I’d love to hear!

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Q&A: Will I get a bunch of spam emails if I sign up for freebies?

Freebies in my mailbox

Hey there, I was wondering if you see a jump in unsolicited spam-type emails and calls once you start responding to these offers and freebies? -Lisa

Great question, Lisa! And I think it’s one that a lot of people have.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Set Up a Separate Free Email Account

First off, you will get emails from companies that you sign up for offers and deals with. The main reason they are usually offering a freebie or coupon is so they’ll get your email address.

To prevent your main inbox from becoming overrun with offers and company emails, set up a separate email account to use for freebies and coupons. This is simple to do and will save you from dealing with a lot of spam or unwanted email in your main account.

2. Don’t Sign Up for Shady Freebies

If it sounds too good to be true, it often is. I try my best to vet deals before posting them, but occasionally something will slip past me.

Always check a site out if something looks off. Is it hosted on the main company’s site? Does the Facebook Page have a lot of entries and likes (there are a lot of scam Facebook Pages)? Is the offer mentioned on the company’s website or Facebook Page?

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Some tell-tale signs of possible scams are:

  • Blatant typos on a page
  • A high-value freebie that’s hosted on a non-company site
  • A bunch of hoops you have to jump through to get the freebie
  • A site offering a free product that doesn’t tell you where you can actually buy the product (no shopping cart on the site and no links to where you can purchase it)
  • A freebie advertised for a product that doesn’t seem to be available anywhere.

These aren’t always scams, but these are things I look for when deciding whether something is legit or not.

If you’re not 100% sure that an offer is legit, don’t sign up for it.

3. Don’t Give Out Your Phone Number

Unless you’re comfortable with it, don’t give out your phone number. Spam emails are not fun, but sales calls and texts are even much more disruptive in my opinion. Just skip offers that require a phone number and save yourself the headache!

Do the rest of you have advice to add for Lisa? I’d love to hear!

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Q&A: How do I avoid becoming obsessed and overwhelmed with goal-setting?

I have learned so much from you about goal-setting. Thank you so much for all your wise and helpful advice. I set goals for 2013 and I’m very excited about them. But I’m finding myself getting overly obsessive about reaching my goals, and I feel terrible if, at the end of the day, I haven’t been able to cross off all my little bite-sized pieces of my goals at the end of the day. I almost feel like I want to give up my goals so I stop being so obsessed. Please help me find a better balance! Thank you! -Laura

Laura, I really appreciate you asking this question. While I’m a big fan of goal-setting, I think it’s imperative that we not go overboard with them so that they control our life — ultimately sucking the joy of living out of life itself.

Goals Are Meant To Be a Blessing, Not a Burden

The reason you set goals is to enhance your life, not to exhaust and over-burden you. If goals become additional stress in your life, they need to be tweaked, rewritten, or dropped altogether.

It’s good to challenge ourselves. It’s good to push ourselves outside our comfort zone. It’s good to aim high and work hard.

But there always need to be room to breathe in life. Charging ahead at breakneck speed just for the sake of speed and productivity is no way to live.

With this in mind, here are five ideas for you to consider trying:

1. Create Weekly Goals Versus Daily Goals

I always encourage people to break their goals down into bite-sized pieces. I encourage this because viewing a big goal in one lump sum can be overwhelming.

However, if you break a goal down so small that you feel obligated to always be working on it every single day — even when the inevitable interruptions come up — you can end up feeling like you’ve failed or fallen way behind when you don’t hit your daily goals every single day.

Perhaps a better option for you would be to choose a few small, bite-sized goals to tackle each week versus each day. Write them down and post them on your refrigerator or somewhere else that you’ll see regularly and then fit them in as you’re able throughout the week.

This way, you are still chipping away at your goals, but you’re doing so in a way that’s more flexible and adaptable to your schedule. On days that you’re really busy, you can just focus on the basics. On days that you have some extra time, you can knock out one or two of the bite-sized pieces.

If you don’t get to all the short list of goals that week, just bump the leftovers to the following week.

2. Make Your Goals Your First Priority Of the Day

Since one of my words for 2013 is Discipline, I’ve been making a very concerted effort to do the hardest things first. This means, I’m starting the day by tackling some of my least-favorite but most important things first.

Truthfully, this is making a world of difference for me. I realized that I’ve been wasting a lot of time just stalling… I’d add things to tomorrow’s to-do list or file things to do later instead of just doing it now. There’s a time and place for filing and putting things on tomorrow’s to-do list, but I’ve been challenging myself to stop procrastinating on these things and just face ‘em head on and get them done.

Not only am I getting a lot more done, I’m also finding I have a lot more margin time. Because once you stop stalling and start working, it takes a whole lot less time to do things!

3. Take A Day Off Once a Week

If you go-go-go all week long and never take a break, you’re bound to burn yourself out. Give yourself at least one day “off” each week that you don’t worry about work or goals or to-do lists. This is your day to refuel and refresh.

We have Sundays set aside as our day off at our house. We go to church, come home and have a really simple lunch of some sort, and then have a quiet afternoon either resting, reading, talking, playing a game, or engaging in other relaxing activities.

We don’t blog, worry about business stuff or goals, and I often don’t even turn on my phone or computer all day long. It’s a day we look forward to all week long!

If you can’t take a full day off, at least take half a day every week. I promise that you’ll find you’re more productive when you take time to recharge than if you just keep going and never stop to take a breath.

4. Set Fewer Goals

Experiment with lowering the bar a little when it comes to goal-setting. Maybe what you’re getting hung up on is the fact that you’re trying to accomplish too many goals.

It’s better to have fewer goals and follow through with them than to have a lot of goals and just end up overwhelmed by them. Go through your goal list and try culling it down to the most important goals for 4-6 weeks. Just focus on those and see if that makes a difference in your stress level.

5. Give Yourself Grace

You’re pretty much never going to get everything done that you want to in a day’s time. That’s just life! Focus on what you have accomplished instead of beating yourself up over what you didn’t accomplish.

If you end the day feeling like you accomplished nowhere near what you’d hoped, don’t fret. Just transfer the things you didn’t get done to tomorrow’s to-do list (or decide to skip them altogether), go to bed, get some rest, and wake up to a new day tomorrow!

What advice and suggestions do the rest of you have for Laura? I’d love to hear your input!

photo from Big Stock

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Q&A: Do you think multi-tasking is productive?

I’ve been reading your book, 21 Day to a More Disciplined Life, and am loving it! It’s full of great advice for anyone looking to make more of their time. As I’m reading Day 12 I wondered if you had any thoughts about 100% focus vs. multi-tasking.

This chapter focuses on 100% focus, without distractions and I can see how distractions can be death to a goal. On the other hand, as a busy mom, I find that multi-tasking is important and even necessary at times. Do you have any thoughts as to when to multi-task and when to focus? -Rebecca

Great question! I’m a big believer in focused intensity when it comes to comes to many projects.

In fact, I was participating in the BEECH Retreat weekly Thursday night Twitter chat last week when the question came up: “Have you ever sat down to write a blog post & got distracted by social media or email?”

My response? Yes. However, I usually make myself shut down distractions while blogging — otherwise I’ll never get posts written!

If you want to get anything worthwhile done in life, you’ve got to have FOCUS. And I like to take that one step further and make it focused intensity.

What Is Focused Intensity?

Focused Intensity is zeroing in on one specific project and giving it your entire concentration and energy for a determined length of time. I like to set a time limit on it and then challenge myself to see how much I can get done in that timeframe.

For instance, if I’m working on writing a blog post, an article, or a chapter in my next book, I’ll usually shut everything down on my computer, shut my office door, set the timer for 10 or 15 minutes, and work as hard as I can until the timer goes off.

When I work with this kind of focused intensity, I can get a lot done in a short amount of time. Whereas, if I’m all scattered all over the place — trying to write a post while checking and answering emails, keeping up with what’s going on on my Facebook Page, and refreshing my comments page, it will take me a very long time to get any writing done — and I probably won’t do a great job of it.

When Should You Work With Focused Intensity?

Everyone is different, but I’ve found that I cannot write well when there are a dozen distractions going on at once. I also find that I’m not able to think and process ideas and post outlines well if I’m constantly interrupted.

I’ve found it typically takes me three to five times longer to finish a post or writing project when I’m constantly interrupted than it does when I can work with focused intensity. So writing is one area where I always choose times of day when I know I can work with minimal interruptions (during the early morning hours, during afternoon quiet times, or on Saturdays.).

Are There Times When It’s Good to Multi-Task?

There are many, many other things I do that don’t require that same level of focus that writing does. And I’m all about multi-tasking if the end result means greater productivity.

I read while I do my walking warm-up and cool-down on the treadmill. I knit while I’m watching a movie with the family. I scrub my kitchen floor while I talk on the phone. Or, I put bread in the bread machine to mix while I’m chatting with a friend who is over.

There’s no point in just doing one thing, when you can as easily do two things well. I intentionally plan ahead for these opportunities — often even writing them on my daily to-do list. If I know I’m going to be heading to an appointment, I’ll make a note to bring a certain book or writing project, depending upon the appointment. If I know that we’re going to be having a family movie night or I’m having a friend over, I’ll make a note to make sure and get out my knitting or other handwork project.

By planning ahead like this, I’m able to use the time more productively, and in turn, I’m able to chip away at my weekly goal list — all while multi-tasking. So before I know it, projects are getting done without me putting a whole lot of extra effort into them.

That said, make sure when you are multi-tasking that you are actually being more productive. Sometimes, in trying to multi-task, you end up getting less done and just making a mess of multiple things.

What about the rest of you? Do you find that there are certain things you have to focus on without interruption to be productive? What are your favorite ways to multi-task that truly work?

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