I used to be a big “yes person,” primarily because I hate letting people down. I’ve never done anything that made me feel particularly uncomfortable just because someone asked me to, but there have definitely been moments (multiple, actually) when I’ve agreed to dine somewhere even when I wasn’t that interested in because of a lack of energy or money. Nothing nefarious, but draining (emotionally and financially) nonetheless.
Part of the reason I found it so difficult to decline these invites was because of my natural inclination to avoid conflict at all costs. Rather than be upfront with someone and say, “listen, I can’t come to lunch because of X reason,” it seemed easier to push through either being bored and panicking about money — feelings that inevitably ensue whenever I’m on a restaurant date I should have just skipped. It’s especially hard to say no to people when they are my best friends, one of whom has a penchant for trying the newest, hippest food joints in New York City. I don’t fault her for it; there’s definitely a thrill to dining out, especially somewhere that’s been touted as an Instagrammable foodie haven. And as you can imagine, there are a lot of these places where we live. I used to always tag along with her to visit them, and I genuinely enjoyed each time we hung out. But after a while, the appeal of trying all of these buzzy establishments, where the entrée sets you back $25 to $40, starts waning as it runs your bank account dry.
Earlier this year, I finally came to the realization I couldn’t keep up this expense any longer. Sure, both my friend and I found pleasure in going out to eat at all of those places, but at some point, it just wasn’t that exciting anymore. When you get used to it, you start losing appreciation for how social and fun the experience of eating at a restaurant can be. When it came time to go out for a special occasion like someone’s birthday, I didn’t feel the same level of joy I used to — the treat had simply started becoming routine. And most times, we’d end up at somewhere I had already tried with said friend.
That was something I had to come to terms with when I noticed myself being despondent while eating out. Doing something about it, however, proved difficult. Remember, I hate telling people no. And beyond dreading the prospect of letting them down with that two-letter word, I also feared coming off as the “broke friend.” Even though none of my friends are the type to ever shame someone for their economic standing, the thought of being given that label, even unconsciously, brought on a lot of anxiety.
So what made me change my ways? Truthfully, I didn’t start feeling comfortable being forthcoming about what I could and could not afford when it comes to outings with my friends until one of them came forward one day and said, matter-of-factly, “Guys, this place for brunch is too expensive and I honestly should be saving my money, so I think I’m going to have to skip out on this one this time. We can all catch up later!”
Almost in unison, everyone responded saying, “Aww, that’s okay. Totally understandable.” They didn’t guilt them for not being able to come out because they didn’t have the money at the moment. It seems silly, but it was at that moment that I realized, Wait, I don’t have to keep saying yes to food-related engagements if I don’t want to. All of a sudden, I started wielding the power of “no” more often whenever I got a text saying, “Hey, want to grab dinner this Saturday?” If I was in a tight spot financially, I’d simply decline and tell that I was cutting back on my spending a little bit for now. In the past month alone, I’ve said no to eating out about three or four times. Past Shammara wouldn’t have done that. Current me, however, is thankfully more assertive and unafraid to turn down an invite.
If you’re currently in the position where you feel the need to agree to every single restaurant date you get invited to, I’m here to tell you that you really don’t have to — and don’t let anyone guilt trip you for saying, “Sorry, I can’t come.” When you’re selective about when and where you go out to eat, it makes the whole dining out experience far more meaningful when it does happen, and it has a positive effect on your finances. Personally, not once has a friend of mine berated me or called me broke for not attending a brunch. And even if they did, I’d simply thank them for making it easy to weed them out of my life.
Shammara is the editorial assistant at The Financial Diet. When she’s not copy-editing or writing about her financial woes, you can find her on Twitter sharing her thoughts on beauty and fashion trends and pop culture.
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