5 Polite Payments: When to Stop Playing Nice With Your Money

From fundraisers to fellowship dinners, you’ve probably paid for tons of stuff you didn’t really want or couldn’t really afford just because you were “supposed to.” We call these polite payments.

And we all do it. We extend our manners with our wallets.

But money doesn’t have manners. Money is just money. So take control of it and tell it where to go—and where not to go. Don’t spend what you don’t have just because you’re too polite to say no.

Practice some self-awareness and self-discipline as you kindly decline (or properly budget for) these five polite payments.

1. Fundraisers

Your co-worker is selling cookie dough again for his son’s private school. That sweet little pre-teen at church needs more cash for her mission trip to Mexico. And your grocery store clerk keeps asking if you’d like to scan a special barcode for this week’s spotlight charity.

Giving to others is a blessing. But giving in to every request is not the answer. Be strategic and work extra gifts into your overall budget.

Try creating a “miscellaneous giving” envelope full of small bills to pass out whenever the mood strikes you. Or maybe you’d rather collect your cash and write a nice-sized check for that mission trip. No right or wrong answers here—just begin with a budget.

But if you can’t afford to give right now, be honest. If you’re working through your debt snowball or struggling to tithe regularly, focus on getting your own financial house in order before you start donating extra money to someone else’s.

2. Office Birthday Gifts

This one can be a little tricky since co-workers may also be your friends and you’re around them all day. But if you’re repeatedly asked to pitch in for communal gifts—we’re talking every week here—it may be time to bring up some new ideas. Recognition is what your colleagues want, not a pricey basket from the Chocolate-Dipped, Flower-Shaped Fruit Store.

So ask HR to pay for reusable desk decorations and a stockpile of birthday cards. Or see if the company would cover (or match) the cost of once-a-month birthday luncheons instead of expecting team members to provide individual presents.

And if your celebration fund is tight, stretch your cash by alternating pizzas and subs with team potlucks.

3. Eating Out With Friends

If the thought of continually missing out on Mexican Food Mondays with the guys or Fellowship Fridays with your small group sounds depressing, it doesn’t have to be.

Instead of blindly agreeing to every spur-of-the-moment restaurant trip (and the awkwardness of splitting the check afterward), rearrange your entertainment spending amount to include an occasional meal with friends. (Easily do this now with an EveryDollar budget.)

Then let your college buddies or church friends know you’re making it a priority to join them once a month because you’re saving up for a house or paying off that last student loan. They’ll get it. And you’ll get a balanced budget.

4. Hosting a Friend’s Bridal or Baby Shower

Your best friend threw you a wedding shower and a baby shower, so you must return the favor, right?

That would be nice, but good intentions don’t pay the bills. Be open with your friend and explain that you can’t spring for dainty party food and shabby-chic decorations until you’re debt-free.

Offer to contribute to the celebration in other ways like designing and sending out the evites, baking the cake, or helping with setup and cleanup. Your presence, not your presents, is what your friend needs most.

5. Bachelor and Bachelorette Getaways

Instead of a simple pre-wedding bachelor or bachelorette party, a new over-the-top trend has emerged. Bridesmaids and groomsmen are asked to give up a weekend, pay for an expensive flight, rent a car, and secure a hotel room hundreds of miles from home to celebrate someone else’s big day. Yeesh! And that’s on top of a dress purchase or tux rental!

If you’ve got the spare cash, then by all means enjoy the Cirque de Soleil water show and all-you-can-eat Vegas buffets. But if you’re trying to make headway on your debt snowball, politely pass. Just say you’ve cut up all your credit cards and your bank account can’t float the expense right now. No harm done.

A giving heart is great, but only if you’re not giving away your future (or your kids’ futures) in the process. The next time you’re asked to hand over unbudgeted dollars, take some time to figure out what you can afford then give if—and only if—it works with your budget.

Stop playing nice. You’re only hurting yourself.

With Christmas right around the corner, you might already feel the pressure of having to get a gift for anyone and everyone in your life. But where do you draw a line? Here are some tips on setting and sticking to gift-giving boundaries.

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