By Shawndi Purselley, CFP®, CDFA®, Owner and Co-Founder, Wealth Advisor

As a woman, when was the last time you said no to someone, or said yes to your own detriment?  I know that many times I have said yes to loaning money to a friend or family member, volunteering, to  large family purchases just to regret my answer and suffer unwanted consequences.  Our society has conditioned us to believe that women need to be seen as agreeable and nice.  We have been immersed in the belief that forsaking our own needs and wants for the benefit of others is a fundamental part of being a woman. Women have been taught that society’s approval matters more than what we think of ourselves.

If saying yes feels wrong, or you feel resentful, frustrated or anxious by saying it, then maybe your answer should be no when someone asks you for something.  Politely saying no to someone is always an option.  As a female, learning to graciously decline a request of your time is an important skill to learn and practice.  It is easy to become too much of a pleaser to others. Developing the skill of saying no can help you from falling victim to the destructive behavior of pleasing others to your disadvantage.  Women fear being perceived as “bossy” so it can be very tempting for us to use language to avoid being viewed negatively by others.  Forming your own boundaries is not bossy, pushy, forward or overly confident.   Women need to feel comfortable by assertively stating their responses, ideas and successes and not feel shame by how others may perceive us.

How often do you start off a sentence with “I’m sorry, but…?”  This statement immediately devalues what you are about to say.  The underlying tone is that you don’t feel confident in what you are saying, or about to say. Women sometimes apologize before a statement or a request as an attempt to feel less demanding.   Starting a statement with an apology automatically puts you in a one-down position and it undermines any authority you may have previously established.  Practice responding to questions without apologizing.  It will feel awkward, but with practice, you will get the hang of it and develop a new healthy habit.

Women also have to understand that disagreements are okay.  We don’t always have to defuse or avoid situations in which a disagreement may arise.  Learn to be comfortable with your opinion and/or your position on a subject matter.  Being able to politely argue your position will make you more resilient and provide you with the tools for managing adverse situations.  One way I coach women on this matter utilizes an approach that I often use.  I bring out the old pencil and paper and draw a line down the middle.  I place the issue at the top of the page and on either side of the line I write pros and cons.  I simply make a list on paper of all the pros and cons I can think of as to why I should or shouldn’t say yes to a question.   This activity allows me to then calmly and confidently give my answer, whether it be a yes or a no.

I recently attended a group discussion regarding women and self-care.  The speaker asked the group how many times have any of us held our need to go to the ladies room during a meeting or event because we didn’t want to inconvenience those around us? I embarrassingly admit that I am guilty of doing this regularly, to the point it causes me anxiety.  This realization was an epiphany for me.  How does a woman like me, one that many perceive to be a strong, independent, and head strong human by nature, not get up when discomforted by needing to use the ladies room?  How have I not understood that by not going when I need to go and practicing a fundamental self-care act is one way I have devalued myself for the benefit and comfort of others.   I wondered how society conditioned me to always think so much about others comfort when it negatively affects my own.  I have made a deal with myself to value my own needs and to not worry so much about how it might be affecting anyone else!

Why is all of this important?  Many times, when I meet with women about financial planning, they will continually apologize for appearing uneducated about financial matters.  Women tell me that while they contribute financially to the household that they do not make (or help make) the major financial decisions for their family.  Some women I meet tell me that in their marriage they don’t control the checkbook, the joint tax return, the budget or the retirement planning.  I discussed these issues in my first blog and podcast about how women can and should become more financially present in their household and I encourage you to listen to the podcast and read the related blog.

The other potential problem I run into in my financial planning practice is that some women will continue to provide outlandish financial support to others, leaving themselves under funded in their own financial lives.  By not being able to say no when people ask for money, women are sacrificing their financial security for the benefit of others.  I find that women will work longer than anticipated, or work a second job in order to help fund children and/or grandchildren, or because they have little to no resources available to them for retirement.  There are many resources available to help you learn to say no, create and maintain healthy boundaries, stop apologizing and to embark on the journey of placing your own value and self-care ahead of others. One of my favorite books on the topic is Boundaries by Henry Cloud.

Remember, don’t let society tell you that you must always place others ahead of yourself.  You are valuable and your voice is important.