The Power of Saying No

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Saying no feels bad, and sometimes even dirty but it's actually a good, and very powerful word, especially when you use it to change the way you live.

The following is a contribution from Michelle at Fit is the New Poor. 

“You’re going to have the baby today.”

The urgency in my doctor’s voice made my mouth go dry. My due date wasn’t for another eight weeks. Immediately, panic set in. “What?!” I called out. “It’s too early! I have too much to do! My husband’s not even here! I’m not ready!” But the decision was already made. My schedule for the day, my plans, the work I had to get done—none of it mattered. Ready or not, my baby was coming.

When I awoke an hour later, my daughter had already been delivered by an emergency c-section. As I drifted in and out of a druggy sleep, a nagging voice in the back of my head reminded me of something I hadn’t considered: What am I going to tell my clients?

As a freelancer, I have developed a steady client list thanks in large part to my willingness to take on any job, big or small, at any time. But in the span of a few minutes, everything changed. With the reality of motherhood facing me, I was going to have to learn how to add a new word to my professional vocabulary: No.

Embracing the Power of ‘No’


As I lay in my hospital bed a few hours after my daughter’s birth, I grew rather anxious about my clients. Was I going to lose customers because I couldn’t physically sit up to work on a computer?

The reality of course, was that there was no way I could complete all my work. I asked my husband to type up emails to my clients, saying to each of them, “No, I cannot complete the work this week; I’ve just given birth.” As he hit send on the emails, my anxiety skyrocketed as I awaited their responses. For the first time since starting my freelancing business, I had said no; I had no idea what the repercussions would be for myself or my company.

But as my clients responded, something miraculous happened: no one was upset. In fact, not one of them indicated any worry about my getting them their work. Instead, their emails were full of appreciation for my honesty and elation for my new arrival. I realized that this, like everything, had happened for a reason.

Since then, I’ve had to say no more often than ever before. But it has taught me five empowering lessons:


  • It puts me in control of my life, allowing me to decide what is best for my situation.
  • It curtails what I do not need, letting me focus on what matters the most.
  • It makes me more honest, both with my clients and with myself, on how much work I can actually manage to get done while caring for a newborn.
  • It forces me to be a self-advocate, opening me up for opportunities that matter and allowing me to ask for what I really want.
  • It focuses me in a way I never have been focused before, helping me prioritize my tasks and put my own and my family’s needs first.


Over the last seven weeks, I have utilized no a number of times, and not just for business—I’ve turned down dinners with friends (which would have broken my budget), disagreed with some of the unsolicited parenting advice I’ve been given, and even (sadly) cut down on the number of favors I do for others. To me, no has become a way for me to be truthful to my goals and what I want out of life.

Saying ‘No,’ Not ‘Never’


A couple of days after my daughter’s birth, finally able to sit up again, I opened my computer and got back to work, writing an article for a client. I didn’t necessarily have to go back to work; I could have taken my time. But if saying no helped me prioritize and advocate for myself better, it also helped me redefine what the word means. No, you see, is not the same as never.

A few weeks ago, Tonya explained how learning to embrace the word yes brought a transformative positivity to her life. I think the reason we don’t feel as empowered about the word no is because we associate it with negative emotions like rejection and denial. From a young age, we’re told “No-No” when our parents don’t want us to do something, and when we use it as kids (like to indicate that we don’t want to eat broccoli), we are punished for it. In other words, using the word no makes us feel guilty, angry, or embarrassed.

But we shouldn’t. Saying no to a client, a friend, a family member, etc. doesn’t mean you don’t want to work/spend time with that person or take hold of that opportunity. Rather, it means that at this time, I am unable to. By becoming more comfortable in simply saying no, I can now hear it without feeling immediately rejected or denied. And I can say it more readily without having to fear that others will feel the same.

I’ve found power in saying no, and I’m not about to let it go.


How comfortable are you with saying ‘no’ to work or other opportunities? When was the last time you said ‘no’ to something? How did it work out for you?


Michelle is a 20-something new mom and business owner. By day, she writes romance novels. By night, she works hard on conquering her $45,000 in outstanding debt. You can read more about her journey at Fit is the New Poor.

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.

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  • Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says:

    I am still in the process of learning how to say no if I have to because I find it hard to say the word as I may hurt someone’s feeling. But, I really have to do this so that I can learn these 5 lessons.

    • Michelle says:

      I am so tuned in with other people’s emotions that it’s so hard for me as well. You never want to hurt other’s feelings, but you always want to keep yourself first.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    Congrats on the baby! I’m really glad your clients were so understanding. It sucks to say no when you really don’t want to, but sometimes there is no way around it.

    • Michelle says:

      The baby has certainly reinforced the ‘no’ in me. I’m saying it right and left these days! But family first, right?

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    After having an emergency c-section and then another surgery the day after giving birth, I remember how difficult sitting up and getting around was. I’m amazed you were able to open the computer after 2 days! Congrats on the baby. Having a child makes saying no very necessary in many situations, but like you said, it doesn’t have to mean never, just not right now.

    • Michelle says:

      The C-Section was certainly the worst! I was laying down and typing at a 90 degree angle! No thanks! Never again!

  • Shannon @ Financially Blonde says:

    As the middle child in a large family, I have been a people pleaser from an early age, which means that I have a very difficult time saying no to anyone; and this problem only got worse when I started my own company. The first year I literally said yes to just about everything and that only led to stress and mental health challenges for me. I have gotten better over the last year of prioritizing my decisions and embracing the word no. I struggle with it from time to time, but I rarely regret it after I say it.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    Congrats on the baby! I have a lot of trouble saying no. I feel like “I can do it all” and “I can make it work.” These thoughts eventually lead to some harsh realities, though, when you have to go back on your commitments (which I despise doing) or burnout. There is definitely power in “no.”

    • Michelle says:

      I’m learning the woes of the burnout right now. It’s certainly not worth saying yes to an opportunity that isn’t working out. From now on, I’m keeping scope in mind before I say ‘yes.’

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach says:

    Saying “yes” and “no” are two sides of the same coin..that same coin being your well-being. I 100% agree with you on the power of no just as much as yes! It all depends on what you’re saying yes or no to. I think saying no to your clients was not only necessary, but empowering I’m sure. I have to focus myself on when to use that word just as much as I have to focus on when to say yes. It’s a work in progress. 🙂 Glad you wrote about this though!

    • Michelle says:

      Empowering is a great way to describe it. It certainly gave me back power during a time in which I felt powerless.

  • Retire29 says:

    What a great way to illustrate such a common concept. Thanks for sharing your experience, and I’m glad it worked out with the delivery. I can’t recall saying “no” very often. I try to say “no” to my wife sometimes, but that usually doesn’t go very far.

    Maybe I need to have a baby???


  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    Saying “No” can definitely be an empowering moment and I’m glad you found your power, Michelle! I am getting much, much better at saying “no” too. For me, there was so much that I wanted to say “yes” too but I also realized that I only have so much of me to give, so I need to make sure that where I spend my time is where I want it. I’m so glad that your client’s were respectful and excited for you. I believe being able to say “no” with conviction can actually make people respect you more.

    • Michelle says:

      It’s certainly how you say it rather than if you say it. I know that I have given some flimsy ‘no’s’ in the past and then found myself back to where I was. Say no with power, with certainty, and with empathy. It’ll get you a long way.

  • Fervent Finance says:

    I’ve definitely learned that saying “no” can definitely help bridge the gap between a work-life balance. Your employer or clients will always expect you to say yes, no matter what the request is. But once you set that boundary, I’ve learned that people learn to respect your time and wants more sincerely. Also – congrats!

    • Michelle says:

      This is certainly a big point for those in a traditional workplace, as you mentioned. I was a yes-woman at my old job and ended up getting walked on. Saying no lets you be the best worker you can be.

  • Natalie @ Financegirl says:

    Learning how to say no is more important than saying yes – especially for young women, in my opinion. That said, knowing when to say yes and when to say no is the most important – in any area of life. Business and personal areas of life come to mind for me and practicing saying yes and no in those areas has paid dividends. I think it’s hard to teach, but it’s worth practicing!

    • Michelle says:

      You bring up a great point about the female aspect. Just like ‘sorry,’ I think ‘no’ is an underutilized word!

  • Squirrelers says:

    Saying no can be liberating, and can allow us to take control of our lives. Which, of course, we should have in the first place!

    Your example is a very good one on how nobody in their right mind would hassle someone for saying no. If they had an issue with it or didn’t understand, it would be a great filter to identify who you don’t want to work with!

    • Michelle says:

      It’s filtered out a lot of worthless clients and potential work. I’m so grateful that I came to this conclusion sooner rather than later.

  • Gary @ Super Saving Tips says:

    Sometimes when you’re saying “yes” to everyone else, you’re only saying “no” to yourself, and vice versa. Being able to say no to others is really important, and I think I’ve gotten a bit better able to do it over the years.

    Congrats on the new arrival, Michelle! I’m glad your no’s got the reception they deserved and you could focus your attention where it belonged, on yourself and your precious little one.

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