How to Say No Gracefully, For When Saying No is Hard to Do

By Jackie Beck   Updated 05/13/2021 at 8:46 am

I’ve talked before about how saying “no” is a viable option when you’re asked to do something that doesn’t fit your budget.

But for many people, saying no is hard to do — especially if you feel embarrassed about your financial state, or feel socially obligated to say yes.

So how do you say no without stressing out about it?

Keep saying no simple

Here are some easy phrases and methods you can use to say no gracefully, to pretty much anything:

  • Oh, no thanks.
  • Oh, thanks, but I can’t.
  • I have to pass on that.
  • *Silently pass the donation/fundraiser form on to the next person after looking at it briefly*
  • Sorry, I can’t make it.
  • Sorry, it’s not in the budget right now. (If you’re ok bringing up money, and would feel ok saying yes if the person then offered to pay — remembering that sometimes others would be happy to do so.)
  • Thanks but that’s not going to work out/work for me.
  • Sorry, we’ve reached our limit for [donations, outside activities, whatever] right now.
  • Maybe another time. (But only if you really would like to say yes another time.)

As you may have noticed, less explanation is better. That’s the key. Remember that no is a complete sentence, and that’s ok! And keeping it simple is nicer than making an excuse that leads someone on.

Tactics for worriers who don’t like to say no

If you’re worried the other person might think you’re being rude for saying no, you can always follow up your “no” with a question about what they’ve got planned or what they’re involved in.

For example, if you’re asked to buy something for their child’s fundraiser, you could follow up that no with a questions about what grade their child is in now, or how long they’ve been a boy scout. That shows interest in the other person’s life and child, while changing the subject at the same time.

Should someone press you when you don’t want to give the real reason you’re saying no (“I will poke myself in the eye if I have to sit through another ______.” or “I can’t even pay the water bill this month, let alone give you $5 for cake.”) just repeat yourself until they get the picture and stop pressing you. Being a broken record works, especially if you do it cheerfully.

After all, they are the ones being rude or clueless, not you. Most people are just going to move on though, so chances are you won’t have to use the broken record method too frequently.

Honesty works too

Finally, there’s nothing wrong with honesty — especially when the reason you’re saying no is either due to a lack of funds or because you’ve got different priorities.

For example, when we were paying off our debt, I flat out told people who wanted us to do things that weren’t in our budget, “Nope, sorry, we’re getting out of debt first. That’s our priority right now.”

No one seemed offended. In fact several people got interested in how we were doing it, asked questions about our process, and shared that they were trying to do the same.

So give no a try. The next time you feel like saying no, go ahead and just say no. You might be pleasantly surprised at how it goes.

Easy phrases and ways to say no gracefully, for when saying no is hard to do.

4 thoughts on “How to Say No Gracefully, For When Saying No is Hard to Do

  1. We own a small business and get asked for donations A LOT. Telling people that we have reached our donation limit usually works for the latter part of the year. We already perform reduced fee or sometimes free work to many charities so feel that we are helping our community a lot already. Since I participate in my children’s many school, band and sport fundraisers I never feel obligated to buy from others although girl scout cookies are something that I can never have enough of :)

  2. Thanks for this post! I didn’t think of just repeating myself when saying no. I always awkwardly find myself explaining (I’m not really comfortable saying I’m short on cash… I feel like it’s the same reason/excuse every time). I’m definitely going to try to simply repeat myself from now on! Thanks again :)

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