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The Moneyist: ‘I always say yes’: The trainers at my gym flatter and cajole me into taking classes. I’ve racked up credit-card debt to pay for them. Why can’t I say no?

I am a 31-year-old man, not yet married, earning decent money and have no great financial burden in my family. I have learned from your replies to others that many money problems are not only about the numbers — income, rate of return or which stock to buy and when — but also about our personalities, how we behave in life and how we deal with others when money is involved.

I find it difficult to reject the constant offers of new sessions with trainers at my gym or the salespeople who keep trying to upgrade my membership. I’ve spent a fortune. They are good at their job, but they suffocate me by constantly approaching me for more subscriptions. I haven’t even completed half of my classes and they are already trying to rip me off again.

Their usual tactics are, first, harassing me into buying by buzzing my phone for one hour straight; second, pretending to be friendly with me and then asking for a favor (usually a subscription to another gym class); and third, offering some small benefit (like hooking me up with one of their other students for a date) and then guilt-tripping me into subscribing to more classes.

‘Half the time I am either too tired to refuse or worn down by being guilt-tripped, and I finally give in to them.’

My success rate of rejecting them is about 50%. Therefore, half the time I am either too tired to refuse or worn down by being guilt-tripped, and I finally give in to them. I have considered giving up my gym membership to avoid meeting these characters, but there are still quite a number of classes that I have paid for and haven’t yet attended, so I have ruled out this option.

For the last two years, I have taken on credit-card debt to pay for these classes. I still have $25,000 in my checking account and a four-month emergency fund. My monthly payments don’t exceed 20% of my income. It is currently not a very serious problem, but I know I have to deal with it before it gets worse.

My other issue: I am too frank. I have let the salespeople at my gym know my income. And at a job interview, I was asked if I had any other offers, and I said no. I suspect this is the reason they gave me a lower-level position than they had originally offered. It is a company with great prospects, so I accepted the job, but in hindsight, I compromised myself.

How can I deal with aggressive salespeople? I always yield to their demands. And how do I learn to be more guarded about the information I share with others? I always say yes, and it ends up costing me. I would appreciate it if you pick my letter and offer any advice or even criticism. Thank you for your time, and I hope you have a wonderful day.

A Reader from Hong Kong

Dear Reader,

Americans spend an estimated $400 million on unused gym memberships. So good for you for turning up.

I’m not going to criticize you. Believe me, there are enough perfect people on social media who would take great pleasure in doing that. We all have weaknesses, needs, desires, hopes and dreams, and they do play into our relationship to money — from paying for dating apps and dinner dates to buying stuff that give us the feeling of having a higher social status. Nobody is immune.

That said, you should keep the utilization rate on your credit cards below 30% or thereabouts. That will help you maintain a good credit score. Roughly half of renters, in the U.S. at least, now spend 30% or more of their income on rent. They are considered “cost-burdened.” But you should spend no more than 10% of your income on credit cards, and you should pay them off every month in full.

The 50/30/20 rule put forth by many financial experts suggests spending 50% of monthly income on essentials like utilities, food, transport and, of course, housing, while you should spend 30% on “wants” and put 20% towards financial goals. However, I suggest reversing the latter two: spend 20% of your income on “wants” and put 30% of your income towards your financial goals.

Spend 30% or less of your income on housing. Including your rent/mortgage, keep essential spending to 50% or less of your income. Put 20% towards ‘wants’ and 30% towards financial goals.

Say, “No thank you,” when offered classes. And keep saying it. The less you say, the more weight your words will carry. That will help you understand your inability to say no. You have been honest about one reason: The promise of matchmaking. Don’t let one area of your life — your desire to meet a significant other — rule the others. Put your wallet back in your pocket.

The other reasons may be more complex: a desire to be liked; a fear of displeasing others or, worse, making them angry or impatient; a wish to be seen as a man who is financially independent and can afford to spend money on endless training sessions and classes; or a need to feel like you belong, whether it’s at a gym or a place of work.

About that job interview: There’s a choice we have — one that may not have been taught to us when we were growing up — to say, “Stop!” or “No!” We teach kids to put up their hand and loudly say no if an adult is making them uncomfortable with their words or actions. That could help protect them in vulnerable situations. We have the right to do that as adults, too.

Ask yourself, ‘Why?’ That will help you understand your inability to say no. Why do you acquiesce to offers of new classes? Why do you answer questions that make you uncomfortable?

We don’t have to answer every question that people ask us — in fact, we don’t have to answer any question that people ask us. If someone asks you how much money you make, you have every right to say, “I’m not comfortable answering that question.” If someone asks you why you won’t do something, you can say, “Because my calendar is full.” 

And if a theater company or dentist’s office or gym harangues you by phone? Tell them, “I have no time. Have a nice day!” Click. If they say, “When would be a good time to call you back?” Say, “There is no good time to call me back. Do not call me back. I do not like unsolicited calls. Have a nice day!” Say what you mean, but don’t say it “mean.” (Unless you have to.)

If someone is being aggressive, it’s not our job to be nice to them. Perhaps we were raised to keep our head down and be polite to our elders. But that does not serve us terribly well in the workplace when we need to ask for a raise, and when we want to list our accomplishments without blushing or feeling like we are going to pass out from the anxiety. And it doesn’t help us deal with salespeople.

We all need a toolbox — whether it’s for how to start a conversation with a family member who has an addiction or how to end a conversation with a pesky salesperson.

So let’s recap this crash course. First, ask yourself why you capitulate. Second, it’s OK to say no. Third, it’s OK to not answer a question. Fourth, remind yourself that we don’t have to be everybody’s friend and it’s OK if other people don’t like us or if they get mad at us because we are not doing what they want us to do. And finally, learn to simply smile and walk away.

We all need to ask ourselves why we do the things we do. And we all need a toolbox to help us along the way — whether it’s to start a conversation with a family member who has an addiction or to end a conversation with a pesky salesperson at the gym who acts like they’re our friend — a friend who doesn’t want to take no for an answer. 

Don’t put other people’s needs ahead of your own, and don’t put other people’s commissions ahead of your own credit-card bill. It’s not up to Billy the trainer to know when it’s time to stop harassing you to buy more classes. It’s not up to the telemarketer to know when it’s time to stop calling you or when to hang up. It’s up to you to set those boundaries. 

In the meantime, pay off your credit cards in full every month, automate your savings, and contribute the maximum amount to your retirement account.


Have a nice day.

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

‘My stepmother has been less than ethical’: I suspect my stepmom removed me as beneficiary from my late father’s life-insurance policy. What can I do?

‘This has bugged me all my life’: My estranged father gave me $1,000 a month to buy a house in California. My brother cried foul, and told me to stop. Who’s right?

‘I want to meet someone rich. Is that so wrong?’ I’m 46, earn $210,000, and own a $700,000 home. I’m tired of dating ‘losers.’

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