You have to say "no" 90% of the time

As human beings we are social creatures and naturally crave the approval and acceptance of others. By being accepted we feel safer within the community, feeling that there are others that we can rely on should we be faced with a great challenge.

This belief isn't entirely wrong. It is, after all, what makes our society function as it does today when considering the free world.

As a result we behave in ways that make ourselves more palatable to others. In other words we say "yes" to almost all requests in the hopes that we will remain in good standing with the person or party making that request.

But often when saying "yes", we don't realise that we are also saying "no" to ourselves.

Bruce Almighty

It has been almost 20 years since this film came out and I remember immensely enjoying the watch. Bruce (Jim Carrey) gets given a chance by God (Morgan Freeman) to do his divine job after feeling aggrieved in life.

Obviously Bruce has a bunch of fun with this. He turns his noisy rust bucket into a roaring sports car. He summons fresh coffee from the hills of Colombia. And he makes his girlfriend's assets considerably larger.

We'll focus on the coffee.

In this scene Bruce, using the powers of God, tries to answer everyone's prayers. He does so by individually responding to each one but finds this to be unmanageable, even with his powers. There are simply too many prayers.

As a result Bruce decides to solve the problem by saying "yes" to everyone's prayers.

Thinking he's done the perfect thing that will lead to universal happiness he goes about his life enjoying his powers. But soon, his world and the world in general starts to fall apart.

Saying "yes" to everyone and everything turned out to achieve the opposite effect of what he expected, and it wasn't until he started saying "no" did things start to slowly get better.

Customer requests

I used to be an implementation consultant who would configure a product for customers so that they could use it to run and improve their business processes.

While working on projects I would often get requests from the customer to do things that were technically out of the project's scope. They weren't huge requests, mostly just small adjustments and tweaks to things that had already been decided a few weeks earlier.

Being young and inexperienced at the time I estimate I said "yes" to such requests around 90% of the time. After all, I didn't want the customer to be unhappy. And so I'd spend the extra time working on the project, at my own cost in terms of personal time, in order to try and "get things right".

Of course this also meant I was saying "no" to myself for that same 90% of time.

I was saying "no" to the evening hobby classes or personal improvement classes I wanted to attend. I was saying "no" to winding down on my weekends. I was saying "no" to my friends and family.

One who is working towards financial independence will be able to easily see how this becomes a huge problem, especially over the long run.

It also led to problems on the project later on down the line. What had been updated based on the "small requests" by the customer didn't match up to original designs and decisions, causing a headache in terms of measuring if the project was progressing smoothly or not.

Ultimately the very same people that I had tried to appease by saying "yes" to were just as unhappy, maybe even more so, than if I had simply said "no" at the start.

Fast forward to the present day and I'm now the product manager for that very same product. As the product manager one of my responsibilities involves making decisions on how to strategically develop the product so that it gets the company more users and more sales.

It also means I get a lot of requests from customers and implementation consultants, speaking on behalf of the customers they have said "yes" to, on adding this or that feature to the product.

Fortunately these days I'm more experienced so now I say "no" 90% of the time.

I should say that this isn't out of arrogance or spite of the past, though I do suspect my ego will slip through the cracks every now and again. It's just that the many requests that come in often don't match up to the bigger strategy that I'm working towards, or the request only makes sense in a limited way that doesn't actually improve the product on a broader scale.

Saying "no" may not win me many friends, or get people to have a nice opinion about me as a person. But it does get me closer to the strategic goals of the product which is actually how my performance is measured.


Keeping with the spirit of being a financial independence blog let's bring this back to investing.

Warren Buffett (I'm going to assume you know who he is) loves to teach the '20-slot' rule to students at business schools. The 20 slots represents all of the investment chances you can make in your lifetime and once that card is filled up that is it.

No going back.

Buffett's point is that if you know you only have a limited amount of chances (slots) you're going to be very careful and deliberate on which investments you go with. It means you're going to be saying "no" to almost every investment idea that comes in front of you.

Not all 20 that you pick need to be a winner; only a handful are required to succeed in order to make you rich. And in Buffett's words “... but what you can’t do is get rich by trying one new idea every day.”

Let's bring this even closer to financial independence and think of it in terms of low cost passive index funds.

The beauty of this investment strategy is that we could spend almost no time on managing our holdings, knowing that the strategy simply tracks the overall market. And our confidence in the strategy comes from the fact that the market generally rises over time and those returns will compound.

Now, you may argue that an index fund means we've actually said "yes" to virtually every business. At least the ones in North America if you're going with a S&P 500 tracker.

But in reality we've only said "yes" to one thing which is the passive index fund strategy.

This means we've said "no" to all other strategies such as stock picking, swing trading, arbitrage trading, cryptocurrencies, leveraging rental properties to build large property portfolios, and more.

While there are probably many strategies out there that will make you money you know that you cannot and will not succeed by saying "yes" to them all.

And so you must understand yourself when it comes to your investment goals, and only go with the select few approaches that suit your needs.

True Freedom

I want to step away from investment strategies to end this article but still talk about something that's extremely important to those of us striving for financial independence; freedom.

Many of us live our lives under some burden of expectation from others. In some cases these expectations are well meaning; your parents or grandparents expecting you to go to University so that you get a good qualification that can land you a well paid and stable job.

But not always.

The burden of expectation that you will buy a bigger house.

The burden of expectation that you will buy a new car.

The burden of expectation that you will get married and have kids.

Join expensive clubs with your family, go on fancy holidays, wear fancy clothes, and anything else that involves keeping up appearances in general so that others will look at you and say "looks like they're doing well".

There are some people who enjoy such lifestyles, and even if we say we don't need them we must admit that some luxuries in life are nice.

But if we're going along with these things simply because other people expect us to then that is not "freedom".

That would be us saying "yes" to other people's expectations when in reality we want to say "no".

Sadly it means we're saying "no" to the things we may truly want such as having simple and cheap holidays with the family, keep wearing the same clothes from three years ago because there's nothing wrong with them, and staying in the cosy little house that is easily affordable and will be paid off within the next decade.

Financial independence is synonymous with freedom. The freedom to almost always say "yes" to ourselves and "no" to other people without fear of consequences.

So if you're already working on the financial side of this journey and wondering what else you can do to achieve your goal quicker, start working on saying "no" to other people.

It'll take practice to get more comfortable doing it, and there'll be some balancing along the way so that you know when it's right to say "no" and when it's right (for you) to say "yes".

But as you get more familiar with it you'll start feeling more and more liberated, like you've taken a bigger bite of the freedom that you've been working towards.


Don't wait for some magical number before you start "living". Life is full of surprises and you'll never be able to plan it perfectly. If you're doing sensible things with your money you'll eventually reach your goal. So start living now. The longer you wait, the less time you'll have. Money can be made, but time cannot. You are the barrier to the life you want to live, not a 4% safe withdrawal rate.

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