One of the things that I hated when I worked in an office was the constant drain on my finances. There were collections for birthdays, coffee supplies, and solicitations for every charity and school fund raiser. It got so bad that I seriously considered putting a, “No Soliciting” sign on my cubicle. It’s not that I’m opposed to giving money to causes I want to sponsor, for supplies that I’ll actually use, or for presents for people that I know and like. But I don’t care to donate to causes I don’t care for or understand, and I don’t want to front the cost for supplies I don’t use or give gifts to people I don’t even know. But it can be hard to say no to one thing when you’ve said yes to others in the past. People get offended that you turn them down when you give to others. So if you’re office is like mine was, how can you avoid being taken advantage of?
The first thing you can do is ask the higher-ups for a no soliciting policy. The last job I worked at had this down to a science. After numerous complaints they said that there would be no more cube-to-cube soliciting. People with things to sell or collections to make were free to put up a sign or order form on the table in the break room. Anyone who wanted to donate or buy could sign up there. If you didn’t want to donate or buy, you just didn’t visit the table. No pressure, no recriminations if you didn’t participate. You can ask your office to do something like this, or to simply outlaw solicitation altogether.
Failing that you need to master the art of the polite “no.” When someone comes looking for a charity donation, you can explain that you have already given to your charities for the year. When someone comes around selling school fund raisers, you can say that you already bought from your kids, the kids in your neighborhood, or that you prefer to give your money to the schools in your district, rather than helping kids who aren’t in your district. When someone comes seeking money for a gift for someone you don’t know (or like) you can say that you simply don’t have the money at this time, or that you’d simply prefer not to donate at this time. If someone is seeking donations for coffee supplies or a snack basket, simply say that you don’t use those things and would prefer not to contribute. Or, you can start your own contribution for things you do like.
For anything you can always fall back on, “We just don’t have the money right now,” but be careful. If you say, “We don’t have the money right now” and yet you show up in new clothes all the time or otherwise spend lavishly so your coworkers can see, don’t be surprised if you feel a “Scrooge” vibe coming your way. Yes, it’s your right to do what you choose with your money, but pleading poverty while living large will not endear you to your coworkers. Of course, no explanation is ever really necessary. A simple, polite, “No, thank you” is sufficient and should be respected by your coworkers.
Now, the trick to this is, if you make it a policy to say no to everything, don’t expect people to say yes to you or to participate in the office goings on. If you don’t contribute to the co-worker’s gift, don’t invite yourself along when they go out to lunch. If you don’t want to play the Dirty Santa game at Christmas, don’t go to the break room for the after game munchies. If you don’t chip in for coffee supplies, bring your own drinks and don’t mooch off of the supplies that others purchased. If you consistently refuse to donate to charities or buy from fund raisers, don’t expect anyone to buy from you or donate if you ask. It’s best to take your requests elsewhere.
The other side of this problem is what to do if you’re the one who is always fronting the cost for supplies, parties, and gifts and yet no one ever reimburses you for your efforts. If you want to throw parties, buy snack foods, and gifts for coworkers, you need to get the money up front. Buying the gift or supplies first and then asking for money to cover it is asking for trouble. If you get the money first, you can shop with what you have. If you buy first, you may not raise enough in donations to cover your costs, leaving you paying the balance. If you don’t get the money up front, be prepared to eat the cost. Throw the party or buy the gift out of the godness of your heart with no expectation of being reimbursed. If you can’t afford to do it that way, get the money first or skip the buying.
What do you do if you’re buying supplies or gifts and getting some donations, but people who didn’t donate are mooching off your stuff or taking credit for the gift? You can try putting the stash in your office rather than in a public area so that you can monitor access. Or you can put the supplies in a locked cabinet and give keys to those who donate. For gifts, keep a record of who donates and only give the card to those people to sign, rather than letting it make it’s way around the office.
You go to work to make money, not spend it. If you don’t want to donate to community events or solicitations, you can say no. Similarly, no one is forcing you to buy gifts, supplies or host parties for the whole office. If you find yourself fronting the bill for these things and you can’t afford it, stop doing it unless others are willing to step in and help. You don’t want to become the office patsy. Buy and do what you feel comfortable with and say no to everything else.