What Can You Use Student Loans For?

To attend college these days, many students take out student loans. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to afford the hefty price tag of tuition and other expenses.

According to U.S. News & World Report, among the college graduates from the class of 2020 who took out student loans, the average amount borrowed was $29,927. In 2010, that number was $24,937 — a difference of about $5,000.

Student loans are meant to be used to pay for your education and related expenses so that you can earn a college degree. Even if you have access to student loan money, it doesn’t mean you should use it on general living expenses. By learning the answer to, “What can you use a student loan for?” you will make better use of your money and ensure you’re in a more stable financial situation post-graduation.

Recommended: I Didn’t Get Enough Financial Aid: Now What?

5 Things You Can Use Your Student Loans to Pay For

Here are five things you can spend your student loan funds on.

1. Your Tuition and Fees

Of course, the first thing your student loans are intended to cover is your college tuition and fees. The average college tuition and fees for a private institution in 2021-2022 is $38,185, while the average for a public, out-of-state school is $22,698 and $10,338 for a public, in-state institution.

2. Books and Supplies

Beyond tuition and fees, student loans can be used to purchase your textbooks and supplies, such as a laptop, notebooks and pens, and a backpack. Keep in mind that you may be able to save money by purchasing used textbooks online or at your campus bookstore. Hard copy textbooks cost, on average, between $80 and $150; you may be able to find used ones for a fraction of the price. Some students may find that renting textbooks may also be a cost-saving option.

Recommended: How to Pay for College Textbooks

3. Housing Costs

Your student loans can be used to pay for your housing costs, whether you live in a dormitory or off-campus. If you do live off-campus, you can also put your loans towards paying for related expenses like your utilities bill. Compare the costs of on-campus vs. off-campus housing, and consider getting a roommate to help you cover the costs of living off-campus.

4. Transportation

If you have a car on campus or you need to take public transportation to get to school, work, or your internships, then you can use your student loans to pay for those costs. Even if you have a car, you may want to consider leaving it at home when you go away to school, because gas, maintenance, and a parking pass could end up costing much more than using public transportation and your school’s shuttle, which should be free.

5. Food

What else can you use student loans for? Food would qualify as a valid expense, whether you’re cooking meals at home or you’ve signed up for a meal plan. This doesn’t mean you should eat out at fancy restaurants all the time just because the money is there. Instead, you could save by cooking at home, splitting food costs with a roommate, and asking if local establishments have discounts for college students.

Recommended: How to Get Out of Student Loan Debt: 6 Options

5 Things Your Student Loans Should Not Cover

Now that you know what student loans can be used for, you’re likely wondering what they should not be used for as well. Here are five expenses that cannot be covered with funds from your student loans.

1. Entertainment

While you love to do things like go to the movies and concerts and bowling, you should not use your student loans to pay for your entertainment. Your campus likely offers plenty of free and low-cost entertainment like sports games and movie nights, so pursue those opportunities instead.

2. A Vacation

College is draining, and you deserve a vacation from the stress every once in a while. However, if you can’t afford to go on spring break or another type of trip, then you should put it off at this time. It’s never a good idea to use your student loans to cover these expenses.

3. Gym Membership

You may have belonged to a gym at home before you went to college, and you still want to keep up your membership there. You can, as long as you don’t use your student loans to cover it. Many colleges and universities have a gym or fitness center on campus that is available to students and included in the cost of tuition.

4. A New Car

Even if you need a new car, student loans cannot be used to buy a new set of wheels. Consider taking public transportation instead of buying a modest used car when you save up enough money.

5. Extra Food Costs

While you and your roommates may love pizza, it’s not a good idea to use your student loan money to cover that cost. You also shouldn’t take your family out to eat or dine out too much with that borrowed money. Stick to eating at home or in the dining hall, and only going out to eat every once in a while with your own money.

Student Loan Spending Rules

The federal code that applies to the misuse of student loan money is clear. Any person who “knowingly and willfully” misapplied funds could face a fine or imprisonment.

Your student loan refund — what’s left after your scholarships, grants, and loans are applied toward tuition, campus housing, fees, and other direct charges — isn’t money that’s meant to be spent willy-nilly. It’s meant for education-related expenses.

The amount of financial aid a student receives is based largely on each academic institution’s calculated “cost of attendance,” which may include factors like your financial need and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your cost of attendance minus your EFC generally helps determine how much need-based aid you’re eligible for. Eligibility for non-need-based financial aid is determined by subtracting all of the aid you’ve already received from your cost of attendance.

Starting for the 2024-2025 school year, the EFC will be replaced with the Student Aid Index (SAI). The SAI will work similarly to the EFC though there will be some important changes such as adjustments in Pell Grant eligibility.

Additionally, when you took out a student loan, you probably signed a promissory note that outlined what you’re supposed to be spending your loan money on. Those restrictions may vary depending on what kind of loan you received — federal or private, subsidized or unsubsidized. If the restrictions weren’t clear, it’s not a bad idea to ask your lender, “What can I use my student loan for?”

If you’re interested in adjusting loan terms or securing a new interest rate, you could consider refinancing your student loans with SoFi. Refinancing can allow qualifying borrowers to secure a lower interest rate or preferable terms, which could potentially save them money over the long run. Refinancing federal loans eliminates them from all federal borrower benefits and protections, inducing deferment options and the ability to pursue public service loan forgiveness, so it’s not the right choice for all borrowers.

The Takeaway

Student loans can be used to pay for qualifying educational expenses like tuition and fees, room and board, and supplies like books, pens, a laptop, and a backpack. Expenses like entertainment, vacations, cars, and fancy dinners cannot generally be paid for using student loans.

If you have student loans and are interested in securing a new — potentially lower — interest rate, consider refinancing.

There are no fees to refinance a student loan with SoFi and potential borrowers can find out if they pre-qualify, and at what rates, in just a few minutes.

Learn more about student loan refinancing with SoFi.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
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Source: sofi.com

Fixed Expense vs Variable Expense

Budgeting is the best way to get a better handle on where your money is going — which can help you get a better handle on where you’d like to see your money go.

But before you dive into the nitty-gritty of each individual line item on your ledger, you first need to understand the difference between fixed expenses and variable expenses.

As their name suggests, fixed expenses are those that are fixed, or unchanging, each month, while variable expenses are the ones with which you can expect a little more wiggle room. However, it’s possible to make cuts on items in both the fixed and variable expense category to save money toward bigger financial goals, whether that’s an epic vacation or your eventual retirement.

Let’s take a closer look.

What Is a Fixed Expense?

Fixed expenses are those costs that you pay in the same amount each month — items like your rent or mortgage payment, insurance premiums, and your gym membership. It’s all the stuff whose amounts you know ahead of time, and which don’t change.

Fixed expenses tend to make up a large percentage of a monthly budget since housing costs, typically the largest part of a household budget, are generally fixed expenses. This means that fixed expenses present a great opportunity for saving large amounts of money on a recurring basis if you can find ways to reduce their costs, though cutting costs on fixed expenses may require bigger life changes, like moving to a different apartment — or even a different city.

Keep in mind, too, that not all fixed expenses are necessities — or big budget line items. For example, an online TV streaming service subscription, which is withdrawn in the same amount every month, is a fixed expense, but it’s also a want as opposed to a need. Subscription services can seem affordable until they start accumulating and perhaps become unaffordable.

Recommended: Are Monthly Subscriptions Ruining Your Budget?

What Is a Variable Expense?

Variable expenses, on the other hand, are those whose amounts can vary each month, depending on factors like your personal choices and behaviors as well as external circumstances like the weather.
For example, in areas with cold winters, electricity or gas bills are likely to increase during the winter months because it takes more energy to keep a house comfortably warm. Grocery costs are also variable expenses since the amount you spend on groceries can vary considerably depending on what kind of items you purchase and how much you eat.

You’ll notice, though, that both of these examples of variable costs are still necessary expenses — basic utility costs and food. The amount of money you spend on other nonessential line items, like fashion or restaurant meals, is also a variable expense. In either case, variable simply means that it’s an expense that fluctuates on a month-to-month basis, as opposed to a fixed-cost bill you expect to see in the same amount each month.

To review:

•   Fixed expenses are those that cost the same amount each month, like rent or mortgage payments, insurance premiums, and subscription services.

•   Variable expenses are those that fluctuate on a month-to-month basis, like groceries, utilities, restaurant meals, and movie theater tickets.

•   Both fixed and variable utilities can be either wants or needs — you can have fixed-expense wants, like a gym membership, and variable-expense needs, like groceries.

When budgeting, it’s possible to make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses.

Recommended: Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Benefits of Saving Money on Fixed Expenses

If you’re trying to find ways to stash some cash, finding places in your budget to make cuts is a big key. And while you can make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses, lowering your fixed expenses can pack a hefty punch, since these tend to be big line items — and since the savings automatically replicate themselves each month when that bill comes due again. (Even businesses calculate the ratio of their fixed expenses to their variable expense, for this reason, yielding a measure known as operating leverage.)

Think about it this way: if you quit your morning latte habit (a variable expense), you might save a grand total of $150 over the course of a month — not too shabby, considering its just coffee. But if you recruit a roommate or move to a less trendy neighborhood, you might slash your rent (a fixed expense) in half. Those are big savings, and savings you don’t have to think about once you’ve made the adjustment: they just automatically rack up each month.

Other ways to save money on your fixed expenses include refinancing your car (or other debt) to see if you can qualify for a lower payment… or foregoing a car entirely in favor of a bicycle if your commute allows it. Can you pare down on those multiple streaming subscriptions or hit the road for a run instead of patronizing a gym? Even small savings can add up over time when they’re consistent and effort-free — it’s like automatic savings.

Of course, orchestrating it in the first place does take effort (and sometimes considerable effort, at that — pretty much no one names moving as their favorite activity). The benefits you might reap thereafter can make it all worthwhile, though.

Saving Money on Variable Expenses

Of course, as valuable as it is to make cuts to fixed expenses, saving money on variable expenses is still useful — and depending on your habits, it could be fairly easy to make significant slashes. For example, by adjusting your grocery shopping behaviors and aiming at fresh, bulk ingredients over-packaged convenience foods, you might decrease your monthly food bill. You could even get really serious and spend a few hours each weekend scoping out the weekly flyer for sales.

If you have a spendy habit like eating out regularly or shopping for clothes frequently, it can also be possible to find places to make cuts in your variable expenses. You can also find frugal alternatives for your favorite spendy activities, whether that means DIYing your biweekly manicure to learning to whip up that gourmet pizza at home. (Or maybe you’ll find a way to save enough on fixed expenses that you won’t have to worry as much about these habits!)

The Takeaway

Fixed expenses are those costs that are in the same amount each month, whereas variable expenses can vary. Both can be trimmed if you’re trying to save money in your budget, but cutting from fixed expenses can yield bigger savings for less ongoing effort.

Great budgeting starts with a great money management platform — and a SoFi Money® cash management account can give you a bird’s-eye view that puts everything into perspective. You’ll also have access to the Vaults feature, which helps you set aside money for specific savings purposes, no matter which goals are the most important to you, all in one account.

Check out SoFi Money and how it can help you manage your financial goals.

Photo credit: iStock/LaylaBird


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Source: sofi.com

How to Financially Prepare for a Child – 13 Steps to Take

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Stressed about how much it costs to have and raise kids?

Having extra mouths to feed barely scratches the surface of the expenses to come. From larger housing to larger cars, higher health care costs to higher education, diapers to child care, strap in for a costly ride.

But like everything else in life, it helps to be prepared. The better your financial planning, the better you can navigate the costs without derailing your current lifestyle. 

How to Financially Prepare for a Child

If you tried to make every ideal financial move before having kids, you’d reach retirement age before even trying. So don’t think of these as prerequisites for trying to get pregnant. 

Instead, think of them as parts of your larger financial plan that apply more than ever as you start having children.

1. Reconsider Your Income

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing low-paying work you love. I never believed my mother — an educator — when she said, “Do what you love, and the money will follow.” She proved me wrong by achieving a seven-figure net worth through frugal living, working a side hustle (tutoring), and consistent investing. 

But your motivation matters. There’s a difference between choosing a modest-income career because you’re passionate about it and being stuck in one due to inertia. 

I know teachers who love what they do and wouldn’t want another job even if someone offered to double their salary. Others coast their way through every tedious lesson plan. 

If you don’t love what you do, go back to the drawing board. That goes doubly if you also don’t love your salary. 

Brainstorm jobs that provide fulfillment and meaning to you personally. Then get creative and explore remote positions, jobs that provide free housing, or jobs that pay well even without a college degree. 

Choose a career that fulfills you both personally and financially. It doesn’t need to pay a huge salary, but aim to get up every morning happy with the career choice you made. 

2. Enroll in Health Insurance

Pregnancy is expensive. So are delivery, infant checkups, and pediatric health care in general. If you do nothing else before your baby arrives, get health insurance. 

Fortunately, not having insurance through your employer doesn’t mean you have to go without it. Explore options for health insurance without employer coverage. There are even part-time jobs that provide medical insurance. 

Note that families with a high-deductible health insurance plan may well burn through every dollar of that deductible over the course of pregnancy, delivery, and the first few months of life. Plan accordingly. 

Low-income families can explore the Children’s Health Insurance Program as another option.

3. Revamp Your Budget

Once upon a time, I spent more money on happy hours, dinners out, concerts, and entertainment in general. My budget looked different before I got married, and then it changed again after my wife and I had children. 

That’s normal. Your budget isn’t static. It’s a living thing that evolves over time alongside your life. And if you do it right, you can save more money even after having children. I managed to do it through a mix of house hacking, getting rid of a car, and moving overseas. 

If you don’t have one, create a formal budget. If you do have one, look over all your budgeting categories and start brainstorming ways to spend less and save more. 

4. Check Your Emergency Fund

You never know when an emergency or unexpected job loss could leave you without an income. And when you have children, the stakes are higher. 

As you prepare for the responsibility of a family, set up an emergency fund to cover two to 12 months’ worth of expenses. 

How much you need depends on the stability of your income and expenses. The more variable each is, the more months of living expenses you should stash away. An average person needs three to six months’ expenses, but people with inconsistent incomes or living expenses need closer to a year’s worth. 

You can always temporarily cut out costs like entertainment or a gym membership to save on expenses. But needs like electricity and food are nonnegotiable. 

And while some of your expenses may go down while you’re unemployed (such as gasoline), others may go up. For example, if you spend $200 per month on employer-subsidized health insurance, that expense may rise while you’re unemployed, as you may be forced onto a new plan or required to pay for your current plan in full.

5. Get Serious About Paying Off Unsecured Debts

Many people have unsecured debts, such as credit card debt, personal loans, and student loans. And those often come with high interest rates that exceed the long-term returns you can earn by investing. 

That makes paying off your unsecured debts a high priority. Follow a structured plan to pay them off quickly, such as the debt snowball method. 

Once you incur the added expenses that come with having kids, you’re less likely to have room in your budget to chip away at that old debt. Plus, the interest on it can make the expenses your child requires that much harder to manage.

While baby-related expenses tend to be significant initially, they don’t completely go away once your children are done with diapers. In fact, school-age kids can cost more than infants because they require more expensive clothing and food as well as money for activities like soccer lessons and ballet classes.

6. Plan for Child Care

Child care is the elephant in the room when planning the financial costs of having children. 

Explore all your child care options, from nannies and au pairs to day care to relatives and friends. If one parent doesn’t love their job, you can explore becoming a single-income family, with one parent staying home for the first few years of your children’s lives. 

Whatever you decide, plan and budget accordingly — because parental leave will be over before you blink. 

7. Plan for Baby Essentials

My wife wouldn’t let me try this experiment, but I believe you could get everything you need for an infant for free — or almost anything. 

Diapers cost money, and there are some things you should never buy used for safety reasons. Everything else you can get either free through services like Freecycle or inexpensively used via eBay, Craigslist, or local garage sales. 

Whether you buy used or new, get creative to save money on baby gear. See this baby supplies checklist from The Bump to ensure you plan for every need. 

8. Update Your Will

Your estate plan does more than tell your family and friends who gets your autographed guitars after you die. It also makes provisions for child care if you die prematurely. Your will can include provisions for an unborn child, which you can amend after they’re born.

You have a couple of options for creating a will (or any other estate planning documents):

  • Do It Yourself. You don’t need a lawyer to create a valid will. You simply need to be 18 or older and of sound mind. You also need to sign your will in front of two witnesses and ensure it’s accessible once you die. You can use an online service like Trust & Will to draft one affordably.
  • Hire an Attorney. The cost is significantly more, but a lawyer handles all the details for you. Expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $1,000 for a basic will. If your assets and estate are complex or you need to establish a trust, it could cost upward of $10,000.

Optional Financial Moves to Consider

Some moves could help you feel more ready for kids, though they aren’t strictly necessary. If you can’t do them, no need to worry. In fact, some people may decide holding off on these is smarter than doing it before they have kids. 

So consider this type of financial planning purely optional: a list of ideas for thought rather than more reasons to fret. 

9. Reevaluate Your Housing

You can care for an infant in a studio apartment. They certainly won’t know the difference. But that doesn’t mean you’d enjoy it. 

As a long-term planning exercise, think about what type of home you want to live in for the next few years. You don’t need extra bedrooms or bathrooms right away, as infants can sleep in the same room as you for a while. Even when they move out of your room, they could move into a room with an older sibling. 

But you may decide you want a larger home, so start thinking about what that looks like and how to pay for it. Only buy a home if you plan to stay for at least a few years, as closing costs on either end of the transaction make it cheaper to rent otherwise. 

10. Reevaluate Your Transportation

If you and your spouse each drive two-seat sports cars, one of you may need to swap it out for a more family-friendly option. 

Of course, you don’t always need a car. My wife and I don’t have one. We simply take the car seat with us when we hire an Uber. I also installed a baby seat on my bike so I can transport my daughter that way too. 

Consider the public transportation, walkability, and bikeability of the area you live in. It’s possible you could live without a car too.

But most Americans drive cars as their primary means of transportation, so if yours is either too small to fit your whole family or unreliable, it’s probably time to get a different one. But explore used cars first as a more budget-friendly option. 

Give yourself more flexibility by choosing three to five models you’d be happy to buy, and shop around among both dealerships and individual owners to find the ideal used car for you and your growing family.  

11. Buy Life Insurance or Disability Insurance

In households with one breadwinner or a partner who significantly outearns the other, life insurance makes sense. You want to ensure your family would survive financially if it lost that primary breadwinner. 

Life insurance policies come in two broad buckets:

  • Term Life Insurance. Term life offers coverage for a specified period. It’s generally cheaper and comes with a guaranteed set death benefit. With term life insurance, your premiums increase at preset intervals, such as 10, 20, or 30 years.
  • Whole or Universal Life Insurance. Also known as permanent life insurance, whole or universal life insurance death benefits never expire as long as you pay premiums. These policies often also provide certain living benefits, such as the ability to borrow money against the policy.

As a rule of thumb, your death benefit should be six to eight times your annual salary. But there are other considerations to take into account, such as your homeownership status and anticipated number of dependents as well as how much you can afford. 

If you’re unsure about your coverage needs, talk to an independent financial advisor and shop around for the right plan. You can compare policies on sites like Policygenius and GoCompare.

The same concepts apply to long-term disability insurance. Both protect against the risk of the breadwinner losing their ability to earn. 

Granted, not everyone needs life insurance or disability insurance.

For example, my wife and I live on one income even though we both work. We live on her income and save every dime of mine. And we don’t have life or disability insurance because we maintain low living expenses relative to our income and a high savings rate to build our net worth quickly. 

If either of us kicked the bucket tomorrow, each of our incomes would be enough in itself to support ourselves and our child, and the surviving spouse would have a hefty nest egg to fall back on in a crunch. 

Avoiding the need for life insurance and disability insurance by “self-insuring” are two of the many hidden benefits of pursuing a financially independent lifestyle. Once you build enough money, you can opt out of life and disability insurance. 

12. Double Down on Retirement Investments

I joke that my backup plan for retirement is my daughter. If she were old enough to get the joke, she wouldn’t laugh. 

The worst thing you can put on your adult children is asking them to take care of you in retirement. It adds a burden on them in an already hectic time of their lives, when they’re trying to start and raise their own families. 

Before you even consider setting aside money for their college education, take a closer look at your retirement investments. If you have the slightest worries about them, put more money into your tax-sheltered retirement accounts long before saving money for your kids’ college tuition. 

They have many other ways to pay for college, but you only have one way to pay for your retirement. 

Invest money now so it can start compounding, and decide what to do with it later. You can withdraw contributions from a Roth individual retirement account tax- and penalty-free to put toward any costs, but you can only use 529 plans or ESAs for education costs.

13. Invest to Help With College Costs

Not paying your kids’ college tuition doesn’t make you a bad parent. Young adults who pay for their own college education often take the experience much more seriously. And many parents question whether to help with college even when they can afford it. 

Even small amounts invested when your child is young can compound into significant sums by the time they turn 18. If you decide to chip in, you have several tax-friendly options to do so. 

  • 529 Plan. Your 529 college savings plan earnings grow and remain tax-free if you spend them on qualified educational expenses. 
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account. A Coverdell ESA works similarly to a Roth IRA for education expenses. There are income limits ($110,000 for single filers and $220,000 for married), and the maximum allowable yearly contribution is $2,000, regardless of your income.
  • Upromise.Upromise allows you to earn cash back to use to pay for college. Unlike 529 plans and ESAs, you don’t have to contribute additional money. Rather, you earn cash back on expenses like online retail purchases and restaurant meals.

In all cases, you can open the accounts early and designate your child as a beneficiary after birth.


Final Word

As much as I preach fiscal responsibility, I know firsthand that putting off children doesn’t always make sense, financially or otherwise.

My wife and I married in our early 30s and agreed to spend one year building a foundation for our marriage before having children. Then one year became two, then three. 

I started a business, and my wife worried about money. Then we went through a rough patch in our marriage. We survived it but had reached our late 30s by that point. 

When we finally started trying in earnest, nothing happened, which kicked off a stretch of infertility questions and interventions. Eventually, we did have a child, but not all couples are so lucky. 

Many of my friends haven’t experienced the joy of having children despite spending large sums of money — not to mention enduring immense heartache — trying to do so. In one of life’s bitter ironies, many delayed trying for children because they worried about money. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I know plenty of parents without much money who have multiple children. And every one of them finds a way to make it work.

There’s no perfect time to have children. They disrupt your life in every possible way. But like billions of parents with less money than you have, you’ll find a way to make it work too.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

Time to Question Your Old Work Habits

Are your work defaults helping you stay organized, on track, and productive? Or are they bad habits that sap your energy and creativity? Today, Modern Mentor shares some bad habits to watch out for at work.

By

Rachel Cooke
November 15, 2021

fitness, I took up running. Because in my family, fitness was running.

Two years later, slim and grumpy, I had an epiphany. I HATE running! I had defaulted to running as a means of fitness simply because I’d never stopped to question it. But in 2003 I joined my first gym, and a whole new beautiful world opened up to me. Today, I do everything at the gym…except run. And I’m fitter now than ever. Sorry, Dad.
The point is that sometimes we hold onto assumptions about the way things are or should be. We stick with routines and habits. Not because they’re true or good. Just because we’ve never questioned them. And sometimes those old assumptions can get in the way of our best results.
I see people doing the same thing in the workplace. We do things on autopilot out of habit. But it’s time to stop and question some of these defaults. 
Today let’s talk about the most common habits that have us stuck, and the tactics we can use to break out of them.

1. Saying yes to the meeting

When a meeting request comes in, chances are you check your availability. And if the time is open on your calendar, you accept. Right? I was guilty of this for years. 

But what if we asked better questions? Instead of asking “am I available?” what if you tried asking…
  • Do I believe that whatever is on the agenda for this meeting actually warrants a meeting?
  • Is there something specific the organizer is looking for me to deliver in this meeting or is it just to keep me in the loop (in which case, a quick email after the meeting would suffice)?
  • Would attending this meeting help me to deliver on my goals and commitments?
  • Will this meeting provide me with an opportunity for exposure or connection to someone important?
  • Is participating in this meeting the best relative use of that hour?
If your answers are anything but yes, then you owe yourself the gift of a pause before you hit “accept.”
Being invited to a meeting doesn’t—or shouldn’t—obligate you to donate an hour of your time to someone else’s agenda. An open slot on your calendar doesn’t have to equate to an implicit invitation to anyone else to snatch up that time.
Next time you receive a calendar invite, pause and reflect before you hit yes. Your time is a precious resource, and part of your job is to manage its expenditure wisely. 
Is that meeting indeed the best use of your time? Or is saying yes just a habit worth breaking? 

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2. Responding immediately to that email

An email in your inbox commands a quick reply…right?
There are emails that do indeed command immediate attention. Ignoring that customer complaint, that question from your boss’s boss’s boss, or even that electronic tap on the shoulder from HR might be a dangerous move.
But so many of the emails tortuously hitting our inboxes daily are, frankly, things—issues, questions, and concerns—that if given a bit of time to air out will likely resolve themselves.
My husband has mastered this one. I’m notorious at losing things and he’s my go-to finder. He gets countless texts and emails from me each week whining about something I’ve lost. He ignores me for a while knowing I’ll find 90% of it on my own. And for the sake of our marriage, once I’ve survived the waiting period, he will indeed help me find that 10%.
The same concept applies at work. Your colleague is having trouble interpreting the data you’ve shared, or can’t recall where you filed that monthly report, or is wondering whether you can help her fix this glitchy thing.
I’m not suggesting you ignore her completely. I’m just suggesting that you sit on it for 24 hours or so. Because in that time, it’s likely she’ll figure out the data, find the report, and realize she just needed to restart her computer…because restarting your computer is the answer 94% of the time (in my experience).
By letting go of your default habit to answer every email right away, you win back time, energy, and attention you can better direct elsewhere.

3. Accepting every assignment your boss offers

You want to be a good citizen at work. But don’t confuse saying “yes” to everything with being the most strategic team member you can be. 
Bosses, on balance, are busy. They don’t always have the time or presence of mind to track all they’ve asked you to do or to assess the strategic relevance of each project.
Last week, one of my clients was complaining about Essie, his director of strategy. “I asked her nearly two weeks ago to deliver a report to me and I’m still waiting on it.”
Out of curiosity, I asked him how many other things he’d asked of Essie in the past few weeks. He did a quick scan of his “sent” box and realized he’d asked 7 different things of her in the past 3 weeks. He wasn’t tracking these things and suddenly realized he had asked a LOT of her. 
He needed to help her prioritize. But Essie needed to be asking better questions of him. 
Next time you’re in Essie’s position, challenge your default to say yes, and try asking your boss:
  • How should I think about the priority of this project/task/activity relative to the others on my plate?
  • What is the outcome you’re hoping this project will deliver and is there a faster or more efficient way for us to get to that same outcome?
  • Might anyone else in the organization be working on something similar that could leverage?
Play the role of strategic thinker to ensure you’re spending your limited time and energy in the most productive ways.
What are some of the other default habits you find yourself falling into? Maybe you’re chasing the next promotion…without asking yourself whether you really want it. Or you say yes to every invitation to network with someone…without wondering whether this introduction will serve your goals.
Don’t be afraid to look at your own default settings. What is the one thing you really need to start questioning, and how might doing so move you forward in a more intentional way?