(I’m adding this note – as well as “Part 1” in the title – a week later just to say that the comments made by readers helped me to change my thoughts on this issue. Stay tuned for Part 2.)
Post by Tonya at Budget & the Beach
I read a post by Tonya at Budget & the Beach this week, and it got me thinking about an issue that I find difficult. In describing how she lived in the expensive city of LA on an average of $31,000 per year for 7 years, Tonya said,
“I strive towards frugality because it wasn’t that long ago when I was very financially stressed. I learned my lesson the hard way, and although my friends sometimes give me crap for being ‘stingy,’ I don’t ever want to repeat going through that experience again.“
I could relate. That terrible financial reckoning when the unexpected happens is no fun at all. It took my husband’s job loss and years of reduced income for us to have our wake up call and to turn things around financially – because we didn’t “ever want to repeat going through that experience again” either.
“I’m not here to tell anyone else what to do and how to live their life, because in reality people are going to do whatever they want. Sometimes people DO need to learn for themselves.”
I certainly seemed to need to learn for myself. And although that was true, once I did learn, I made more than one mistake in spouting off to others about personal finances when it wasn’t welcome. Like many converts to many causes, I was over-zealous at first. So I now make sure to avoid even the appearance of “telling anyone else what to do.”
“My situation is way better than some, and way worse than others. I have lots of aerospace engineer friends doing very well and who own homes nearby and hardly spend any money, and I know people making a lot less than me taking fancy vacations and eating out every other night. You gotta do you!“
And that’s where I find it difficult.
Getting real in the comments section
Tonya keeps it real at her blog, and I felt I could make an honest comment:
“… I sometimes find it difficult to balance a non-judgmental ‘You do you’ acceptance with my knowledge that some people’s money-management – like your friends who earn way less than you but spend way more- could bring them a lot of grief. I can’t pretend it’s OK …”
To which Tonya responded:
“I wouldn’t let my friends walk in front of a moving bus, but the thing is for me, I don’t know the whole of anyone’s situation. Unless I thought they were going to do major harm to themselves or someone else, it’s really none of my business. I can feel concerned, but for the sake of my friendship, all I feel I should do is be there if anyone reaches out to me and/or lead by example … I’m not saying I never think judgmental thoughts. I definitely do, but I try to shake them off and keep them to myself.”
What does “walking in front of a bus” look like?
A number of questions popped into my head:
- Do you need to know someone’s whole situation before you can say they’re heading in the wrong direction?
- What does financially “walking in front of a bus” look like? What if the bus is some distance off? Isn’t it better to give the warning well before it’s too late?
- What if harm has already been done to them and to others, but they’re in denial?
- Doesn’t the friendship become more distant when you feel you can’t express your concerns?
- Is “judgment” perhaps the wrong word? Is it really concern – possibly tainted with frustration?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that I feel an uneasiness about people’s bad financial habits that I didn’t used to feel (because I wasn’t aware of them since I had them too). And I’m not sure what to do with that uneasiness.
I think that Tonya is right in saying that there is a time to recognize “it’s really none of my business” and a time to express concern. I just have a hard time identifying which times call for which responses.
In her book Money Talks, Gail Vaz-Oxlade addresses the awkwardness involved in conversations about finances. “Since no one talks about money,” she says, “we have no models on which to base our forays into these conversations.”
Impact of talking (or not) on relationships
I know 5 people who have had buses barreling towards them. After they approached me to talk about it – because they know I’m trying to become debt-free – I expressed my concern to each one.
- One hardly speaks to me anymore.
- Another says, “I know!” but feels powerless to change.
- A third one is reading more of Gail Vaz Oxlade’s books and plans to read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover (the book that launched us on our journey out of debt).
- Another avoided certain expenses after I talked with her.
- One made some changes and became debt-free in response to our conversations.
Mixed results. In the case of #2, I’ll be there when she’s ready to reach out. And of course I’m so glad I spoke honestly with #3, #4, and #5. Should I have said nothing to #1? In her case, I’d say I had the choice between keeping my distance by saying nothing, or risking the distance that she might create if I did speak. It might have been wiser to keep my mouth shut, but I’m not sure.
Overall, I think it’s more genuine to talk than to stay silent. If the friendship is important, it’s best to be authentic and speak. Your relationship will become stronger if your friend responds openly. If your friend responds with distance, that relationship was bound for distance already. For less important relationships, silence is fine.
A whole lot of wisdom needs to be applied in terms of the when? where? how? and to what extent? of money talks. But we’ll never gain that wisdom unless we start to open our mouths and say something.
Vaz-Oxlade tries to deal with “our unwillingness to tell the truth…” saying, “the only way money will stop being a problem for most of us is if we start talking about it – and talking about it honestly.”
Do you feel an uneasiness when your friends adopt poor pf habits? How do you decide if and when to have a money talk? Your comments are welcome.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons