Every holiday, my nana and I had the exact same fight. She would give me more money than I knew she could afford, and I would spend the rest of the time she was visiting us trying to strategically hide it in her purse. If she happened to write a check, it was much simpler. I didn’t cash it. I could hold out for weeks of our daily phone calls starting with “You know, my checkbook still won’t balance”, but eventually she wore away at my willpower. I thought I was being kind. I realize now, though, that I was being incredibly judgemental.
With each gift I tried to shirk, I was attempting to make her life easier. It would leave more money for her bills or a little extra mad money for when she and her friends took the bus to the mall. But instead of telling me how I was her favorite, she’d purse her lips, shake her head, and insist, “Don’t tell me what to do with my money.”
Here’s what I was really telling her. I was telling her that I knew better than she. I was telling her that somehow in my twenty-some years, I had amassed more wisdom than she had in the past nine decades. I was telling someone who lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War, bought her own home, raised three kids as a widow, took multiple buses to go work in a factory every day, and still found ways to have more love and joy in her heart than anyone I knew that I somehow understood life better.
I was wrong.
And I’m still wrong. A lot.
Recently, I remarked that it would be far more sensible for a friend to plan a reasonable honeymoon and focus on paying off her mortgage rather than traveling to some far-flung locale that only impresses people on Instagram. It sounds like solid advice. After all, we’re well on our way to becoming mortgage-free by 40 on two teaching salaries. So I kind of know what I’m talking about.
Another relative remarked that he plans on purchasing a brand new car two weeks after a long stint of underemployment. I couldn’t push the buttons fast enough to word vomit into my phone about how wrong he was. The better choice is to do what I did. If you’re going to buy a new car, you need a steady job and an emergency fund first. That’s the only time it makes sense to buy a new car.
A coworker recently confided in me that she was using our pension windfall for Christmas shopping and a winter break vacation. I didn’t even finish listening to her plans before I started mentally calculating the difference between burning through the money now and putting it towards retirement. After all, shouldn’t everyone know that investing makes the most sense?
I know what I would do in each of these situations. But the truth is, I don’t actually know that my decisions are better. They’re definitely different. These people are not making the choices that I would make. But then again, they’re not my choices to make in the first place.
And that’s the problem that comes with knowledge and with experience. You learn to do what works for you. But just because it worked for you doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. And it also doesn’t mean that any other solutions won’t work.
As much as I might try to convince myself that I’m the one who is being noble, I’m the one is who is being helpful, I’m not. If someone asks, I’ll tell them what I would do with my money. But it really isn’t my place to tell them unsolicited what to do with theirs.
So Tell Me…Have you ever overstepped the line of friendly advice?