29 Comments

  1. Yes, yes, yes, Penny. I’ve had too many of those “foot in mouth” situations to count. For a long time I thought everything was a math problem. But life is messy and everyone has struggles we are often minimizing by throwing “you should budget” or “start a side hustle” at them. Thanks for writing this!

    • Thanks, Chelsea! It was a long time coming. I don’t think I will ever forget that moment, and I know I’ve done it other times too. Hopefully, I’m continually improving. Compassion AND math 😉

  2. This was such a thoughtful post, Penny. Well reasoned and articulated — I appreciate your honesty!

    I’ve been wondering a lot lately about how to make suggestions, list ideas and offer general money-saving advice without sounding like a tone-deaf, privileged princess. Because I have had a lot of privileges my life. Still do. And I do think it’s OK to offer up ideas and genuinely helpful advice as long as it’s not branded as a “one-size-fits-all” solution.

    I believe it is personal finance bloggers’ responsibility to continuously focus on financial literacy contributions and personal stories. Not because personal stories are better for branding or more shareable on Twitter, but because they offer context. “Here’s what led me to contribute to an IRA, here’s my family’s situation. Here are the steps I took to do it. Here’s the emotional toll it took on me. Does this apply to you? Maybe. Maybe not. Do what’s right for your family. Let’s discuss.”

    I do NOT believe that it is the responsibility of a blogger/influencer/guru/whatever to exclusively offer advice that is helpful to absolutely everyone. It is on the creator to be honest and accurate; it is on the reader to discern what does and does not apply to them. But that’s why it’s so dangerous and irresponsible to publish content that offers no context. Like you said.
    🙂

    • It’s an interesting situation that we find ourselves in, isn’t it? I suppose it’s about knowing your audience. And taking the time to listen when people reach out to you. I think that’s what floored me most about the tweet. Like, that’s fine if your standard reply is “get a side hustle”, but I think when someone reaches out to us directly, it’s worthwhile to consider their perspective before giving advice.

      So..same thing you said 😀

  3. Thanks for writing this Penny, It’s never easy to admit those blindness moments. I still stumble into them when working with families with experiences I can’t even begin to comprehend.

    I was on the other side of a few of those when I was young and climbing out, It can still be pretty hard to talk about from that side, too. They still trigger impostor moments when I think about them. “Wait, I can’t actually have money!”

    We’d probably all be better off it talking about money and finances was a more open subject, but it isn’t. You’re right – that’s not because of math but because of the emotions.

    • And I think it’s really important for us to remember that we’ve all had struggles but we all struggle differently too. I think a lot of times we are well-meaning, but we just end up being…unhelpful. The older I get, the more I try to listen first and listen often.

  4. One thing I was taught years ago is that good advice about money rarely comes from broke people. It was a tongue-in-cheek remark, but I took it to heart. I have spent most of my career in the real estate industry and I hear this ALL THE TIME when it comes to rental properties. People who don’t own rental properties and have never owned rental properties have all sorts of “advice” for the rest of us. It’s best to ignore them, but it takes some practice.

  5. I was you back then, too. Life with chronic pain ironically has made me a much better person faster than I think I would have been without it – at 13-15 when it was just starting, I had no idea about the complexity of life and everything people have to compromise on, and how it’s rarely JUST a math problem. Sometimes it is but those instances really aren’t that frequent.

    I learned to listen ten times more than I talk and that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been humbled deeply first.

    • It’s so hard how many things we have to learn firsthand. Either by experiencing the struggle OR being the foot-in-face person like I was in this instance.

      And yes to listening. My mom always said, “If you want to learn, you have to listen and if you want to lead, you have to listen more.” It took me a l o n g time to realize how true this is.

  6. I’m guilty of it, too, but we all need to get better at trying to understand other people’s world view. When someone grows up with different messages of success, different expectations, and different kinds of people, all of those things inform their decisions. That’s why I make decisions differently from somebody else. It’s easier for me personally to be frugal, because I didn’t grow up with stuff like vacations, activities, eating out at restaurants, etc. But I can see how it’s harder for someone who grew up middle-class. No one ever showed them how to be frugal, because they didn’t have to be.

    It reminds me of the innocent question (not knocking anyone at all about this, btw) about why people don’t apply for scholarships for college. If you think about it in a rational sense, it’s absolutely stupid not to. Who wants to be in debt to go to school? No one. But to me the barriers make perfect sense. For one, people from less-educated homes haven’t navigated the college process themselves and don’t know what they don’t know. And also applying for scholarships is a lot of work. Maybe if you’ve never won at anything and have experienced tons of rejection, it might be like, ‘Well, why bother? They won’t pick me, anyway.’

    • Yes. So much yes.

      My parents had no idea how to send someone to college. By the grace of the scholarship gods, my mom’s union steward shared something about a college scholarship. I got a whopping $1000 to put toward four years of schooling. But after that, we learned what they were and how to apply for them!

      Sometimes when you don’t know, you don’t know what you don’t know…so you can’t even begin to ask for help!

  7. Rebecca L Lorente

    Thank you for such a thoughtful post. I agree, money is a very personal & emotional topic. Everyone has layers of lenses in which they view any problem (including money) and in looking for a solution that may fit. Having from started from a place behind the “eight ball”, it was very difficult to view or even imagine a place of being debt free or even neutral. That said, I read everything I could get my hands on, listened to others and their methods for becoming financially literate & solvent. When I thought I was ready, I started the march to the goal. It took a long time and dedication (often backsliding due to unforeseen circumstances) to march towards a goal. Often, as you’ve stated, its not “just get a side hustle” and be free. It’s much more complex. Attempting to articulate that in a blog would be and is a tough path – you don’t want to deter followers/readers and yet you want to offer an example of a path to take. Kudos to you for acknowledging and still pushing forward.

    • I agree, Rebecca. I think that’s part of why that tweet stuck under my skin. It was someone giving a generic response to an individual as opposed to a general “how to” post or something like that.

      When you have good ideas, it’s hard to remember to listen first anyway, but I’m trying to get better at that. 😀

  8. Well done, as always. We’ve all been that person at some point; I still struggle with refocusing and recognizing when it’s about more than the math. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • I was THAT kid who always wanted to blurt out or had her hand raised constantly. I have good ideas. But learning how to listen first and THEN share (if appropriate) has been a skill I am constantly refining.

  9. I’m constantly reminded how I should be very, very careful when judging other people’s earning and spending. A couple of years ago, I read this book called “$2 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America.” It talked about how mothers living in poverty would forgo food for themselves to get hair and nails done, so they could have a leg up when they interviewed for jobs. I grew up in rural South Carolina, a very poor place, in an upper middle class family. My classmates that didn’t have very secure financial situations often dressed way better than I did, but that was because their parents wanted to make sure they weren’t looked down on in school. Trailers with top-of-the-line cars parked in front are pretty routine in my home town but I’ve learned that if you’re not sure if you’ll have money tomorrow, you live for the moment.

    • If I had a dollar every time I had this fight with another teacher…Oh boy! Does this grind my gears! My take is that when you’re 12, looks matter. Even if “they really don’t” (I don’t actually believe this), at that age, how you look is so tied to how you feel. Who in the world are we to tell people that they can’t have or that their kids can’t have that?

      Thanks, Laurie. I’m so glad you shared this perspective and that you’re such an awesome voice for people who may not be heard loudly.

  10. This is the most important personal finance article on the internet. This is incredible, Penny! I have had to delete the Twitter app from my phone, because of the lack of empathy and love in the PF space was sickening. You were able to take my feelings and put them into such a beautiful (and nicer 🙂 ) way than I ever could.
    Thanks for writing this.

  11. Yo, I just got to that pure understanding of this, THIS year. I thought it was just down to the math too. Kinda late to the party.

    I literally am trying to tent up an extra income website because I got tired of the arguments on Twitter.

    Like you said, focus on something one can control, and I can build a website that will be a lot more pragmatic than Twitter thrashing. Making extra money isn’t really that easy, there’s a bunch of scams out there and half promises.

  12. I’m a little late to the party but thank you for sharing your story with us, Penny! Pretending like money isn’t an emotional topic is one of my biggest peeves with the personal finance community (or those who choose to take personal out of finance). Yes, my single parent, very low income mom could have made more money by working more jobs. But, that doesn’t take into account the fact she also had to take care of us while dealing with her own mental health challenges. It’s not a simple equation.

  13. This is a lovely post. What I find unfortunate about so many responses from so-called financial experts is the need to present a “solution” when what is implicitly requested is empathy. We would do well to remember that before we can help anyone, we need to understand the person, their values, and their situation.

    Thanks for another great read, Penny.

    • I agree. We have to listen. And I think we’ve all been there (money or otherwise) when all we wanted was an ear, not a to-do list, when sharing our problems.

  14. THANK YOU!

    Thank you for saying this. Thank you for calling out the bloggers that don’t get it – at all! Thank you for always considering the person in personal finance.

    Although I don’t live in poverty, I do live paycheck to paycheck, and the general PF community makes me feel like shit for it.

    We need more advocates like you.

    I need to be a better advocate.

    • I am so sorry that has been your experience. I don’t think we give people nearly enough credit for enduring. It’s easy and fun and glamorous (and profitable!) to celebrate the big success at the end of the race. It’s the people who are just getting started that I really admire!

  15. I had a similar experience when I was younger. My family and I were living in a DV shelter, which was pretty traumatic on its own, but the women living there with us, they were much, much poorer, and I remember going to the store with them (we had a 15 passenger van and offered people rides when we had the money for gas), and one lady bought a package of Cheetos. I didn’t understand it at all. I knew she was broke, and I knew this was probably the only money she had on her at the time, and that her situation was dire, but I couldn’t fathom why she would be so “wasteful”. Thankfully, I’ve come a long way from that, and I realize social context is just as important. She had a little money, and she wanted to treat herself, and her little boy, to something they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. There’s nothing inherently wrong in that, and learning to realize that the context of someone’s life stretches far beyond money has helped me be more compassionate.

  16. Thanks for sharing this story to us Penny!! When I discovered about personal finance and learned about the basics like budgeting, investing and saving, I thought “Hey I should have learned this much sooner and others as well.” It’s all about numbers right? Well, I figured along the way it’s not that black and white. We all want to provide financial advice from our experiences to everyone else but at the same time not all of them will agree to it because of their own situation. And everyone’s situation is unique which is something we should try to respect!!

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