I’ve met a lot of people who have made a lot of money mistakes. Heck, I’ve been that person. Again and again. But you know who I haven’t met yet? Someone who is doing every money thing wrong.
The other week, someone left me a comment: “You’re doing it wrong.” As someone who was downright phobic about failure growing up and still gets a little sweaty in the palms thinking about it, I bristled at the notion and pushed the comment from my mind. Eventually, though, I returned to it. The more I stewed on it, the more I realized that I did care. Not because of principle. Not because of ego. But because dismissive comments like that are what lands people in the pool of financial illiteracy in the first place.
No, it’s not the lattes.
No, it’s not the loans.
It’s bigger than that. The real reason that Americans–and most other people–are so bad at money is because we don’t talk about it. And why in the world would we talk about it when we’re sent messages that we’re doing it all wrong?
Think about it. Let’s say I really was making another money mistake. Everyone else who reads my blog and connects with me on social media either missed it or was so painfully polite that they didn’t have the heart to tell me. So this commenter is the only person with the acumen to notice it, the audacity to point it out. This lightning bolt of a comment should prompt an inquiry on my behalf. But who am I going to ask? The person who shrugged off my thoughts in four words? Yeah, let me knock on that door for help.
Make no mistake about it. There is a time and a place for tough love. There really is. But constructive criticism is only constructive if you give someone enough detail to understand and to act. “You’re doing it wrong” gives people two options: sit with it in frustration or ignore it. There might be a third, but in the off-chance that my mom ever stumbles across my blog, I’ll take the high road here. Just this once.
We all have flaws. We can always improve. But we all have strengths, too. And sometimes when we approach others’ flaws from such a superior vantage point, our view is so myopic that we miss the bigger picture. They may be making missteps and mistakes that we know to dodge. They may seem downright self-sabotaging. But they’re not doing every single thing wrong. And until we can figure out how to appreciate what people already do well, we’ll never be able to capitalize on those strengths and start remedying the actual money mistakes.
And if you’ve ever been on the receiving of a comment like “You’re doing it wrong,” please hear me. That comment is wrong. Of course, there are things you could do better. The same holds true for everyone. But you’re not doing all of life wrong. You’re not doing all of money wrong. And you are not your money or your debt.
While it might not work for everyone, I thought I’d share my strategy for shaking off a money mistake or a mistaken comment.
- Take inventory…of your strengths. If you’re like me, your mind keeps a running ticker of all the coulda shoulda wouldas in the world. Combat that by jotting down what you already do well in all aspects of your life.
- Look for overlap. Do you love to organize? Color-code a basic budget. Fancy yourself a social butterfly? Connect with a blogger (hi!) and ask your money questions. In fact, connect with a bunch!
- Tap a weakness. I had a lot of shoes. In fact, I still own well over 30 pairs. Fine. 40. Okay, maybe 50. But at
one point in my lifelast year, I owned over 200 pairs of shoes. And while I’ll never get that money back, I made over $1000 last year reselling items from my closet…and put that money into savings.
- Stay open-minded. Seriously. If you made it through this list, you’re a lot more introspective than most.
Even if your money skills are flawless, using broad strokes to tell people they’re wrong doesn’t fix a thing. And you know what they say. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
(And one more time so even the people in the back of the room can hear me: You are not your money or your debt. I promise.)
So Tell Me…What’s your favorite way to help? What’s the least helpful money advice you’ve been given?