Bill Nye once said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don’t.” And therein lies the danger of the single source. She’s the mouthpiece of personal finance. He’s the only financial expert Americans need. I shudder when I hear people speak about any singular financial figure and his or her theory as prophet and gospel. The speed at which soundbites are shared on social media sans attribution only compounds this issue. Is everybody reaching similar conclusions or is everyone parroting back one person’s ideas?
A few weeks ago, for instance, The Minimalists did a podcast on debt. I instantly mentally prioritized the episode on my long podcast lineup, because decluttering and money are kind of my thing. Before I could even cue up the show, my Twitter feed was flooded with advice to cut up your credit cards because a credit score is an I-Love-Debt score.
Sound familiar? That’s because The Minimalists weren’t actually talking. Dave Ramsey had taken over another Twitter account–one that I actually happen to follow. While I will probably always have mixed feelings about Dave Ramsey, my issue here isn’t actually with Dave. My issue is with the fact that rather than explore any of the complexities and nuances of debt, broad strokes of a single source were doled out as a salve to every listener and follower. When people pushed back, sharing the reasons why they wanted or needed a credit score, they were met with a resounding no. Instead of teasing apart an issue, examining different viewpoints, or reflecting on any type of privilege that might exist, The Minimalists staunchly towed the company line. And it isn’t even their company.
I have nothing against favorites. We live in an age when we can like, bookmark, favorite, and share ideas faster than ever. I get it. When you find something that works, you apply it. But be careful how deeply you bury your head in the sand. No one philosophy gets everything right. What works for one person might be totally counterintuitive for the next. What remedies one situation may exacerbate another. In the information age, there is no reason not to curate the best tenets from multiple sources. Even if that leads to overlapping information, find reaffirmation in it. In a realm that advocates so staunchly for multiple streams of income, it baffles me when some people seem averse to seeking multiple streams of information.
As I wade deeper into investing, I am on a perpetual quest to learn. One of the first books I nabbed from the library was The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing. It had come highly recommended by many bloggers and was a manageable summary of the spate of insight on the time-suck that is the Bogleheads forum. I could very well have allowed this to be my only investment book. But why? Instead, each trip I make to the library, I pass through the finance section and grab another book. I may not read it cover to cover, especially if it does seem to repeat much of what I’ve already read. But why risk missing out on something valuable?
And it’s not just books and blog posts that merit a deeper exploration. The other day, a spirited conversation broke out on my Twitter feed when I was puzzling over my 403b options. Steve of Steveonomics made the excellent point about the value of minimizing our current taxes. Then, Dave of Finance for Teachers weighed in with the possibility that we actually won’t be in a terribly low tax bracket in our later years if we are able to collect both our pensions. While both points were salient and both bloggers are much more expert than I am, a blend of both of their ideas is probably the best course of action for me.
How many times have you asked a question only to zero in on the answer you had hoped for? It is human nature to seek validation, so when we find a philosophy or viewpoint that suits ours, we put the weight of our focus on it. I’m guilty of it, and my guess is that you are too. I’m not advocating that everyone live in a perpetual state of decision fatigue. By all means, make a choice. Chart a plan. Test out a plan. Then, as you go, make a conscious effort to find other views and reconcile them against your own in an effort to continue evolving. Since money touches nearly every part of our lives why shouldn’t we work to be as informed as possible?
So Tell Me…What are your favorite sources of information? Have you witnessed anyone fall prey to the single source mentality?