52 Comments

  1. Withholding unsolicited advice (and the judgment that goes along with it) is one of the biggest life lessons I’ve learned in my 38 years on this planet. I used to think that everything is black and white, but it isn’t.

  2. I’m absolutely sure I have done so…I’m pretty sure I overstepped last week with my mother in law.

    MiL got a phone call from the local PBS affiliate as part of their fund drive and I was like “Don’t give credit card info to an incoming call!” The problem was, MiL has been scammed a couple of times and she’s having some short term memory issues, and my sister in law was harping along as well and did a running commentary on the call during and after. I think my mother in law thought we were objecting to her giving the money (I wasn’t and don’t think in this case my sister in law was either) instead of when (right that minute) and how (over the phone on an incoming call) she was giving it.

    Once I saw how my mother in law was reacting, I shut up. I had stated my objection, and while there have been some issues, my MiL is still competent.

    My sister in law wouldn’t let it go, and royally pissed her mom off because of her know it all tone. And since my sister in law is not the most fiscally responsible person, it was probably doubly annoying to my mother in law.

    Fiscal autonomy is an especially sensitive subject with older family members. You want to protect them from risky behavior or overspending, they want to maintain independence. And you have to respect that need for independence, even if you cringe inside at the risks they are taking. And if at some time you may have to monitor their decisions or challenge their fiscal autonomy, you still have to respect their desire for autonomy. That’s a tricky balancing act.

    One of these days maybe I’ll figure out how to write a post on this topic without pissing off my MiL or SiL, who both read my blog.

    • Hmmm…that IS a tricky spot to be in since they’re your readers. I was definitely trying to act out of the best of intentions, especially when it came to my grandma, but now I realize that I was probably doing the opposite.

  3. I think the whole “you do you” line of thinking goes a long way, especially when you’re living a different lifestyle from the people around you.

    I really try not to give people advice, since often it lets the frugal cat out of the bag and it opens ME up for receiving judgment.

    But I’ve totally mentally judged people’s decisions. I probably do it on a daily basis. I’m really trying to change that, since it’s not fair to do that, but it’s hard.

    • I hadn’t thought about that either. I guess I wouldn’t really mind being judged, but it could make things complicated and awkward. And it certainly flies in the face of blogging anonymously!

  4. I’m know I’ve done it, but I try hard not to anymore. And I still think the thoughts, but don’t speak them.

    I understand what you were doing for your Nana – I’ve done the exact same thing with older family members. But, a couple of years ago, I tried to give a $50 gift card to a family member to thank them for a favor. They promptly returned it, refusing to accept it. Now, I know they just didn’t want to take my money and were trying to be kind. Yet, it made me uncomfortable and, admittedly, a little peeved, that they gave it back. It’s funny how perspectives change when the tables are turned.

    • You’re right. I would have been devastated if someone–especially my grandma!–refused a gift from me. I guess part of the problem is that I watched her kids do the same thing to her. But I think it’s a bit different when it’s a grandma. She would always compare herself to her grandma friends and lament that she couldn’t give us more. That part REALLY made me mad! I guess there’s no telling grandmas no when they want to try to spoil someone.

  5. I really hope I haven’t crossed the line…

    I will bring up saving and/or minimalism topics at work or with fiends and family from time to time, but usually in a very light tone, and I’ll immediately drop the topic if they’re not interested. It leads to very interesting conversations, especially revolving around values and “your money or your life” type discussions.

    For example, if someone is lamenting the house prices in the area, and talking about their dream of a huge house in the burbs, I might ask “why?” – honestly asking, not in a derisive tone. I personally would never make that choice, but it’s not my money. I love having conversations with people about their relationships with money. 🙂

    • I hadn’t thought of that! My students get so mad because all I ever say in discussions are things like “Why?”, “How so?” and “Tell me more.” The last one really kills them. There’s no reason why I can’t adopt that to conversations about money with friends and family. I am a good listener…usually!

    • Nancy

      I like to ask questions too. Especially shopping questions. I feel like I have enough so can’t even imagine what people are shopping for! So instead of judging I ask what they bought, who for, etc. People always have a reason and it can be fascinating to listen to.

  6. Ha, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and my head down. If somebody’s interested, they’ll reach out. Particularly since I blog publicly about this crap.

    • That’s the rub. I sometimes wish I wasn’t anonymous. Buuuuut. I really like being Penny. In the meantime, I’ll have to wait people out.

  7. Elizabeth H.

    Yes! I love this! I just realized this myself after talking to several other friends about their money decisions and their budgets. Love seeing it in words and I love your blog!

  8. So long as they don’t then complain to me about the results of their decisions!

    People who complain constantly about money and then brag when making bad money decisions are irritating when they do that.

    But yeah, in general, you don’t get to tell other people what to do with their money, or if you do, they don’t have to be polite about it.

    • Ahhhh, yes. I do have one friend who always comments, looks for advice, and then ignores it. But I suppose that’s just another indicator that she really isn’t ready…or it’s really not the advice for her.

      And your last line is so true. I’d probably tell me to shove it, too!

  9. I agree that if someone is interested they’ll reach out. For instance, around the office now I have 2-3 people that have started coming to me for advice or at least a different perspective on 401k’s PMI, spending tracking, etc… I still start out with, “If it were me…” and end with “but that’s just me, that may not work for you.”

    The best was when a friend was asking about diversifying her 401k portfolio and I showed her some couch potato investing setups, the 3 part portfolio, essentially following the “keep it simple and low fee” model. She said, “but I don’t feel comfortable with international stocks, so I don’t want to invest in them, which one would be better than those stocks?” I told her, “whichever one lets you sleep at night is the best one for your portfolio.”

    With unsolicited advice I just keep it to myself unless asked. Your issues aren’t mine, and I know what I would do with the $$ but I also know Mrs. SSC would do something totally different, as would every other person in the same situation. 🙂

    • That’s such a helpful way to frame conversations, Mr. SCC. Thanks for sharing! I definitely need to remember that. Thankfully (or embarrassingly) most of my comments are about people, not directed at them. My husband and my parents are really good at calling me on my crap (which is what that judgy stuff is).

  10. Great reminder. My dad actually calls me now for permission to do things with his money, like cancel his term life insurance when it runs up (he’s 65, if he died tomorrow, he will have set themselves up financially for life… get rid of it!). But overall, we are totally different in our priorities and what we SHOULD Be doing with our money. Personal finance is personal, right?

    • You’re absolutely right, Maggie. It is personal. I hope to be a good resource for someone one day. But I should be more focused on helping them figure out their priorities rather than assigning them mine.

      And what I wouldn’t give for one more argument with my nana 🙂

  11. Keeping those judgments and advice to yourself is a difficult lesson to learn, but an invaluable one. I’m sure I’ve crossed the line more than once, definitely with my adult children, but I try to keep to my side of the line unless asked. Especially because we don’t always know the whole story.

    • Yes to not knowing the whole story. When I try to be a buttinski, I have to remember that I don’t actually know how much money my relatives make. I mean, I have a guess. But I blog about money, and I don’t even share the whole story here. What makes me think anyone else really can just in passing!

  12. This is something I deal with at work. My fiance and I are in the middle of planning our wedding and we both grew up with large families going to large weddings. The one common thing in our wedding dreams was to have a bunch of people there to celebrate with us. We are doing everything as frugal as we can.

    At work, I have a coworker who is always recommending we have a small wedding like she did. She believes that our big wedding is a waste of money and she is so glad that hers was thirty years ago. She will even go out of her way to ask how much something costs, just so she can proceed to lecture me about how if we were doing a small wedding, we would save so much.

    I think her heart is in the right place, it just gets frustrating month after month. I also try to never critique her spending her money on a country home six hours out of the city and all of the car related expenses that they pay to drive there every weekend. I choose not to spend my money on that, I choose to spend it on my wedding. We all have different priorities.

    • Congratulations! What an exciting (and stressful!) time. I had a big wedding, at least as far as PF bloggers go. We had about 110 people, and we spent a “fortune” compared to most blogs that I read. I’d do it again in a heartbeat because it was a day filled up with everyone we love.

      And I suppose you’ve just had me prove your point as well as mine! 🙂 It really is important to remember that priorities are different. And as long as someone’s spending aligns with their priorities, they are so much better off than me when I was just frittering it all away on little nothings.

  13. Basil

    Per the usual, your honesty makes for a great blog conversation starter.

    One thought to soothe your mind as you try to keep your thoughts to yourself…a lot of folks even in our part of the internet world had their spendy years before they shaped up into the frugal masters they are now. How many of us ignored good financial advice before we got a hold of our finances? Probably everyone reading these comments. Your friends may come around…but it’ll be when they’re ready! They’ll let you know when that happens. 🙂

    • That’s the perfect way to look at it. I need to wait for them to approach me. I do sometimes question blogging anonymously. I wonder if I wouldn’t be more helpful if I put myself out there. But for now, I’ll wait for them to bring it up.

  14. Your Nana sounds like a great person. Why not take the money and then spend it over time on her. Use it to take her to lunch or a movie or something like that. I’m sure she would value the time with you far more than the money.

  15. My husband and I discuss other people’s financial decisions between the two of us and try to figure out what we would do in the same situation–it’s great for getting to know each other and our values better. However, we’re slowly learning to keep our mouths clamped shut about those conversations and ideas unless we’re directly asked by the people involved.
    We don’t know what they value. Maybe craft beer and new cars really are what makes their heart sing. For us, it’s hiking, road trips, and other adventures. Who knows–maybe they’re having the same private conversations about us and are also polite enough not to give us their unsolicied advice and opinions too.

    • Louisa

      The “what they value” part is key. Friends of ours are spending what seems to me to be huge amounts of money on their elderly pet, which has cancer. I trust they are making loving decisions about the dog in a way that respects what she means to them, and I hope they do not see my eyes widen when they talk about this subject.
      My husband and I (who also privately discuss such topics with each other) are in agreement that we don’t think we would make the same spending choices. They might or might not know that. It doesn’t matter, because their love for their several pets is part of who they are, and, as I said, they are our friends.

  16. Loved the article, Penny.
    I could not agree more. Whenever I catch my wife and I saying things like “why would so and so do that, that’s not smart”, I say:
    We know what we would do if that situation happened to us. But we don’t know their past, what they have lived, what they are thinking. Their actions are justified in their own world. And who knows, If we were them, and I mean, if we truly were them, atom for atom, having lived the same exact experiences – we would likely behave the same way.

  17. I guess as pf bloggers, we’re kinda all guilty of a certain amount of arrogance… Although in a sense our advice to readers is solicited. But yes, it’s hard to keep that advice from spilling into personal lives.

  18. Bonnie

    My brother and my mom got into a huge fight because of him not cashing a check she had written him for his birthday. He had the “you don’t have that kind of money” attitude (and it was only for about $25 or $50). It’s true that she’s on a fixed income, but when I receive small checks from her, I cash them out of respect. She’s budgeted for it, and it means something to her.

  19. We just got a $50 check from an aunt along with a beautiful retirement card. It was so unnecessessary and I don’t think she’s rolling in money. But she’s so happy for us that we would never burst her bubble. I’m sure I’ve overstepped on our blog, about our broke cousins. There’s one post in particular I need to remove that would hurt them if they were to read it.

  20. Ah I know the struggle. We, generally in the personal finance community, mean well with our judgmental comments and unsolicited opinions.

    We are paying off $600k of student loan debt so we are living ridiculously frugal for the foreseeable future. I forget sometimes that some people simply don’t want to live the way we do (even though they could save so much money if they did! And invest it! And do so many great things!) It is definitely understandable that some might want to spend their money on a higher quality lifestyle. I need to remember to let them if that is what they choose 🙂

  21. You bet your belly button I have done. I did this to my brother who was a horrible spendthrift, always in debt, and mooching off me and our parents but that was justified because of the mooching. (I almost said MY parents like he doesn’t get parents anymore for being such a massive jerk.) I was pretty good about offering information not in the form of advice to PiC over the years and he’s actually changed his ways but it never would have happened if I’d been openly judgemental and demeaning about his poor money choices.

    But over the years I learned to stop offering my thoughts and just listen, because I usually wasn’t being asked for advice. I also stop listening to people who make bad decisions repeatedly, ask for help, ignore it, rinse and repeat. You don’t have to take my advice but I’m also not obligated to listen to self destructive behavior and whining about it.

    Still, I have an ongoing mini-feud on this subject, like you did with your nana, with a dear friend. I got into a faux-fight with her a couple years back because she booked our lodgings for our honeymoon using her points and then tried to buy us a gift. I tried to tell her not to because the value of the lodgings was at least $1000, don’t spend more on us! She yelled something like, “you have to let me spend my money on you if I want to!” She was seriously ill earlier this year and I spent $400 to send her catered food for a few weeks because I couldn’t go cook for her, and she tried to pay me back. She’s still holding a grudge over my not chasing her check saying that the gift was my time and thought, so I shouldn’t also have to pay for the food. I think she’s wrong, of course, I made the choice to buy it so I’m on the hook for the money – logical, right? So now she’s retaliating by booking yet another hotel for our travel and refusing to let us pay our own way. This feud may never end 😂

    But we love each other and we know that the other’s stubbornness is born of love. I wouldn’t get into this prolonged sort of thing with anyone else.

  22. Ohhh, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to bite my tongue over some of the ridicoluous things people tell me they do with their money. Spending hundreds of dollars on drinks, over-priced restaurants, sports tickets, big-boy toys, … the list goes on and on. But, like you said, its not my money. I can’t convince them any differently any more than I can convince someone to believe in a different religion or vote for a different president. Until someone realizes internally that they need help or even just simply want to improve, only then will they listen.

  23. Katelynne

    Such a good post and such a good thing to remember! I am super guilty of this and have taken money off the table with one of my close friends as such. We are in drastically different circumstances however how we choose to manage what we have is completely different and I have been super guilty of raining down my comments. Now we talk in super vague terms and move on quickly.

    My soon to be mother in law has recently made some big life decisions that will have an impact on her finances in a fairly negative way and I need to make sure I stay away from all those conversations and just filter my thoughts through my manfriend. He can deal with that (we will be dealing with it at a later date so I just hope him and his siblings attack it head on)

  24. One thing I’ve learned is you can’t control how someone else hears your message but you can control how you present it to them. For me, I hate being told what I “need” to do. Even if it’s good advice, I’ll initially shun it because of the way it’s presented to me. I’ll think, “I don’t need to do anything.” The more you can understand how someone else hears you, the better you can get your message across.

    Thanks for sharing!

  25. I think all PF bloggers will have to go thru this defying rational stage, because once we calculate, we can’t stop on our own account! I tend to judge the cost value versus the emotional value on things my friend spend. And it feels like they aren’t wise 95% of the time. But as I save I start to spend too! So I learned to keep these thoughts to myself. After all, I only know half the picture, they might secretly have a trust fund under their name!

  26. Justin Murphy

    I’m sure I have, but I try to be conscious not to. When I do regularly his post articles on LinkedIn that are of interest (i.e. helpful) to me and that I think may be of interest to others. That way, it’s their choice whether to read or not.

  27. k.Jam

    My wife and I own a sailboat as part of a long-term plan to take off on an extended voyage change. When I start feeling judgemental about others’ financial decisions, I remember that we’ve poured tens of thousands into a chunk of lead wrapped in fiberglass that moves a few miles per hour… when there is wind.

  28. My mom used to tell me not to buy her any Christmas or Birthday gifts because, well, I couldn’t afford it. I was always incredibly frustrated when she said that. She had no right to say that to me!

  29. Good lesson to learn, that’s for sure. It is tough at times, but I have trained myself over the years to bite my tongue and just listen. I’ll provide advice when asked, but I won’t ever try to push the way I think about money or what I would do on individuals. But finding this took some searching and some getting smacked down when asked.

    In the past, I’ve run into family members that are terrible with money. I’ve kept cool and calm 99% of the time, but once and a while, their money mismanagement will slide into my side of the family and that is typically where I start providing the unsolicited advice (aka…back off).

    Honestly though, you are wasting your time providing the unsolicited advice because it will go in one ear and out the other. Your advice will stick only when that individual is ready to receive it and change their money methodology. That’s when I’ve learned to strike and provide as much advice as they are willing to receive.

    Thanks for the amazing read.

    Bert, One of the Dividend Diplomats

  30. If they wanted your advice, they’d probably check out your website. I try not to offer advice on money in person unless it’s asked for. Some of my coworkers ask me for opinions on purchases or investments, some don’t. I really enjoy talking about it but I’m not going to force it on anyone…I’ll just silently judge them in my head, because you know we all do!

    • Ha! Way to boil my entire post down into a sentence, Marc! 😉 I don’t consider us broke (when I’m being sensible), and I think that holds true for me, too.

  31. SPUP,
    Great advice. If there’s one universal truth, it’s that if someone works for something (money in this case), then it is theirs to decide what to do with it. We could all take a lesson out of that.
    It sounds like your grandmother knew what she was talking about.
    Take care!
    – Ryan

  32. I once told a coworker that he should review his investment portfolio since there were better options than his mutual fund selection (all with annual fees over 2%!!!) but he was convince indexing was a gimmick and that his active manager would always outperform the market…

  33. I trust that everyone is making the choices that make sense in their own lives. I don’t see all the data and the desires they are navigating.

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