Being financially stable doesn’t make you better

While I was procrastinating something the other day, I read through a thread on an internet forums wherein forum members shame their coworkers/friends/relatives for not being as good with money as them. These forum members also have tales of being ridiculed for being so cheap/frugal. And yet, they’re ridiculing their friends/coworkers/relatives in this anonymous, but very heavily search engine indexed forum. Say what?

This whole world would be better if we could learn to not judge others for their choices. This is something I’ve been working on the last few years, but at this point, I have my financial judging down to one: complaining about something that you could fix, but aren’t.

For the longest time, I judged a spendy friend for spending in different ways than I value. I also judged my boyfriend for spending in different ways than I value. But both of those two people have solid reserves and spend less than they earn – just in different ways than I would. To my friend, I probably spend more on security (savings) than they consider necessary. I think they spent more on housing than probably necessary, but you know what I can comment on? They have a really lovely house. And I absolutely love really lovely houses even if I don’t value spending my money on them. (Okay, I do, but in smaller doses of money spent.)

What does judging others for their different financial ideas get you? All it gets you is a negative attitude towards them. You don’t have to share every single possible interest with someone in order to be friends. I have friends who I work out with, friends who I work with, friends who I discuss money with, friends who I travel with, etc. Unless someone told you exactly the decision process that led them to do X where X is something you don’t agree with, you quite possibly don’t even know where they’re coming from. I’ve had people judge me for buying a brand-new car, without knowing that my plan was to hold it for 10-15 years. People judged me for pre-ordering an iPhone 6S when it was announced, without considering that perhaps I am frugal in other ways and that is a way in which I choose to spend my money, or realizing that I spend $35/month on my cell phone plan.

If you’re financially stable, that’s probably one of your values. I know it’s one of mine. I value being financially stable and secure, living in a home I love, having a closet of clothes that fit and make me feel good wearing them, getting plenty of time outdoors, and staying active.

Instead of spending time judging others for their so-called terrible decisions, instead try to remain positive. You might even end up educating them or learning something yourself. For example, when a coworker judged me for buying the new phone, I told them that I paid cash for it and have a cheap cell phone plan, which they hadn’t even realized was an option. They then bought their next cell phone in cash as well and have a cheaper cell phone plan as well now. I will say I was surprised at the person who was incredulous that I would pay $800 in one go for a phone. Yet it’s a device that they too use all the time and get a ton of enjoyment and use out of it for an $800 thing that will cost me about $1/day. I would almost say I get more use out of my phone these days than out of a personal computer.

That said, the guy boasting about having only two dollars and thirty seven cents in his checking account? Definitely not going on a date with him, no matter how cute he might be. I am allowed to reserve some judgment for potential romantic pursuits. After all, you want to find a life partner who shares many of your core values.

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41 thoughts on “Being financially stable doesn’t make you better

  1. Good points here. I’m as guilty as anyone at having gotten a good laugh from people whose spending habits are wildly different from mine, though I’ve been trying to be better lately about appreciating that different people have different goals for their money. It gets tough when people are either vocally distraught about their own situations (always saying “I’ll never be able to save for a down payment” or “I’ll never get out of debt!” while spending frivolously) or critical/dismissive of others’ situations (“It must be nice to be able to take so much time off” when we’ve obviously made other lifestyle cuts). As far as a potential partner, though, I think you’re entitled to discriminate based on whatever habits you deem fit!

    • Yes, the complainers and criticizers are hard to listen to. If they’re many years into adulting, it’s really annoying. However, if they’re within a year or so out of college and they say “I’ll never be able to save for a down payment!” I find it’s usually because either a) they still have student loans they’re working on and/or b) house prices or so much more here that they seem unattainable. I usually try to reassure the younger people to just keep saving and it’ll get easier after the first year. The older people being critical that “I could never afford that much house!” are really annoying. They’re one person! And we’re looking as a DINK couple. Of course we can afford more house. (Not saying that we’re going to move, but we’ve been looking around.)

      When I took two months off between jobs last year, people had similar comments like “That’s a once in a lifetime trip!” (I sure hope not – we plan to do that again some day…). It’s depressing how many people finish a job on Friday and start the next one on the Monday. At this point, I’m pretty convinced that the reason they say to find another job before quitting is because most people don’t have much in the way of savings.

  2. I’ve tried to get better at this too. Do you follow any of the Humans of New York social media accounts where the gentlemen goes around NYC photographing people and telling their story? Usually they are heart felt stories about pain or struggle or picking themselves up, etc. The other day there was one of two older women sitting on a bench with the quote “We don’t have any hobbies. But we do try to get together a few times a month to judge people and complain…” At the end of the day I think we’re all meant to judge and complain. It makes us feel better about our situations. But obviously I like to show a little restraint ;)

    • Yes I do and they’re fascinating! It does make us feel better about our situations to commiserate, but I also find judging and complaining to make me feel worse at times, so lately I’ve been trying to complain less.

  3. I don’t judge unless it’s something that could potentially hurt other people. Like, if you’re in debt and doing risky things that could force other people to bail you out because you have this sense of entitlement that you should be able to buy unnecessary stuff you can’t afford.

    If you can afford it, spend on what you will. If you have a middle-class or higher income and you way overspend on luxuries, I’m not that sympathetic. If people who make less money than you are always bailing you out, I judge (exceptions of course for extenuating circumstances like large medical debts etc.).

    • My sibling pretends to be broke so my parents will still pay for stuff for them and also expects me to buy them food when I visit them even though they also think I should stay in a hotel when I visit. /sigh I’m allowed to judge for that.

      • Yeah, I would totally judge that. In fact, I chewed my sister out for expecting my mom to pay for all our meals when she just started out, even though my sister’s salary was almost 2x my mom’s.

  4. YES. That’s something I can’t stand about the PF blog-o-world. Why can’t people just worry about their own house instead of pretending to know someone else’s? My big idea recently is that people are basically unknowable. It almost doesn’t matter how well you think you know someone, you will never know their ultimate mechanics. My next door neighbor drives a Maserati. His garage that it’s parked in is falling down, but he drives a Maserati. I could form an uninformed opinion about that, but I prefer not to and just say, “It must work for him, otherwise he wouldn’t do it.” People have their reasons, is what I mean. Fulfilling their wants, needs, whatever.

    We live in a society that values instant judging and opinion-forming. But I have gotten burnt out on judging people.

    • Yes! I love this: “People are unknowable.”

      My parents are really judgey and one of the things I’ve had to learn as an adult is how to not be so instantly judgey of everyone. It is so depressing to spend all of your time being critical of the world. I’d rather think about the happy things in this world.

  5. Great post. I think a big part of the problem is people believing there is only one right answer (theirs). Many people are like this in just about any sphere. While this type of thinking shows up a lot on reddit, I think the MMM blog, as probably the main source of FIRE ideas that are not self generated is partly responsible, as it has this mentality, at least in the persona – it might be useful for getting people to do things when readers are already coming to you as a guru (though I don’t know why he wants to be a missionary), but I find the my way is the right way presentation distasteful.

    I also think there is an element of it making people feel superior, and some people just need to put others down to feel good about themselves. I tend to skip over those kind of comments/post and have never felt in sync with whatever motivations cause people to post them. I think it exhibits some sort of immaturity, but it is hard to diagnosis something I don’t feel at all in sync with.

    • Yes, that is exactly it. I have some family members/close friends who are like that and it is exhausting to be around. It also makes it really hard to be helpful in their home when you’re a guest and can’t do anything right.

      I think it does make them feel superior. I try to avoid people who complain all the time – they’re not much fun to be around. I think behind the anonymity of the Internet some people complain easier than they do in real life too.

  6. My belief is that people can spend money however they want as long as they can afford it. I have issues when people say they cant afford things, or the “Little Guy cant get ahead”, or some other nonsense. Or if they expect to live off of the government via programs paid for with higher taxes, due to their poor planning

    I think when you write a personal finance blog and put forward your ideas on personal finance, I think its fair to have respectful conversations about financial theory, or pros and cons of how to do things. I do think we open ourselves up for discussion and criticism because we write blogs.

    I mean I think thats why most of us post our financial numbers or talk about our views on PF.

    I do think there are a lot of different ways to achieve success financially, and to your main point, imo the whole idea of achieving financial success is for the security, and opportunities that wealth provides, particularly in retirement.

    In my case, I write a blog in part to hold myself accountable, and to discuss thoughts on investing and real estate.

    In your case, I dont think it matters whether you buy a new car, or a new Iphone, you can afford it, you save a very large amount of money each month, of COURSE you should spend some where you see fit.

    • I hate that people tend to say they can’t afford something when they’re not broke. I did that for a bit until someone told me I could afford the thing they were inviting me to and after that, I just would decline when I didn’t want to do something.

      Financial security is amazing, but some people seem to prefer using their money for spending on things in the short term than buying their future security.

  7. Learning that I do not have to have an opinion about other people’s choices was a really helpful tool in my happiness. I do not live in their shoes. I do not have their history. I do not have their present. I only have the visible data in front of me and that is wholly inadequate to the task of judging their choices.

    • Yes! Such a good way of putting it. This is something I’ve actively been working on as an adult – trying to be excited for someone even if I don’t want the thing they do.

  8. Is this the MMM overheard at work thread?

    In general I try not to shame people for their spending, though I sometimes have to surpress a sideeye if I am witness to supreme profligacy.

  9. I’m super spendy.. then I am super frugal.

    I am very very strange by anyone’s account, and yet I continue to live as a human being… and as I want.

    I’ve given up caring either way what people think about me and my $$. I’m the one who has to live with it, not them.

  10. Is this the Antimustachian wall of shame forum? It can be a pretty toxic place. I had to stop reading it. I get that people want to feel some sense of community when everyone around them seems to approach money differently, But I’d prefer to focus on the positives or find people with commonalities than to bitch about other people’s choices. Maybe you temporarily get some enjoyment about making fun of other people’s situations, but it’s certainly not a long term feeling. I don’t really care what other people do with their money. The more spendy people are, the more my equity holdings profit, so cool beans. And I heard the same comments as you when I did Australia and New Zealand in 2012. A “trip of a life time”. Wonder what those people will think if I take the gap year that I’ve been considering?

    ” I’m pretty convinced that the reason they say to find another job before quitting is because most people don’t have much in the way of savings.” <- There was something on social media recently where something like 75% of the country is living paycheck to paycheck, so, you're probably right.

    • I find complainers in general to be pretty toxic so I’ve tried to reduce my complaining too! Great point about focusing on the positives.

      We had a waiter the other day who was working multiple jobs to save up for a ten month trip! It sounded amazing. Hope you enjoy your gap year!

  11. Yes! Agree with every word of this. Judging others just fills us with negativity that serves no purpose, even if those others are clearly engaged in self-destructive behaviors. The hardest place for me not to judge is with one of my parents, who is in their 60s and still adding debt. It’s hard not to think about how I’m probably going to have to deal with all of that one day, but unlike a romantic partner, I don’t get to choose. :-)

    • Ouch, I hate this feeling of near-dread. I know I’m going to be the one, literally, paying for my dad’s health mistakes when they come home to roost and it’s HARD not to be judgemental about the fact that he refuses to make better choices when we’re going to be the ones who suffer from their mistakes.

    • Yes yes yes to judging just filling us with negativity!

      That’s really hard because that will affect you, but parents never want to open up to their children until it’s too late.

  12. There are some people I judge pretty harshly because they’re similar to your sister in the spending of other people’s money without shame. And likely all of their own too, but I don’t care about that part, I care about the fact that their irresponsibility dips into other people’s pockets. Honestly, when you’ve broken the 40 barrier and you’re STILL taking money from parents and relatives even though you have two good incomes, my judge-o-meter’s going to be running.

    But those are people I know and know well enough to know their financial philosophy versus their reality. From their mouths, you’d think they were saints, until you got to know them.

    • Ugh yes I do not appreciate when people spend other people’s money easier than their own! It is so hard to watch too because you can’t really change them either.

  13. Great points! I am on board with you 100% in theory.

    In practice, however, I can be quite judgmental.

    Most of the time, I’m somewhat ambivalent (if not a little curious) how people pay for things like new cars, luxury apartments, tech gadgets, meals out, etc. I usually dismiss these choices rationalizing that a) they make more than me (usually true) and/or b) they’re less debt/payment averse than me (usually true). I try not to put much thought into it and figure we all manage our money to our liking with differing sensibilities and priorities. He among us without sin…. right? I buy things that some people may say I shouldn’t and maybe I refuse to spend in circumstances when others would.

    But, I recently took to Twitter to vent (Revanche is my witness, I was mad!) about my father-in-law’s recent purchase. I felt justified in commenting on it because I know his financial situation in and out. My fiancé and I have sat down and tried to create a budget with him, have made spreadsheets explaining when each bill is due and how to pay it, why it’s a good idea to save for a rainy day (a new concept to him). We’ve tried to come from a place of understanding of his reality (minimum wage job, not a cent saved for retirement, generational poverty, no high school education) and have not tried to impose our will or ideas with a heavy hand. I was and am pragmatic in thinking we’ll never convert him to a saver.

    I guess my willingness to suspend judgment ended the day he purchased a used 4-wheeler using almost the whole $4,500 tax refund check he received. I unleashed the judgment, that’s for sure. I suppose I feel justified in my assessment that it was a bad decision because 99% of people would agree with me? Because I have an intimate and accurate portrait of his finances and thus know (not just suspect) that it was a bad decision? Because by wiping out all of the savings he had, now my fiancé and I could be on the hook to help him with expenses that otherwise would have been absorbed by that tax refund emergency fund? (i.e. He needs two teeth pulled and won’t have the cash between paychecks to pay the dentist. My fiancé will undoubtedly end up giving him a payday loan to be repaid within the month.) Because I know that his impulsive purchases in the past have landed his family in a bankruptcy and likely stressed his wife to an early grave?

    So while I’m on board with you in theory, in practice, aren’t there circumstances that truly warrant — nay invite — judgement, comment or concern about one’s financial choices?

    • Thanks for the long comment! :)

      Your father-in-law’s financial habits are a tricky space because those seem very likely to affect *you* long-term if he doesn’t shape up. If your fiance is already contributing support for his dad, it seems he would continue that even when you’re married some day. And that’s so hard – you picked your fiance and with him came his father! I know I won’t need to support my parents in retirement and I ask my boyfriend at times whether he worries he/we would need to support his parents, but he honestly has no idea what their financial situation is!

      I get frustrated when I’m judged for the ways I spend my money when I can perfectly well afford it and I’m making conscious spending decisions.

  14. :-) Good post. People do pass judgment on other folks’ financial choices — and what a great observation that we do it even when the judgees can amply afford to spend their money however they choose! Maybe it’s that money choices are such an easy thing to criticize?

    I dunno…Miss Thrifty has got something when she suggests that choices that affect friends and relatives are reasonable candidates for criticism. But I suppose if one isn’t affected by such choices, then (boringly enough) they’re none of one’s business.

    • I would argue that choices that affect you are the only ones that are reasonable candidates for criticism. It’s been a really interesting learning experience for me watching friends who make similar incomes to me and how differently they spend their money than I do, while still being able to afford their spending.

    • Hah! That would be fine, true, but he seemed very proud of being broke. It was quite confusing to me as I really value financial security!

  15. I have a lot of friends with the attitude “It’s only an extra $20” or whatever the excuse is for not-refinancing, or not spending. Or not doing some side gig. Millionaires are not made a million dollars at a time. They are made with a bunch of $20 savings at a time.

    That being said, are you still spending money on nails and manicures?

    • I think I’ve paid once in my life to get a manicure? And never did that again. I don’t even buy nail polish and do it at home. You’re referring to my eyebrow waxing I think which is $20 every 3-5 weeks. I’ve been seeing the same person for the last six plus years and love watching her small business flourish. She makes some of my skin care products I buy too. I balance that out by only getting my hair cut once a year and not getting it colored or styled professionally, ever.

      If I still have my mortgage when the rate resets, I will absolutely refinance even though it’ll “only” save about $1,000 per year on interest.

      • Great job! The eyebrow waxing is something I have never done… It is fun watching a business grow. Even some bloggers that I follow, such as yourself, it’s fun to watch as more and more people are reading.

        Far too many people think it’s just luck when they see someone succeed. They do not see all of the backroom work that goes along with the growth. With an adjustable rate mortgage, I think there is less of a reason to refinance. The rate should be competitive always.

        • Actually, my adjustable rate mortgage would reset to 3.5% if it were resetting today, but I could get a new 5/1 ARM under 3% today with low closing costs. Generally ARMs have a discounted initial rate. So I’ll likely refinance. That’s tabled for now as the more important question is how we are adjusting our assets with getting married recently and that may result in a new mortgage as well.

  16. Thank you for sharing this post!
    I’ve been on the judging side at times, but as life goes on, I’ve realized not to judge because I don’t know that particular individuals circumstances. Everyone is different and has different lifestyle preferences. I don’t think anyone is wrong. It’s all subjective. Great post :)

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