Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Concern about Others

In a comment on yesterday's post about "Mary," Jersey Jen asked if I had given her any advice. I did not, as I didn't feel like I knew her well enough, and because she didn't seem to be asking for advice. Also, given that she's quite a bit older than me, I just would have felt weird if it turned into a discussion of my own situation vs. hers. But it's a good question... there are other people, such as my mother, who I've tried to steer in the right direction financially. With my mom, the advice wasn't all that complicated-- all I did was beg her to stop running up tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt and figure out a way to pay off the bill! Which is, of course, easier said than done-- that is the downside to trying to give advice, when you know what needs to happen but not really how. My mother is an extreme example, but aside from her, I've sometimes mentioned small financial tips to friends, when the topic happened to arise in conversation. Usually it was as simple as saying "did you know you can deduct ___ on your taxes if you work in publishing?" But anything more sometimes crosses a line-- it's too easy to wound someone's pride or put yourself in the position of seeming like a know-it-all.
Of course, I do write this blog, which could be construed as dishing out advice to hundreds of people every day. Actually, I don't think of it that way. My rules are the most advice-y part of the blog. Other than that, I'm kind of just telling stories, in the hopes that it encourages people to think differently about their finances and come up with their own advice for themselves. And of course, I sometimes ask for advice from my readers! The comments on this blog have provided some great inspiration and information. So to continue the dialogue, here's a few questions for you:

Are there people in your life whose finances you worry about? What do you do about it? Often, we don't know enough about our friends' and family's finances, because there's that taboo about discussing it. But if you do know, and you think someone is heading down the wrong path, what do you do about it? Subtle hints? Impassioned intervention? Lending a hand with budgeting, or a loan of cash? Do these people ever ASK for advice? How do you feel when someone gives you unsolicited advice about how to manage your money?


gedditogethere said...

Lately I have "released" and have come clean with my SIL who is a CFP. She is going to look over our finances and give us some tips - not really advice, but I would just like her to roll her eyeballs over our finances to see what immediately comes to mind. I don't care anymore that she sees my salary or my husband's salary (her brother) - I don't care anymore that she knows what our mortgage is or that we are in some, but not desperate, credit card debt. I don't know...maybe because I'm older now, or don't care about the "competition" anymore, or that I know she doesn't care about the "competition" either, or that the time has come to get serious or we will be in serious financial trouble. Ramble that didn't really answer any of your questions, but bottom line is...I guess I'm just not about holding a close hand anymore when good help can be had.

Anonymous said...

Seems like one should have professional credentials, e.g., be a Certified Financial Planner, before dispensing financial advice. One may 'think' he/she knows something about the topic, but perhaps may be totally off base. Could get one in trouble, too, with the regulatory folks.

Madame X said...

Anonymous has a good point, but I think the kind of advice we're talking about here is not stuff like stock picks and investment advice but more down to earth financial advice about frugality, living within ones means, budgeting, etc.

Maria said...

I feel that it is noble to want to help other people with their finances. Afterall, we do want to make the world a better place but most people dont want advice on how to handle their money. It kind of crosses a line in relationships. Everyone has their own level of poverty, whether it be $300,000/year or $20,000.
Saving a few dollars at the grocery store may not be their idea of a good thing when they just spent $600.00 on a blouse. Since I have started blogging, I have learned a ton from the PFblog community but not all of it applies to me at this instant. I'm just not there yet. Someday. We take what we need at the time. For you Madame X, it might be that you caught a glimpse of what it COULD be like if you arent careful. You took what you needed, and maybe "Mary" will take something from what you didnt say.

Donna Jean said...

I'm often eager to help people with finances though I can only offer things that have helped me which isn't the same as advice. My mother's finances drive me nuts and I wish I could do something about it. She will occasionally discuss them with me in passing but rarely ever invites me to comment. She knows my views and we'll sometimes have great talks about finances -- more in the abstract or in my relaying my personal information -- though I probably come off a bit too strong when asking about retirement (she is in her early fifties) and long-term care planning.

I'm tired of being in a culture where it is wrong to talk about money. I see nothing wrong with talking about my progress or seeing what others doing. We have a lot of personal experience that is useful if we have the chance to share it. I no personal I am somewhat reserved when jumping into a talk about finances with friends but it does help to have some personal finance focused friends willing to talk about things.

MCM said...

My brother and his fiance wanted me to help them do a budget because they are interestedin buying a townhouse. A townhouse they I am not sure they can afford and still have fun... or clothes. So, they came over and I showed them the sad numbers. They put a deposit on it anyway. It is refundable, but they will probably make a very large emotional purchase. But, I probably would have done teh same then at their age. It's just a bummer when you "know" what is "best" for someone, but they look away from advice they solicited.

Debbie said...

I enjoy brainstorming ideas for people when they are in trouble, but generally the response is to explain to me why each and every one of my ideas could never work for them. Some of it's true--you have a lot fewer choices when you live paycheck to paycheck. For exampmle, you can't afford to move somewhere cheaper because you can't scrape together first and last month's rent. Mostly they just wanted me to be there and listen and make them feel loved, not to offer solutions.

When people give me advice (get a higher-paying job), I do the same (I don't like any of those jobs or any of that stress).

However, sometimes when you hear the same thing over and over, things finally click, and then you can act on it. And there's lots of room for "Did you know ...?" kind of advice. For example, I tried going back to dollar stores after deciding they were full of junk because of hearing several good stories, and that's when I learned that I like to buy greeting cards and sometimes nonperishables there.

I have also made offers to people. Like when one person's savings account was emptied (with no warning of course) to pay for her spouse's taxes, I offered to hold onto savings for her in my name. No one takes me up on them, but I like to think it's comforting or motivating to know that the option is there.

And when someone is poor and can't afford to do some once-in-a-lifetime family event, I like to subsidize them. I first ask whether it's really just the money or they don't actually want to come and are just being polite. If they do want to come, then I ask what they could afford. Ever since I was subsidized by a friend to go to a concert, I've loved this idea for including poor people in important events. And they do actually take me up on these offers.

And next time I hear of a situation where a little seed money will make a big difference (like first and last month's rent so they can move somewhere cheaper), I'm going to offer it if I can.

It's hard watching adults screw up in any way (financial or otherwise) and there's not much you can do because you're not in charge of them.

Tiredbuthappy said...

This is a struggle for me. I have several people in my life who have actually asked my advice about money because they know I'm interested in personal finance. But once the advice is given, even if I don't say anything about money again, they know my attitude and I become a kind of silent censor whether I like it or not.

Here's how it goes:

Them: "How do you open an IRA/save for college/save on groceries/determine how much house you can afford?"

Me: "Here's how I do it, and here are some resources online that might help."

Then, forever after, conversations go like this:
Them (guiltily): "Did I not mention that we were in Greece last month? The tickets were a lot, but Junior is leaving for college soon and it seemed really important to spend the time together."

Them: (defensively): "We should have saved for a car, but we've just had so many orthodontist bills, and we got a really good deal on the lease. I tried to talk Hubby out of the Lexus, but he works so hard and he deserves some treats...."


I do occasionally offer advice, but in a very careful way. I won't say "why don't you do X". Instead, I say, "I have done some reading on that. If you need help making the decision or if you want suggestions on what to read, I'd be happy to tell you what I've found out."

I also find it helps a lot to say "this is the accepted best practice according to what I've read" not "this is what I think you should do". It just leaves more space for people to take it or leave it.