Looking for advice on managing money? Try these book recommendations.
I tend to consider myself a pretty non-judgmental person, and you all have told me that you get the same sense from this blog. I accept that different people have different values and ways of living that work best for them, and I'm not one to tell others that their approach to life is wrong if it is making them and the people around them happy.
However, I recently realized that there is one major area where I tend to judge other people: How they manage their money.
I say "manage" rather than "spend" because I have accepted the fact that people have different priorities than I do. If having a smartphone and buying a latte every morning make your life happy, then I won't begrudge you your decision to spend money on those things, even though I don't. You probably aren't saving up money to buy a bunch of land and adopt a bunch of kids, so of course we have different spending patterns and priorities. If you have the money to buy those things, who am I to tell you not to buy them?
It's when people have no savings accounts and go into massive credit card debt buying tons of non-essentials that my inner critic starts yelling, "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???"
What I've learned from my past experience and my observations of others is that judgment is usually an outcropping of ignorance, i.e., a lack of understanding or experience. So for example, I think it's difficult to be good friends with a lot of gay people and still strongly hold the belief that all gay people are child molesters. Unless you just happen to be friends with a lot of child molesters generally... which would be really weird.
I feel like it's been drilled into me my entire life to having an emergency fund, not spend more than I bring in, plan for the future, etc. So that makes it extremely difficult for me to get inside the head of someone who consistently spends more than they bring in. The whole idea of doing that is so foreign to me.
I hear a lot of general things about "the culture" and the pressure to "keep up with the Joneses," but as someone who places little (probably too little) emphasis on what others think of me, this is difficult for me to conceptualize at an individual level. I get that there is this "cultural pressure" to live a certain way and own certain things, but I don't think people are that rational that they're thinking, "I don't have the money to afford this, but it is worth to me the debt that I will have to pay off on this purchase in order to have the social status that this purchase will gain me." So... what are people thinking?
This is a serious question. I want to understand the mentality here. I don't want to just write people off as complete idiots for putting themselves into debt buying what I consider to be luxury items.
Where I'm especially baffled/frustrated/judgmental is when people I know talk about how broke they are and complain about how they're having to make major life changes like getting a second job or moving back in with their parents, and yet they continue to post pictures all over Facebook of their new electronics, manicures, fancy dinners out, etc.
I ask myself a series of questions:
- Do they consider these things essential items to their life?
- Are they somehow unable to make the connection between spending money and not having enough money?
- Are they trying to impress some people with their purchases, yet commiserate with other people about their lack of money, and I am somehow in the position to witness both?
- Do they have an addiction to shopping?
So I ask you, my dear readers. Are you one of these people who goes or has gone into debt buying things you didn't really need? Or do you have some insight I don't have into people you know who do this?
Or are you as baffled as I am?
(On a related note, here's an amazing story of a couple who saved aggressively to get out of debt, build up an emergency fund, and pay for their wedding and honeymoon.)