Watch out for financial judging. After all, what you choose to spend money on may appear stupid to someone else. Take a step back before judging personal finance choices.
We all make choices with our money every day. It goes beyond trying to cut costs and avoid wasting money. Our money choices say a lot about what we value and what's important to us. It can be easy to point to others and say that their choices are stupid, but what about your financial choices? Could someone point to your spending and have a valid argument for calling it stupid?
Let Others Make Their Own Spending Choices
I know that I'm guilty of financial judging. I look at people who spend a great deal of money on a wedding, and I am flabbergasted. Why would anyone spend so much on one day? Of course, I didn't care much for having a big, expensive wedding. So it didn't make sense for me to have. For others, though, that sort of experience is very fulfilling. Who am I to tell them that enjoying the “big day” is wrong?
My husband and I also have disagreements. I think it's kind of silly to spend money on action figures. He thinks that it's a waste to spend money on trips. We both prefer different things in life. He likes things, and I value experiences. One of us isn't “right,” and another isn't “wrong.” We're just different, and we have different priorities.
Trying to force others to conform to your idea of what is a “smart” spending choice is almost always futile. I like buying (and enjoying) expensive chocolate. But if someone else prefers to spend money on expensive shoes, it's not my place to tell them that their priorities are messed up. Let others make their own spending choices. And hope that others will avoid criticizing you for your spending choices.
When Financial Judging Might Be Appropriate
Of course, most of my examples of avoiding financial judgment apply to situations where someone is living within their means. I didn't buy expensive chocolate back when my husband and I were both in grad school, trying to scrape by a living. He didn't buy action figures, and I didn't travel as much as I do now. (Of course, prior to my marriage I made plenty of truly stupid money decisions that resulted in my living beyond my budget.)
Sometimes, financial judging is required. You don't want to co-sign on a loan for someone likely to go and spend it on something fun rather than on something necessary. And, when someone decides to run up large credit card bills to buy consumer products now rather than save up money and wait, a little head-shaking is probably in order. It is also hard to refrain from passing some judgment when you see someone willfully refusing to make any sort of progress in life or finances.
Another consideration is that you might not know all the circumstances. Did someone have to file for bankruptcy because of an expensive medical situation? Did a job loss result in the need to run up the credit cards to pay living expenses, or has a situation become so untenable that walking away from a mortgage is the only option? While it might seem appropriate to judge someone's current financial situation, it's probably best to hold off if you don't know all the particulars.
Even when financial judging seems in order, it's still a good idea to step back and reassess. I'm struggling with this right now. I've made dumb decisions in the past, but I'm still having trouble not judging someone doing something incredibly stupid now. I should show a little more compassion. But it can be difficult.
However, when it comes to individual spending choices, it is rarely appropriate to judge. What you like to spend your money on is different from what others like to spend their money on. When looking at others and their money management, it's often best to take a step back and consider what your spending habits look like to them.
What do you think about judging personal finance choices made by others?