On Money, Personal Finance and Being Judgmental

August 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Money and Behavior

I start this post with a confession of sorts.  I can form strong opinions about financial planning, retirement planning, and the use of money by others.  When asked, I am not afraid to express those opinions in very clear and direct terms.   If I see a financial train wreck coming down the money tracks, I blow the whistle good and loud.  That’s just me.  For this, I have been called “judgmental” more times than I can remember.  Not in a nice way, either.

In a debate over use of money or other personal financial resources, have you ever been called “judgmental?”  Have you ever been offended by the judgments of others about your use of money?  If so, please read on.

How Did Judging Money and Financial Behavior Become a Bad Thing?

I have perceived in recent years that society, urged on by the popular (and mostly liberal) press, has targeted certain words and phrases, captured them, and forcibly moved them to a position far from where they started.  The end position is inevitably one of condemnation, e.g., a label that you would attach only to your worst enemy or other representative of evil.

One of those words is “judgmental.”  It used to be that if a person argued against the merits or righteousness of a belief or action taken by another, he or she might be told “you just don’t get it.”  Being told that you “just didn’t get it” was cleverly introduced into popular debate as the final “killer” argument because there is no logical response to it.  Your only retort is “yes, actually I do get it.”  Sounds lame, doesn’t it?  Exactly.  Your well-reasoned, fact based advocacy is squashed like a bug by a phrase – you just don’t get it – that is completely without substance.

Well, that wasn’t good enough for the “you just don’t get it” debate team.  They needed another debate killer – a crushing verbal blow if you will – and they didn’t want to wait around for actual facts or logic to show up.  So what did they do?  They decided to take the word “judgmental” for themselves.  That’s right.  Being called “judgmental” was, in their minds, the ultimate insult, a negative label of deadly proportions.   I’m not quite sure how this happened but it has.  It’s pretty clear that no one wants to be called judgmental anymore.  Heck, you might get dragged into workplace “sensitivity training” for being judgmental.

Yes, the Hard Truth Can Hurt

How does this relate to personal finance?  Here is one example.  In my periodic travels into the personal finance message boards, I come across many threads that are started with a post that goes something like this:

Hi everyone.  I have been lurking around these boards for a while so I thought I would go ahead and tell you my situation and see what you think.  I have maxed out my credit cards because my live-in boyfriend spends all of his unemployment benefits on beer and poker games.  I just bought a new car last year and I’m having trouble making the payments because my student loans have kicked in.  To save money I stopped paying my disability and life insurance premiums because I’m pretty healthy (except for the smoking habit that I can’t seem to kick) plus I figure my boyfriend or ex will support my kids if I were to get sick or die in an accident.  Now my BF and I want to buy a house together but we don’t have anything for a down payment.  We don’t think that’s fair but what should we do?  (By the way, does anyone know a good place to buy an iPhone cheap?  I really need to get one of those because the cell phone I have now has some scratches on it.)

Yes, I made this one up.  But believe me, this is not as extreme as it may appear.  When folks can put their financial lives on screen without using their real names, all kinds of ridiculous but true stuff comes out.

Now, being a purveyor of hard truth in all things financial, when Mr. ToughMoneyLove reads a post like this, he figures it’s an opportune time to let loose with both barrels.  And he does.  I identify with great precision all of the bad money decisions and wrong financial behaviors that I believe the poster has engaged in or is contemplating.  I explain the basis for my views, just in case they are even open to debate.  After all, didn’t the poster specifically ask me – a message board reader – what I think?

Apparently not.  Inevitably, either the original poster or another reader, and sometimes both, will rise up with their nuclear debate weapon.  They will call me JUDGMENTAL.  “Why are you so judgmental, Mr. ToughMoneyLove?” They write.  “Did your momma not raise you right?”  And with that, it seems, I’ve lost the argument.  Case closed.  In no uncertain terms I am told to move to another message thread because judgmental people are just not welcome there.

How and why did being judgmental in the world of money and personal finance take on such negative connotations?  To me, being judgmental means simply that you are discerning what is right from what is wrong.  (We are not talking about moral or spiritual judgments here, so don’t even think about quoting from Chapter 7 of Matthew.)   I am forming opinions about financial behaviors and, when asked, expressing those opinions.   OMG, the horror!

I acknowledge that there are different degrees of being judgmental.  Treating someone badly based solely on your judgment of their money behavior is not something I advocate.  Offering unsolicited opinions about someone’s personal financial life is mostly unhelpful.  But forming those opinions?  It’s gonna happen.  Can’t be helped.  And when someone asks for your opinions, what is so wrong with responding truthfully?

If You Don’t Ask, We Won’t Tell

If you do not want to hear what others think about your personal financial plan or how you are executing it, here is my simple advice:  Keep your mouth shut.  Don’t whine in front of your friends about being broke all of the time as you swipe your credit card for the umpteenth time that day.  If you ask for someone’s opinion, then you are obligated to receive it graciously, like it or not.  If you fire back with the “don’t judge me” retort, you are acknowledging that you are not open to the views of others.  That is arrogance.

One final thought for those that believe that being judgmental is such a horrible personal trait.  Have you ever called anyone “judgmental?”  If so, were you not yourself being …….judgmental?  Oh-Oh.  That’s what I thought.  Score one for Mr. ToughMoneylove.

See you on the message boards folks.  In the meantime, here are some “normal” financial behaviors that Mr. ToughMoneyLove has already passed judgment on.

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8 Responses to “On Money, Personal Finance and Being Judgmental”
  1. MasterPo says:

    Excellent article! I totally agree!

    IMO they don’t like “Judgemental” because someone (you) are making a statement about how they live their life (their life style). And in today’s PC world it isn’t acceptable anymore to say some is right or wrong, just “different” and diversity is to be embraced and celebrated, not judeged.

    ps- Your forum example is faaaaaaaar more accurate than you think.

  2. Evan says:

    I don’t think it has to be a “PC” thing, I think talking about money and personal finances goes much deeper, in our society, then this new found PC Hippie B.S.

    While I agree with your assesment if someone asks for help, but the question is – when they don’t what are you supposed to do?

    I live my life with the mantra, you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors and I think finances are the prime example of that statement. So while I am oppinionated and judgmental,generally, I think passing judgment when dealing with personal finances should be a hard thing to do.

    I actually just (last night at about 12am) wrote a post, which begs the question….

    What makes you and I so differnet? Why are we able to run our lives with the foresight of future payments?

    Sorry for the long comment

  3. MasterPo – Thanks for the comment. Placing money and financial planning topics into the PC domain is just wrong because there are plenty of objective standards that everyone can agree on. Not being broke is one of them.

  4. MasterPo says:

    TML – I agree again. However, look at the world (at least the U.S.) today. I’m sure you know the Biblical phrase “Blessed are the meek”. Someone making $25k at Starbucks is ‘honored’ as middle class while someone who spent years in school and busted their backside to reach a point of making $100k is “evil rich”. And Heaven-for-bid the person actually has savings and investments too!

    Pardon me. I get very worked up about all this.

    ps- Please read my article on learning to handle money (http://pofile.blogspot.com/2008/08/for-crying-out-loud-learn-how-to-handle.html) as it supports a lot of what you said too.

  5. Judgemental? Sure. That’s called using your brain and the values you (hopefully) were raised with.

    In my very direct experience, most of the people who ask for help only want you to identify with them, pat them on the back, or somehow commiserate with them.

    They are not actually looking for a solution. If they were, they would not be wasting time posting useless questions on forums but rather, doing the hard footwork to dig themselves out of their situation.

    We can give our opinions, but they will never matter to most people. I do it in the hopes that it might matter to someone else who reads it at some point – someone who really IS looking for help. Maybe it will make them think just a little bit. That’s worth the time to sit down and write a response.

  6. You just don’t get it… (just kidding)

    I’ve never quite understood people who ask for advice and then accuse people who take the time to reply of being “judgmental” when they get answers that they don’t like.

    Keep on being judgmental- we all are, whether we admit it or not.

  7. Connie: I agree – most want sympathy and empathy, not advice. I’m OK with that but I don’t join in the pity party very long.

    MGL – I’ve gotten to the point where I preface my advice with something like “You are not gonna like what I have to say. Should I tell you anyway?” That puts them in a decision point that sort of gets me off the hook.


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