Poor Money Judgment Loves Company

December 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Money and Behavior

I read a lot of other personal finance blogs. Some of them write about their own poor money judgments. Others talk about the bad personal finance decisions made by readers who contact them.

When that happens, this is typical of what you often read in the comments to that post:

Thank you for telling me about your [insert dumb money decision here]. I do the same thing. I feel so much better knowing that I am not alone.

Is it productive or even helpful to make people feel better about the bad decisions they make with money, debt, or credit?

Mr. ToughMoneyLove doubts that it is. People who engage in repetitive bad behaviors tend to hang out with others with similar habits. They don’t want their own poor decision-making to stand-out or appear different from the norm.

In the world of personal finance decision-making, the “norm” has been far less than ideal. This means that there are numerous opportunities to find people who are traveling with you down the same wrong path.

I can accept that folks who feel hopeless about their financial plight can benefit from knowing that others have been there and recovered. But that’s not what I am observing. I will give you an example.

Last week I read a post written by a 60 year old blogger who is pathetically far behind in her retirement savings. She wastes money constantly, including providing money to her adult children and grandchildren.

This time she wrote about purchasing multiple Christmas gifts for her sister’s family and having to spend (waste) even more for two-day shipping. The sister is, in this blogger’s own words, “rich.”

I left this comment:

I’ve been there, done that but no more. Next year, put the kibosh on intra-family gift giving. My four siblings and I did that last year and it was a great stress and $ reliever for all of us. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, shop at Amazon (if you can’t find it there, it’s probably not worth buying), sign up for a free trial of Amazon Prime and get free 2 day shipping or next day shipping for only $3.99 all through the holidays. Respectfully, you are just bleeding money in the worst ways and at the absolute worst time of your life. You need to take control – now. Good luck.

Another reader took a different approach and left this comment after mine:

Don’t feel so bad …. I am notorious for doing that. It’s nice to know l am not alone.. ;o)

This lame cheerleading is precisely what I am writing about here. In my opinion, it is not helpful to anyone. It is enabling.

When it comes to correcting poor money judgment, the hard truth is better. I want them to feel bad about poor decisions. Don’t you agree?


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27 Responses to “Poor Money Judgment Loves Company”
  1. lurker carl says:

    Although Mae West mused that too much of a good thing is wonderful. Many families simply can not break the cycle of outspending the previous year. Perhaps they feel anything less to be a Festivus celebration instead. Perception is everything.

    The three wise men brought Jesus one gift each. ONLY ONE GIFT. I doubt if they maxed out their MasterCards before hopping on those camels and heading west, even though their gifts were precious.

    As far as cheerleaders go, misery loves company.

  2. Grace says:

    Surely you KNOW that I HAVE to respond to this post, right?

    Check it out on my blog. :)

  3. MasterPo says:

    Is it possible you’re reading too much into the comments left?

    Maybe people just like to know they aren’t the only person in the world who also has made a bad or dumb move in life? Rather than taking it as saying since they aren’t alone in doing whatever it must be OK…

  4. Rick Beagle says:

    Alcoholics Anonymous -according to your theory- would be a complete waste of anyone’s time, but we all know that this is a very successful program. A program that uses their common pain to help others to break their cycle of abuse. While I have not visited the blog, off the cuff the comment reads as “we’ve been there too”, which is far removed from an enabler comment.

    I would however like to know whether anyone left her links on where she might get useful retirement advice? If memory servers, the AARP has an excellent program? My information might be outdated, but it sound like she could use a link or two?

    Peace.
    Rick Beagle

  5. morrison says:

    I hate to break the news to all of you: but unfortunately, all of the people who exist on this planet are merely humans. That means, they make mistakes. Humans, also, are pack animals whereby they like to congregate, stick together and socialize. The only human being that is infallible (so they tell me) is the Pope (but after seeing a mentally challenged female take him down the other day ((2 yrs in a row)) made me rethink even that premise).

    In other words, people make mistakes, misery loves company and despite the best of efforts, human beings just keep chugging along and continue to make the best of it.

    Let’s look at the recent Christmas Day-almost-bombing of Flight 253. Experts are saying that this current incident is the exact same as what happened on 9/11/01. Despite 8 years of human beings playing ‘Security Major’ nothing has been accomplished or changed. How’s THAT for constant human error?

    All that Grace has shown to all of us is that yes, indeed, she is human and yes indeed, she is most loved and respected. Here is a woman who has graciously sacrificed her life to adopt children, care for those less blessed than most of us and has somehow still managed to save for her retirement, manage a rental property and maintain a positive outlook for her future. That’s WAY more than some of the human beings I know, including myself.

    Every single human being is blessed with ‘free will’, whereby we can pick and choose how we want to live our lives. Grace has chosen a generous, non-selfish path and for that I commend her. We need more human beings in this world like Grace. He who is free of sin, can throw the first stone. Do you mean to tell me you have never once made a mistake (financial or otherwise)? If so, the Pope is looking for you. He needs more security officers.

    Grace, keep doing what you are doing. Buy whatever gifts your little heart tells you to, regarding your family and friends. We are nothing more than specks upon this earth and our time here passes quicker than the blink of an eye. Enjoy whatever you can. Be kind to whomever you want. Your good acts will come back ten fold to bless you. You have been steadfastly trying to reduce your debt load, care for your family and simultaneously save for retirement. You are ‘Amazing Grace’. Don’t let anyone, including this jerk from Tennessee, ever upset you ever again.

    No one ever said life is easy. We are all going to make mistakes. Some will learn from them and some will not. The very fact that one can get up each morning and try, try, try again, is all that is necessary. The rest will follow, quite nicely.

    • Why is it that when I point out what I consider to be a mistake in financial behavior, some respond by rhetorically asking if I have ever made a mistake of my own? Did I ever say I have never made mistakes? If you read my original comment on Grace’s post, you will see that I acknowledged that I did. Is criticism of financial behavior reserved to those who have been mistake-free themselves? Second, why do people so often recite a biblical parable about casting stones when addressing criticism of financial behavior? Spending money foolishly is not a sin or even a moral issue – it is a financial survival issue. Finally, to draw comparisons to the incompetence that allowed a crazed Nigerian bomber on U.S. bound flight is nonsense. If that plane had exploded as planned, would you now be saying to the HSA/TSA/CIA; “Don’t worry about it. We all make mistakes. You go girl?” I don’t think so.

  6. Evan says:

    TML,

    I think you (like most of your readers and faithful commenters) get caught up in the lives those bloggers that put their life on display. Since it is being put out there like an open journal people will and should comment (I know I LOVE comments). I don’t read Grace’s blog, mainly because I don’t get into Blogs for the personal aspect, but rather for the information or conversation that an opinion my elicit.

    Your response was honest (albeit Tough), but if that is the the exact response that you would have given one of your sons or clients – then you did absolutely nothing wrong.

  7. morrison says:

    “Your response was honest (albeit Tough), but if that is the the exact response that you would have given one of your sons or clients…..”

    Mr. Tennessee, who died and elected you ‘Commentor Of The Year’?

    If you speak to your children or worse yet, a client, with toughspeak, such as yours, you’d be an awfully lonely man when you grow up plus be penniless because ALL your clients would run for the hills.

    Ever hear about the word ‘encouragement’????? Or better yet, compassion??? We’re supposed to help our neighbors, not kick them when they are down.

    Don’t like religious connotations? Of course not. Because in case you haven’t noticed, only religion teaches humans the values of right and wrong.

    I’m a multi-millionairess and I would never, ever speak to anyone the way that you did! Shame on you! You were (now, get this) WRONG.

    • Morrison – A personal finance blog is no place to get your emotional needs met. As for religion and personal finance, all I can say is render unto Caesar. Lucky for me my clients appreciate straight talk – we have survived and thrived together for 30 years. My kids get it too – and they eventually learn the benefit of it. My job is to be their loving parent, not their friend. But I like your honest opinions about all of this so please stick around. You being a multi-millionairess and all, we might learn something from you.

  8. morrison says:

    TML,
    Writing, whether a personal blog or whatever, is a means for a person to spill their souls. It is a form of comfort. An act of reaching out to others. It is a way for one human being to connect with another human being and achieve, connect, get a response. So yes, the finance blogging can meet ones’ personal needs. Your lack of compassion still astounds me.

    Your clients don’t object to your toughness because they are paying you. Try giving out your ‘free’ advice at a cocktail party and count how many people surround you at the end of the event.

    As for my own children, they are both on their way financially to millionaire status and they didn’t get on that path by my belittling them. Nope. Solely by encouragement and my good example.

    Yes, we render onto Caesar what is Caesars’, but even Jesus Christ admonished the corrupt on the steps of the church. If the government is corrupt, you can tell Caesar where to shove it.

    I come from a long line of millionaires and they didn’t become that way from being cold and uncaring. The family members who did, however, died long, painful and early deaths (my own mother being one of them). Go figure.

    My advice for you this 2010, the start of a new decade, is to show a bit more compassion and yes, understanding to your fellow human beings. Not all of us can be smart, successful and ‘get it’ like you can. It is up to us to be the shinning lights, and practice patience and kindness. There are many millions of hurting people out there who need guidance and leadership. Tough love, my friend, even though valuable in perspective, is not what most people need right now. They need to be explained why their previous ways will no longer work. They need re-education into the future and they need the most kindest of words. They need encouragement. Personally, I start off telling people they are doing a great job….but here….together….if we just make some minor changes……we can soar.

    Grace knew she made a bad decision regarding the shipping charges, and yes, next year, she will vow and carefully prepare and not make the same error. Your beration of her was inept, discouraging and well, look at all the negativity you have created, plus the unhappiness in Grace’s life. Were your ‘better-than-thou’ comments worth the grief? Or could you have accomplished the end result a bit differently?

    Live and learn.

    Something to think about for 2010.

    • Morrison – There is a comment on Grace’s original mea culpa post from a Mr. GoTo. That’s me. Go read it. If I were cold and uncaring, I would have written nothing at all. If the advice in that comment is too harsh for you, for Grace or for anyone else, then you are not my audience. Not a problem. I know I fall close to the jerk side of the spectrum and I’m not an “everyman” PF blogger out here. Unlike some, I don’t pretend to be someone or something I’m not. I hope I don’t die alone. I suppose I should check with my spouse of 32 years about that tonight!

      Also, please read the excellent comment below from cjbr – it makes my point better than I did.

  9. cjbr549 says:

    I’m departing from the confrontational nature of the posts prior to this one, I am going to relate an experience of mine involving the old adage “Bird of a feather flock together”. During my MS I was the TA for the senior design course. During the second half of the semester the class was broken into 3 to 4 person groups to complete their design as group efforts. The proff that taught the class was pretty easy as engineering proffs go, there were generally only a few Ds per semester and only one failed in the four semesters I TA’d (she didn’t complete the course). These groups were structured such that the average GPA of each group was very close to the average for the whole class. The proff had a rule about switching groups, that two people could exchange places as long as both agreed to the change. I still can’t fathom why, but this led to one or two groups having the lowest GPA people in them and one or two having the highest. The dud groups would choose a very easy project and fail miserably and be awarded the Ds. The star groups would choose a very difficult project and do a great job on it. I think if this were finance instead of design, the star groups would have retired nicely while the dud groups would be eating cat food on social security. Maybe we should all go out and eat a can of Special Kitty Meaty Chunks and Gravy once a year for motivation. Then we can decide which group we want to be in.

  10. morrison says:

    CJBR,
    What’s duplicated in a classroom can not be replicated in real, actual life and experience. Any liberal can tell you that. The fact that you have an MBA proves to me you’re just as stupid as the next person.

    TML, you just proved to me ‘all of the above’.

    You’re wrong. Grace deserves an apology from you.

    I retired a multimillionaire at age 50 and got mostly D’s in college. I found my ‘proffs’ to be idiots. Most intelligent, entrepreneurs usually do.

    Those that can, do.

    Those that can’t, teach.

    You’re a joke. You don’t even deserve to shine Grace’s shoes.
    BTW-I have 2 college degrees. They make nice wallpaper.

  11. Evan says:

    “I found my ‘proffs’ to be idiots”
    “You’re a joke. You don’t even deserve to shine Grace’s shoes.”

    Very Christian of you

  12. JimmyDaGeek says:

    People’s problems stem from getting wants and needs mixed up. We NEED food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and medical care. Everything else is extra. How much we choose to pay for each separates the wants from the needs. We talk ourselves into needing wants. Most people never ask themselves whether they need what they are buying, let alone deciding if they need to pay so much.

    Living a conscious, thoughtful life is work. That means having to evaluate and reevaluate one’s choices against one’s tenets. Self-scrutiny is never fun.

  13. Grace says:

    OK, everybody–BACK TO YOUR OWN CORNERS!

    Personally, I like and read both TML’s blog and Morrison’s. I agree sometimes and disagree sometimes with both.

    My real problem is that I’m 60, not 30, so many of the poorer financial decisions of my youth are now impeding a retirement of riches. Nonetheless, I am learning, and it’s a sure bet that my eventual retirement will be in better shape because of it. The original issue regarding “supportive” comments maybe not being actually helpful in the end, is still a good one. I’m not quite sure where I stand on that, except that it does make me feel better to know others have made the same mistakes I have. If that kind of support were to make me feel that I could go on making the same mistakes, then I agree it would not be a good thing.

    Just for the record, TML–I never thought any harshness came from you being a lawyer; I’m pretty sure that is the engineer in you coming out! And for both you and Morrison–my shoes are shiny enough, thank you!

    You can both come out now, but play nice.

  14. morrison says:

    OK, Grace. I’m leaving. But one last point, Mr. Tennessee said this:

    “I’ll tell you what Morrison – You turn Grace into a multi-millionaire with all of your proclaimed entrepreneurial genius and I’ll apologize AND shine her shoes. Everybody wins!”

    Mr. T will respect you Grace, apologize and shine your shoes when you get money and become rich.

    Nice guy, eh?

    I hope his readers (and clients and kids) got a good gander and peek inside this guy and see what makes him tick.

    (PS: to Evan, calling ‘profs’ idiots doesn’t make me less of a Christian. There are a lot of unscrupulous teachers out there. Some of them are even in jail. As to naming TML an idiot, well, he proved that statement to be true all by his ‘ickle self.) I’m not less of a Christian if I call it like I see it.

  15. MasterPo says:

    Morrison –

    I think CJBR’s point is that the duds tended to gravitate to each other while the stars likewise moved to be with other stars (probably feeling they would be held back by the duds).

    As such, the duds took easy projects and yet still failed earning low grades while the stars took hard projects and succeeded thereby earning the highest grades.

    The point being (as I interpret CJ’s post) was that like minded people seek each other out and do as they do. IOW, people who have a problem and want to work it out will seek out help/advise and fix the problem while others just want to commiserate about the problem but not really do much more about correcting it.

  16. Ken says:

    Good financial advice has to have some truth to it. People need to know how their poor habits are affecting their bottom line. Life doesn’t reward victims. Everyone needs to know the consequences of not having a plan OR operating from a bad plan.

  17. cjbr549 says:

    First off Morrison, I don’t have an MBA. As a learning point here, there are Masters Degrees available in many other fields besides business. And the old “classroom can’t duplicate real life” may be somewhat true, but pretty lame. If that’s the case, why would we bother training our military? We could just call up some folks, hand them a rifle and send them to war. Before you start accusing someone of having an MBA and being stupid, you might want to check your facts.

  18. oilandgarlic says:

    I truly don’t see why Tough Money Love was judged so harshly for his honest assessment of Grace’s situation. Her reply post was very honest and showed that she appreciated his comments. It seems her defenders were more offended than she was.

    I have noticed a tendency to ‘enable’ among PF bloggers. In fact, I did a post about how reading certain PF blogs actually made me want to spend more! I totally get the encouragement aspect of it. No one wants to be judged. However, I think we should do both – encourage and also discourage once in a while. If you read a finance blog regularly and that blogger is justifying every purchase, it’s OK to say “hey, step back..a $1,000 purse is not an investment.” You can do that without jumping down that blogger’s throat.

  19. Shevy says:

    Well, I don’t think I’m your audience, nor do I think you are mine. I think that one side effect of making toughlove or harsh comments when a person relates a financial problem they’ve hsd is that it makes people think twice about being honest and talking about areas where they still need to improve! Who wants to write about something and have people jump down their throat?

    I don’t know that saying “I’ve done that too” is necessarily enabling, but I think the most useful kind of comment runs along the lines of “I had that problem too and this is how I handled it”. Not, “You’re wasting money left and right and will spend your retirement in penury”.

    BTW, Grace has a net worth of over $500k, so I hardly think she’ll be reduced to eating Alpo!

  20. JimmyDaGeek says:

    Shevy, it would be nice to solve people’s spending problems in one or two posts.

    But people defend their spending habits to bankruptcy. I’ve read read too many articles and posts where people insist they ‘deserve’ to buy what they want merely because they’ve reached a certain age or have to buy that because someone is expecting it or because they want to, regardless whether they can afford it.

    People insist on spending $3 to $5 a day on Starbucks because they’ve talked themselves into the idea that it makes them feel special or it’s their little “luxury”. Too bad they don’t add up what the luxury is costing them a month. They could buy better coffee and feel special at home for less than half the cost.

    CC companies have succeeded in convincing people to “buy now, pay forever”. It seems more people regard having a credit card balance like a utility — something they are always going to have to pay on. That’s why the CC companies have them trapped.

  21. Shevy says:

    Jimmy, everything you’ve said is true. I spent $25 today on coffee.

    I bought 1 large can of regular instant coffee (makes 260 cups) and 1 large jar of decaf instant (makes 160 cups) for $25 (both on sale & with bonus Air Miles). If I spent $5 per day, Monday to Friday at Starbucks, I’d have spent the same amount. On 5 grande cups of coffee for just myself. The coffee I bought today should last us 4 months or so, with my Hubby averaging 3 cups/day and me 1/day. That’s a big difference.

    However, using a Starbuck’s break as a special treat or as a once a week (or month) cheap date night for a busy couple instead of going out to dinner or a movie or to a club is a responsible way to provide the small treats that keep people moving forward on what is sometimes a long and difficult road back to financial responsibility.

    I sometimes put $20 on a Starbucks card at the beginning of a month and allow myself to go whenever I really want to. When the card is empty, I can’t go again until the next month. It allows me basically 4 visits per month but sometimes the card lasts 2 or 3 months. Just knowing it’s there is enough. Right now I have a $10 card I won at Bouncing Back from Bankruptcy. I went once and still have about $5 left.

    The problem comes when people think they “need” a venti size specialty coffee in order to just get their eyes open in the morning. That’s not a treat. That’s a lifestyle escalation. If you have the income to support that lifestyle, it’s your choice. Most people who act as if they do, don’t.

    None of this, however, really has anything to do with whether or not supportive, encouraging comments are more beneficial to bloggers who are aware of their situation and trying to get their act together than toughlove comments are. The oblivious masses are a totally different situation and many of them will not change until life comes up and smacks them in the face with a job loss, a foreclosure, a repossession or the like.

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