Hello! I have a great post from a blogging friend of mine. Lindsay VanSomeren lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with a house full of pets including a dog, two cats, and a husband. She’s currently on a journey to pay back over $80,000 of debt while still enjoying life as a freelance writer, biological science technician, and personal finance blogger at The Notorious D.E.B.T.. When she does have free time, she enjoys learning languages, brushing up on history, knitting, gardening, and otherwise enjoying the great outdoors. Below is Lindsay’s guest post:
Everyone’s got one of those friends—you know, the ones who spend money like they’re on a wild Vegas trip right after payday, only to be completely broke and living off Ramen noodles until the next paycheck comes in.
I know, because I used to be that person.
Over time, though, I learned to manage my money better. Now, one of my biggest struggles is what to do about friends and family who could also clearly benefit from better financial management. What’s the best way to help them? Should I even try? How do I not come off as an annoying know-it-all? How do I not sound like a parent lecturing their kids?
These are some of the tough questions that keep me up at night (why do Americans love football so much? is another one). If you struggle with these issue as well, I’ve got some tips for you.
How I Learned To Manage My Money Better
For my entire adult life until just recently, I always thought that as long as I kept the balance in my checking account around $3,000 I was doing fine. If I had more, I spent it. If I didn’t, I stopped spending. Forget about savings, retirement, and investment accounts.
Besides, I had plenty of excuses. I would make more at my next job, or I’d get a raise at some point. I was just a student, so I thought once I graduated my income would go up to match.
Surprise—it didn’t. In fact, on a per-hour basis, I was making more money in grad school than I’ve ever made at any of my day jobs since graduating two years ago. I expected things to get better, but they only got worse: I made less money, and now I had a $380 monthly student loan payment to boot.
Things were sinking fast. I’d always been bad with money, but now the situation was dire. So, to cope, I did what I do best: I researched the crap out of it. I read books and listened to hours and hours of personal-finance-related podcasts.
Slowly, over time, my financial management skills got better. I won’t say it’s all roses and strawberries now, but if I hadn’t taken action, I strongly believe I probably would have had to declare bankruptcy by now.
Learning how to actually manage my money so I’m not always broke has been incredibly empowering for me. What I once believed were pipe dreams that I could never afford suddenly seemed possible (with a bit of work, admittedly, but still…).
I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, write about it on the Internet, and tell all my friends. I wanted to shake them desperately and say, “Look! We don’t have to be broke! We can do fun things too! We just have to stop buying so much takeout!” Obviously, I never actually did this, because I’m not writing this from inside an insane asylum (but I wanted to).
It’s something I’ve struggled with constantly since learning about managing personal finances. I want to help my friends, but at the same time I don’t want to seem overbearing.
After several trial-and-error adventures (sorry, nameless friends!), I’ve learned a few things about how to deal with these types of friends. Hopefully they can help you as well.
Step One: Do they actually care?
The first step if you want to help your friends out with your amazing knowledge is to discern whether or not they actually care. There are two possible outcomes to this scenario:
In the first scenario, your friend just doesn’t care. If so, you don’t want to push it on them. They might resent you for it, or even consider you rude. It would sort of be like suggesting to an overweight coworker at an office party that maybe they should go for the carrot sticks on the veggie tray rather than the cake slices. It just lacks tact and finesse.
Instead, this person needs something you can’t provide: a personal, driving motivation to do something different. Maybe they still need to hit rock bottom before they realize the err of their ways. Many of us (myself included) needed that kick in the pants to get going. Maybe they’ll never develop a motivation to change. In any case, the only thing you can do here is just to hold your tongue and be thankful you yourself have seen the light.
In the second scenario, your friend is interested in changing but just lacks the knowledge about how to do it. This is where you can actually help them.
Determining whether or not your friend is truly interested in learning more about managing their finances can be tricky. You can’t just walk up to someone and say, “Hey, Bob—do you give a flying hoot about your money?” No one in their right mind would say no.
Instead, use your own intuition to see if they’re open to learning more. You can drop subtle hints, like small things that have worked really well for you. For example, when a friend complained of not being able to afford an auto insurance bill coming up, I told her about how that used to suck for us too—until I started tucking away a small amount each month so that when the bill came due, I already had the amount in full, waiting to be spent.
Step Two: What’s the best way to help them?
If your friend is interested in learning more about how to manage their finances, there are a few ways you can help them. The most important thing is to not brain-dump all your information in one fell swoop or appear too gung-ho about it: it’s easy to be overwhelmed as a newbie, and they’re not as obsessed with this stuff as you. Always keep this in mind. If they stop being receptive, then stop. It’s not worth losing your friendship over.
Wax On, Wax Off
Just like Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, the first thing you have to provide your friend with is knowledge.
If you want, you can offer to sit them down and show them how you do things—but again, be prepared: to a newbie, this will probably be overwhelming. Remember, you didn’t learn this all overnight yourself. Showing someone else what you do might be a great, real-world lesson, but don’t unleash all your knowledge at once. Take it step-by-step, as financial issues come up or as they want to learn more.
Also, I’d think twice about opening your books to a friend if you make a lot of money. Safety aside, sometimes people can get weird when they find out how much you really make, especially if they make a lot less. It’s probable one of the main reasons a lot of the early (and high-earning) bloggers went anonymous—so people in their everyday life wouldn’t treat them differently.
Instead, one of the best ways to help a friend is to help them find help on their own terms. There are many, many sources of financial information out there, such as:
- Radio programs
- Online and in-person courses
In addition to these resources, there are even just as many voices that your friend can resonate with. Do they have a credit card habit? Are they religious? Consider telling them about Dave Ramsey. Do they like heavy metal, and beer (*raises hand*)? Think about the Listen Money Matters podcast. Are they looking for some awesome inspiration? Try the So Money podcast by Farnoosh Torabi.
No matter what their tastes and preferences are, there is someone out there to speak to them. I’ve even had good luck posting about friends in personal finance groups on Facebook (anonymously, of course) and seeing if anyone has any good leads about who might best be able to help them.
Learning the skills is one half of the puzzle; the other is actually implementing the strategies. Just like with any other skill, you can theoretically know how to do something, but it takes time and practice to be any good at it. This is probably why I still play guitar like a two-year-old.
I’m not suggesting that you hold regular check-ins with your friend, but if that’s what they want, then that would work too. Instead, steer them to groups that they might feel comfortable assimilating into.
There are a plethora of groups out there to help hold people accountable. They can be informal groups where your friend can stand back and watch what’s happening until they feel comfortable participating, or formal Money Mastermind groups where small groups of people with similar challenges collectively discuss each person’s situation and choices.
Groups and communities can easily be found on Facebook, and through many blogs and podcasts. Some are paid, and some are free.
If your friend becomes excessively motivated by money topics, you can also suggest they start a personal finance blog. Personal accountability is one of the many reasons people start personal finance blogs, myself included.
No matter what your relationship is like with your friend or how bad (or good) their financial management skills are, always remember one thing: their financial wellness is not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to be their friend; if you can share your financial knowledge, it’s just a bonus.
I like to think of it like this: if my friend was having vehicle problems, I would be more than willing to help, given two considerations. First, my friend needs to be accepting of help. Sometimes, people don’t want help. Maybe they are an amateur mechanic, or they just don’t give care about their car. Second, I need to be able and willing to help. If I have car knowledge, or a truck with a tow strap, I can offer to help them fix it or take them someplace that can.
If I offer help to my friend and they accept, then great! But at the end of the day, it’s not my responsibility to get my friend back up and driving again. I can only offer assistance.
Now, go forth and help your friends (but only if they want help, and do it in a non-annoying way)!
What do you do about non-financially-minded friends? Or, do you think doing nothing is better? Share in the comments!