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Worry About Only What You Can Change

This article was written by in Financial Advice and Advisers. 8 comments.


Two interesting articles caught my eye recently. First, on Get Rich Slowly, J.D. Roth asks when it is okay to judge someone else for their financial behaviors. J.D. describes his encounters with two friends — one friend more frugal than he is, who judges J.D.’s spending choices, and the other friend struggling financially, trying to improve, but not making the choices J.D. would like to see.

The second article is on the blog My Journey to Millions. The author, Evan, expresses how people who refuse to change drive him nuts. His buddy is admittedly miserable but hasn’t made strides lately to improve his condition, and this is touching one of Evan’s nerves.

Both articles made me consider a person’s obligation to help improve someone else’s life by offering advice. First of all, I make an effort not to judge other people, and if I judge their decisions, I generally keep my opinions to myself. If a friend asks, I will gladly share my thoughts to an extent, but I will do so with caveats and disclaimers, just short of asking him to sign a release form.

I wrote about this earlier this year, offering suggestions for handling requests for financial advice.

When I see a friend making financial choices that could significantly hurt him or his family, I might offer some suggestions in a non-judgmental way, but I would only share at an appropriate time if I see that the friend might be open to some discussion. It is best to approach the subject as a concerned friend, not as a “financial expert.”

I don’t expect people to change. Major behavioral change requires a shift in approach or philosophy, and that’s not something that everyone is prepared to do immediately. Some people just like to express their frustration without looking for a solution, and I am fine listening for a while without outlining a path for them to follow. Even after hearing the same complaints for years, I won’t let myself be significantly affected by their decisions. It’s often not my business.

Adults are free to make their own decisions. I don’t control anyone’s choices but my own, so I try not to get upset if someone doesn’t follow my suggestions or doesn’t work to improve their condition even after expressing their dissatisfaction. While I would be thrilled to see my friends as happy and successful as they want to be, I would not want to be so far involved that their disappointment becomes my disappointment.

I can control the choices I make, so that is where I focus. Aside from the decisions I make that can improve the world in some small way, I try to accept the things in the world I can’t change.

Published or updated June 7, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Kevin

I try to stay out of other peoples finances unless they bring something up to me. I find that finances are a touchy subject and other people really don’t like you messing with it, especially if you let them know they are doing something wrong. But maybe I’ve just been bringing it up wrong. Either way I just try to stay off the subject unless asked

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avatar SteveDH

I had a friend once and here is what they did – or – we had the same thing and this is what we did. Never ever say “this is what you should/have to do”. Advice can end a friendship or destroy a family bond. Give examples of successes and then leave them to make their choices. Advice giving is an art form unless your Susie O. Give it with care. Please underline the sentence about never letting “their disappointment becomes my disappointment” – that’s important!

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avatar Money Obedience

Thanks for posting this insight! It gives me validation for my own ideas about this topic. After having read these same posts elsewhere, I was already wondering whether I was the odd ball out. I must add that I liked they way JD presented himself as the “victim” and the “perpetrator” of the same type of interaction. If we really think about it, all of us are often caught on either side of the coin. But we tend to see only the one side on which we find ourselves at one particular time.

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avatar Ace @ aceofwealth.com

This is really great Flexo. I made a similar comment on J.D.’s post, but I believe that what’s important to understand is that no one is going to change regardless of the advice you give them, UNLESS they want to change. And I think your wisdom to first and foremost focus on your own finances is a wonderful Idea.

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avatar Jenna

I think advice to a friend is okay, it’s when they choose not to follow your advice (or anyone else’s for that matter) is when things get hard. I find it annoying when friends get caught in the same situation again and again. But you’re right, they are adults and it’s not your job to fix them. Just to be their friend and listen.

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avatar Donna Freedman

People will change when they’re damned good and ready — maybe. For many, the catalyst is realizing they’re in trouble. Others have to hit bottom really, really hard to change.
And some who hit bottom dust themselves off and get right back into trouble. Not a whole lot you can do except be a supportive friend and offer advice ONLY when asked.
Advice, not judgment. “Have you considered Plan X, Y or Z” vs. “Well, if you hadn’t bought that new car and gone on all those vacations you wouldn’t be in this fix.”
Some people won’t take that advice. That’s not your responsibility, either. All you can do is offer.

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avatar Evan

I completely agree that “Adults are free to make their own decisions. I don’t control anyone’s choices but my own,” but as you can tell from the post I do get upset because not because they didn’t listen to “The Almighty Evan” but because they aren’t pulling their proverbial hand from the fire.

Thanks for the link I am glad you enjoyed the post!

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avatar Doug Warshauer

Never offering advice without being asked is a pretty good rule of thumb, and I can see I’m not the only one who lives by it. But I think it’s thought provoiking that those of us who write about personal finance – and are daily dispensing financial advice to the masses without being asked – are so unanimously cautious about offering advice to those closest to us.

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