telling people what they want to hear

Stop Telling People What They Want to Hear

We love being a part of the personal finance blogger community.

Almost every blogger we’ve interacted with has been supportive, kind, and a great resource to bounce ideas off.

Everyone has experienced the world in a slightly different way, and so the conglomerate of ideas and experiences that make up the PF community mean that there’s something out there that almost anyone can relate to.

Having said that, we’ve noticed something in the personal finance community.

Many bloggers seem to be telling people what they want to hear.

That’s right. We’ve seen several examples where bloggers appear to be encouraging choices that may not be considered wise, especially for those struggling with their finances.

Now, we’re not targeting anyone specifically, and we definitely don’t mean this article as an attack. However, we strongly feel that as givers of personal finance advice we must take care to be very clear about what we’re saying, why we’re saying it, and to whom we’re saying it.

Broad strokes advice that goes against smart financial choices is a recipe for disaster for many of our readers, and it’s our job to make sure we’re not encouraging people to do things they shouldn’t do.

With that being said, let’s delve more into what we’re seeing and why we think telling people what they want to hear is a problem for our community and our readers.

 

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Telling People What They Want to Hear

Again, we don’t want this article to seem like an attack on anyone, and so we’ll refrain from getting too detailed with examples that might identify anyone.

Although we won’t go into specific details, we can say that we’ve seen several articles and numerous Twitter posts that read something like this:

“Forget conventional wisdom, there are plenty of good reasons for why you should do _______.”

Or:

“Everyone needs luxuries. Don’t feel bad or apologize for spending money on things that make you happy.”

These sentiments are nice, and garner a lot of likes and shares, but does this really help anyone?

While the intention is to give people peace of mind about their decisions, aren’t you really just giving people free rein to make poor financial choices?

We think you may be if you’re not putting context around these statements.

 

Why It’s a Problem

The above statements are perfectly fine and relevant…for some people.

The problem is that making blanket statements without the proper context means that anyone who reads it can easily apply it to themselves. Depending on their situation, these articles and statements might be encouraging people to make decisions they shouldn’t be making.

No, not everyone should be buying coffee every day, or opening credit cards, or buying a new car.

Unfair or not, it’s a fact that some people are born with a head start. Some people are more privileged or blessed. Some have more leeway in making their decisions. Some can afford these things, others cannot.

And if you’re one of those that can’t afford it, it isn’t helpful for a blogger you admire to be encouraging you to make that choice.

 

Confirmation Bias

Not only can many people not afford to make the choices that some bloggers seem to be encouraging, but these same people will often look for an excuse to make these decisions even if they know they shouldn’t.

We all know that personal finance is much more than numbers.

Personal finance is also habits, emotions, and desires. We want what we want when we want it, regardless of whether we can really afford it.

And we also tend to seek out information that confirms what we believe and desire while disregarding information to the contrary.

This is called confirmation bias.

We want something to be true, so we look for things that support that belief, further confirming it.

Knowing what we know about personal finance and human decision-making, if an individual with a bunch of debt reads an article or Tweet about enjoying luxuries, what decision will likely come from it?

Will they clamp down on their spending to get their debt under control or say, “to heck with it, I deserve this” and buy something they have no business buying?

It’s already difficult to overcome the impact of emotions on finance, so why green-light that path without at least setting a speed limit?

 

The Job of Personal Finance Bloggers

Listen, we’re not saying you shouldn’t write these articles and Tweet these Tweets. We’re not saying your opinions are wrong, or that they don’t provide important perspective to the mix of personal finance knowledge and advice.

What we are saying is be very careful about painting a broad stroke about a topic that may lead to poor financial decisions for people who can’t afford them.

Don’t tell people what they want to hear without providing context.

We know these articles and Tweets get a lot of attention. People like it when you go against the grain, are controversial, or give them permission to do something they know they shouldn’t do.

We have articles that encourage people to do and buy things that might spell financial disaster for some. The difference is we make sure to include a caveat.

We are VERY clear about who should and should not do whatever it is we are discussing.

For instance, we have several posts about credit cards and travel in which we encourage people to use credit card signup bonuses and spending to get reduced-cost travel or cash back. But we ALWAYS make it very clear that people should only open credit cards if they are willing and able to pay their balance off every month.

We also have posts about hot shopping days such as Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday. Again, we talk about the benefits of these shopping opportunities, but are very clear about how you should utilize them.

These topics are not presented as a free-for-all or an excuse to do something, but as a strategy that can be utilized IF you fit a criterion and will use the strategy in a certain way.

We put context around the things we say in our articles by disclosing who we think might benefit.

 

Moral of the Story

Personal finance bloggers are a wonderful group of people with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.

All our voices are needed to discuss finance topics from multiple perspectives and to ensure that there is something out there for everyone.

However, as personal finance bloggers we also have a huge responsibility to present advice that is relevant, helpful, and most importantly, realistic.

What we don’t want is to give people the green light to make financial choices that they shouldn’t be making, and that they will ultimately regret.

We’re here to enable change, not bad habits. We’re here to encourage people to be better with their finances, and to administer some tough love if necessary.

Write outside the box, just make sure to add context around any advice that goes against the grain of conventional “good” financial advice.

For the sake of your readers, stop telling people what they want to hear.

Talk about Money Saved.

 

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Tawnya Redding

Tawnya is an elementary special education teacher by day and co-blogger at Money Saved is Money Earned by night. She holds an Honors BS in Psychology from Oregon State University and an MS in Special Education from Portland State University. She has had a pretty successful writing career, first as a writing tutor at the Oregon State University Writing Center, and in recent years, as a freelance writer. Tawnya and co-blogger Sebastian have a wealth of knowledge and information about personal finance, retirement, student loans, credit cards, and many other financial topics. They teach people how to save money, make money, and understand money.

1 thought on “Stop Telling People What They Want to Hear”

  1. You make a good point. I think one of the problems with providing context is the brevity of a standard blog. Usually a post runs from 1,000 to 1,500 words, much longer than that and you are headed into TL;DR territory. Another is that everyone is striving to catch eyeballs with their titles and the first few sentences of their posts. Controversial sounding ideas like, its OK to buy that latte, draw readers in by creating curiosity in their minds. When you add the caveats and context that anchor the controversial sounding idea into an overall sound financial strategy you risk boring the reader, and worse, maybe losing the reader. I think we are all tempted to be a little edgy in our writing and that does contribute to some very easily misunderstood “advice”. I’m not sure there is an easy answer and I agree it is a real thing.

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