Nobody Cares What You Think

Meet Frank. Frank doesn’t have a picture, because he doesn’t exist.

Frank is your friend, and he’s terrible with his money. He smokes, gambles, drinks and eats out practically nightly. He’s got an expensive car and does his best to impress the ladies by throwing around the cash. He spends too much money and then when it runs out, he just cracks out his credit card. He’s slowly drowning in a pool of debt, and he’s not slowing down anytime soon. Frank is the antithesis of most everybody who regularly reads this site.

Because Frank is a good guy, you decide you’re going to help Frank get his finances back in order. So you sit down with him, over an adult beverage at your place (because that’s cheaper than going to the bar and you’re frugal) and you tell him your plan. If you can cut a mere $500 per month from Frank’s extravagant lifestyle, he could pay off his debt soon and start saving for retirement. If Frank could find a way to cut his expenses $1000 per month, he would be well on his way to financial independence and early retirement.

As you lay out your plan, Frank quietly nods in agreement. He’s no idiot, he can see the merits of your plan. You two part agreeing that Frank can easily get his finances in order, all it’s going to take is some hard work.

A few weeks later, you and Frank meet up again. How’s his progress?

Frank has accomplished nothing.

Why Can’t People Change Their Habits?

There are all sorts of reasons why people spend too much money. They might be trying to impress people. They might be overcompensating for something. They might not be very good at math. There are a thousand psychological reasons to explain why a lot of people aren’t good with their money. But we don’t care about any of that, because I can sum up why a lot of people suck at money in one sentence.

It’s because they don’t care.

Going back to our imaginary friend Frank, it’s not that he doesn’t care about money. Of course he does, and of course he would like to have more of it. It’s just he doesn’t care enough about getting ahead. He’d rather have nice things now than wait and have them in the future. He’d rather have a nice car than a fully funded retirement account. It’s not that Frank is stupid, it’s just that Frank is shortsighted.

How many real life Franks do you have in your life? And how do you help them?

Stop Giving Unsolicited Advice

A little over a year ago, I was unsatisfied with my weight. I ballooned to 270lbs, which is pretty heavy even for a tall guy like me. (I’m 6’3) I decided that I was going to lose it, so I started working out and eating better. Slowly, the weight started melting off. Eventually, I reached my goal weight, and today I am a comfortable 215lbs. I like to refer to myself as a recovering fat man.

When I was losing weight, guess how many people had an opinion on what I should do to accelerate the process? Everybody. As soon as someone found out, they dug some useless nugget from the back of their grey matter and tried to apply it to my situation. Out of the hundreds of people who gave my weight loss tips, I probably listened to two people. I didn’t care about everyone else’s advice because I didn’t ask for it.

When you sit down your friend and tell him that you can turn around his finances, you’re committing the exact same sin. He doesn’t care what you have to say about his situation. And because he doesn’t care, he’s not going to take your advice. You might as well talk to a piece of french toast.

Change Starts From Within

Your friends are not going to change their habits until they get a good reason to. You know how a druggie has to hit rock bottom before they’ll put down the crack pipe? The same principle applies to finances. Maybe they won’t hit rock bottom, but something will happen that’ll shock them into change. That traumatic event isn’t going to be your gentle nagging, no matter how good your intentions.

The impetus for any good journey starts from within. Until somebody decides to take the steps necessary, nudging them in the right direction is useless. Nobody wants your unsolicited advice. In fact, you may be doing more harm than good by continuing to give it out.

Thoughts?  How much PF advice do you provide without being asked? Do you think others really listen to you?

51 comments to Nobody Cares What You Think

  • Nelson, I was just going to say that I agree with you but then thought better of it. You say that people won’t change their habits ‘because they don’t care’. Actually, the don’t change habits because they care about something else – this is very different; if they only don’t care about what you are giving change may not be that hard, but if they care too much about somoething else then better forget the change. In PF terms, there are people who care about security and building reserves (riches) and others who much prefer pleasure now and hedonism. Who is right? Well, I believe that both positions have problems – storing for the future means you have to get there but what happens if you drop dead; hedonism is dangerous because there will be nothing when ‘you get there’.

    I don’t give advice – this is not likely to be taken up (because different people care about different things at different time) and people should pay for advice. I offer opinion and try to make people examine their life, choices, resources and decisions. This is my gift to my readers; or curse, depending on how one looks at it.

    • Nelson Smith

      I don’t really agree with Maria’s comment, but I can see the logic behind it. If that makes any sense. Easily the best comment of the thread, well done Maria.

    • I agree with Maria. Just because people might not care about the same things you care about doesn’t mean they are wrong and you are right. Or that your way is superior to their way. It’s just different. People have different priorities, and while you might believe your way is best (and maybe it is), they may feel just as strongly that their way is best. Different people care about different things. If they find that their way isn’t working for them, they’ll find another way. Until then, it’s none of your business, and who are you to judge?

  • Excellent article. I stopped giving unsolicited advice when I realized that people aren’t going to take it to heart. If someone asks, I’m more than happy to talk with them, but even if someone is making what I think are glaring mistakes, I figure it’s not my business.

    • Nelson Smith

      Even when people ask, I’m often light on the advice, at least until I can see them actually taking steps to improve their situation.

  • This is SO true. I’ve tried to talk to a friend who spends like it’s going out of style, yet she’s 50K in debt. I can’t fathom how she does it. Anyway, she acts like she doesn’t spend that much but then she goes and drops $50 on some slippers and eats out every single night. Not to mention the vacations, the new cars, and the Whole Foods addiction.. but she’ll only change when SHE wants to.

    • Nelson Smith

      “but she’ll only change when SHE wants to.”

      Exactly right. Until then, see if you can convince her to buy you dinner a couple times. Free meal!

  • I don’t even discuss personal finance unless someone else brings it up and even then I am cautious. I realized with family members that it bothers me when they talk about their money problems and I provide a solution which they ignore and then complain to me about the same money problem later. I am less resentful if I just keep my mouth shut.

    • Nelson Smith

      Same with me. I hardly ever talk about money with my friends, and they all know I have a PF blog. I’m kinda glad they don’t ask me for advice.

  • I know a particular couple that act a lot like this. They are about 400k in debt between their house, the trip to Europe, the trip across the states, the 2 cars, the 2 kids, and the living like upper middle class folks for the last five years despite having no income because she is in med school. They don’t see it as a problem because the bank was so willing to lend them this money.

    When speaking with them about money, I don’t give advice. Instead I explain how I manage my finances, and hope that they take some interest in what I have said. I explain why I want to get out of debt sooner instead of just making the scheduled payments, and how I budget. But if they don’t want to hear the advice, they won’t hear it, so I don’t give it.

    • Ahh, I was writing my comment (below) while you posted this one and its a terrific point. I think this is the great strategy. Rather than giving advice, lead by example. Eventually when people do find a reason to care, then they will have an ingrained model to follow.

    • Nelson Smith

      Well, you should lead by example because it’s the way to get ahead financially, not because you’re looking to be a good influence.

      I’m not sure I agree that explaining the way you do things isn’t giving advice. Sure it is. You’re saying that it works for you, and therefore implying that it should work for everyone else too. As far as I’m concerned, that’s advice.

  • While there will always be exceptions, I think its within human nature to be indifferent to something that doesn’t personally affect them. You could apply this to so many things. People aren’t motivated to lose weight until they have a health crisis. People don’t tend to speak out against issues unless they have been personally affected by the issue in the past. People won’t learn to save money until they have a financial crisis. Every process in the world strives for efficiency – it is inefficient to spend time thinking about or acting on something that we don’t believe is necessary to our everyday life.

    • Nelson Smith

      Exactly. Nobody has the time (or desire) to care about everything all at once, so certain stuff gets ignored. It’s all fine and good until you wake up one day in debt to your eyeballs.

  • Kari@Small Budget Big Dreams

    What’s that old saying? “You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make him drink”? That’s sort of how I feel about helping others who don’t really want help. Being a social worker and a personal finance wanna be I think it’s sort of in my “blood” to want to help people. It’s hard when they don’t want the help. I’ve learned over time that it’s useless to try to help people who don’t want to help themselves. Over time maybe they’ll change their minds and then I can be helpful.

  • Marina K. Villatoro

    You’re right there are tons of people like Frank. However, living internationally in Central America for the past 10 years, I have a different perspective where people here live hand to mouth due to the low wages, they don’t even understand that you can put a little away.

    However, in the US, I see the opposite problem, people earning well and yet living hand to mouth too, buying crap that is sooo useless it makes me cry and then they complain they don’t have money saved for the retirement.

  • I know a lot of Franks. In fact, we tried to help a Frank once and Frank clearly stated that friends should not discuss money. Frank has a financial planner and would prefer to talk to him instead.

    The thing is that money is a taboo subject for many friends (although it shouldn’t be!) and friends feel like they are being judged. It depends on the friend, of course.

    I think the best way to help the Franks of the world is to send them over to a web site like this one. That will make them feel more anonymous and let them help themselves. Allow them to understand that there are options and that there is a way out.

    Great post!

    • Nelson Smith

      “The thing is that money is a taboo subject for many friends (although it shouldn’t be!) and friends feel like they are being judged. It depends on the friend, of course.”

      Good point. I know certain friends who wouldn’t take my advice if I told them to start to breathe. There’s something about unsolicited advice that can make people defensive.

  • I don’t usually discuss money unless it’s clearly a welcome topic. We’ve had plenty of our own money troubles despite a frugal lifestyle (unemployment will do that to you), but we’re working our way out of it. It’s a drag not getting to do a lot of the things others do, but it will work out in the long run.

  • At the risk of sounding cold-blooded, when I encounter a financial planning prospect like “Frank” I tell him that I’m probably not the right advisor for his unique situation.

    • Nelson Smith

      Part of being in your business is knowing which customers are going to aggravate you. I’m glad you can identify problem clients and punt them, many other FPs would take them on anyway.

  • It’s true. People will not take advice, often even when they ask for it. If they get in real trouble they might start imitating you, but they won’t ask too much. Example is the best teacher, IF the person is at a teachable moment. And the teachable moment occurs when they are in a world of hurt.

  • First about Frank. Perhaps he considered following facts:
    – That past performance could not predict future.
    – What a coincidence! S&P 500 ended the year of 2011 within 0.01% of where it was at the beginning of the year.
    – Only 202 of the 500 biggest companies in the United States in 1980 were still in existence 20 years later.
    – On December 29, 1989, Tokyo’s Nikkei stock average reached its all-time peak of 38,915.87. Twenty years later, the Nikkei has never again reached that level — and, in 2009, reached a new low of 7,054.98.

    Only once you will be 20, 30…is there a point to feed bankers now, or enjoy your life, while you can?

    Second I do not give any financial advice to any body. I am looking for advices myself, that is why I openly publish all my investments and do blogging. I think there is a wealth of experience out there and I am after it.

    • Nelson Smith

      Not sure what the first part of your comment had to do with the post. All you’re doing is cherry picking negative things. But, I do agree with your not giving financial advice to anybody. It’s more simple that way.

  • A prophet has no honor in his own house (or something like that). Best to just let the Franks of this world keep on buying rounds of drinks, and hope they’ll eventually wise up.

  • People can change their habits…but it usually takes something HUGE to push them in that direction. These types of “Significant Emotional Events” (aka SEE’s) are the catalysts of change. In my family’s case- it was a business failure & bankruptcy.

    Of course, it’s not guaranteed a SEE will make people change. They still have to WANT to make the change or have no other choice. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you run out of options.

  • Julie @ Freedom 48

    I think there’s a real correlation between financial management and weight management. Both require self control and a focus on the long term. Both can be easily preached to others, but unless they want to do it for themselves, you can’t do a darn thing.

  • Great point…you can’t help anyone who doesn’t want to be helped. It may be painful for you to watch them struggle, but trying to help when they aren’t ready isn’t going to matter. They have to have that “ah-ha” moment. It doesn’t matter if it is money, drugs, alcohol or anything else. I know personally for me, I will work out at the gym and then take some time off to let me body rest. I can’t go back in a set number of days. I just have to let myself tell me when I’m ready to go back. Sounds weird, but it’s how it works.

  • I couldn’t agree more. I know several friends/family members who have already admitted that they have spending problems, but fail to change anything for any long period of time. It’s sad really…

  • I give out unsolicited advice all the time, it’s called being a Parent!

  • Emily @ evolvingPF

    I had a different observation during my weight-loss period. Very few people offered me advice, but so so many asked me what plan I was on, what I ate, how much I worked out, etc. Only one of the tens of people who asked me these types of questions successfully lost a lot of weight following our conversation. Those friends and family members may be a little interested in my success, but they cared more about maintaining their current lifestyles than improving their health. And that’s their decision.

    I think that’s what happens when we try to “lead by example” in personal finance as well, except it’s a lot easier to be discreet about your bank account balances than your shrinking clothing size! When friends hear that my husband and I have Roth IRAs even though we’re in graduate school they usually inquire about how or why or in what, but rarely do any actually open that type of account. I’m more than willing to chat about my PF strategies, but it’s information that I’d rather they pull from me than push it on them.

  • The reality is that some people are open to advice, but many people that are seemingly open to advice are really looking to hear things that confirm what they already believe. Even if it’s totally irresponsible.

    I think that it’s ok to give genuine, well meaning advice to those you know very well. But we should do so respectfully and knowing boundaries of how far to go with advice. Also, knowing that they might just ignore us, think they’re smarter, and continue to do dumb things. But hey, at least our conscience can be clear if we try a little bit.

  • Squeezer @Personal Finance Success

    You just made me realize that I give unsolicited advice to friends. I should probably shut my mouth from now on.

  • Bret @ Hope to Prosper

    I love to help people, so I used to hand out unsolicited advice. But, I quickly figured out that it’s ineffective and annoys your friends. Now, I wait until they ask first, but they rarely follow through. Most aren’t willing to make the sacrifices to get ahead. I figure if I help out just a couple of people in my lifetime, it’s well worth it.

  • Serena@ThriftDiving.com

    This post hit the nail on the head. The end of last year a friend of line who I thought was a gung ho as I about improving our finances, we started a money group, along with one other friend. We were to set goals for ourselves, like set up a budget….cancel cable in order to use that money towards credit debt…..use cash only…. Blah, blah, blah. It was all agreed upon. YET….. At the next meeting, my friend will have done nothing. Finally, the meetings just fizzled out. Recently I asked (more so rhetorically) “hey, what ever happened to our money group?” She replied that we could start it back up. I responded with honesty that it felt like a waste of time meeting, etc, and she admitted she wasn’t really interested.

    The interesting part is that she doesn’t care. Just like you said. She doesn’t have to speak those words outloud for me to know that. It’s not important to her. Even when we called herself wanting to start this group, she was more about the talk if it than wanting to do the hard work to make progress. So she did nothing. And she couldn’t take the heat when I would call her out for her poor decisions. So she quit. And today she is still walking around with $30,000 in credit debt and continuing to waste money on things that are trivial.

    I’ve started my own money group of one. Lol. And I am continuing to live thrift. I buy all my furniture from thrift stores and refinish it myself. And you’ll never know my dining room table only cost $12.00. Lol. Now unjust need to start putting more towards my own $3k credit card!

  • Linden

    GIving advice to someone who did not ask for it is like teaching a pig to sing—wastes your time and annoys the pig.

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