I’m Judgmental (And So Are You)


Over the weekend, I had some interesting conversations with friends and family regarding what people choose to do with their money. Each conversation followed the same pattern:

  1. Story of being judged, reprimanded, or chastised for a particular purchase.
  2. Defense of said purchase.
  3. Judgment of something the other person buys (as proof that they had no right to say anything).
  4. Statement: “I’m not judging. I don’t care what people buy as long as they don’t talk about me.”

Get out your robe and gavel.

Last Friday I preordered the iPhone 4S. To replace the iPhone 4 that I bought six months ago. There, I said it.

What went through your mind just now? Did you think about something to do with wasteful spending, gadget addiction, the “Apple tax”, or the fact that I’m still in debt? Or maybe you thought, I would never spend money on such an expensive phone, especially if I already had a perfectly good one! You may be picturing me in a whole different way right now, and not necessarily a good one.

That’s okay. I understand why people would have those thoughts; in fact I had them myself before I made the purchase. But I decided that the benefits outweighed the cost. For me. I could spend some time explaining WHY I bought a new iPhone, but it really doesn’t matter. You’ve already made a decision about the worthiness of the purchase, and only a made-up story about saving puppies or curing disease would change your mind.

We ALL make judgments about how people spend money.

I’m not going to lie - I judge people all the time based on the things they buy. When I see someone carrying a Coach bag, for example, I shake my head at all that money thrown down the toilet for a purse. It just cracks me up. Same thing when I walk into a friend’s house and see the massive TV overcrowding her tiny living room. Yet I’ll drop hundreds of dollars for the ability to communicate and surf the web from my pocket.

Some people get bent out of shape if someone thinks they’re wasting money. They wear themselves out defending what they bought and trying to convince everyone that the purchase made sense.

Personally, I don’t get too excited about that kind of thing. As long as my friends aren’t borrowing MY money to spend on craziness, does it really matter what they buy? Sure, I may have my opinions about their choices, but that doesn’t mean I have to share those thoughts with my friends.

When judgment is warranted.

There is one time when I feel it’s appropriate to call someone out on their spending - when it prevents them from paying their bills or reaching important financial goals.

If someone tells me they can’t afford their mortgage payment, yet they’re carrying a $500 handbag and talking on an expensive phone AND I know the items weren’t gifts (or purchased during better financial times), you better believe I’m going to get ALL KINDS of judge-y. To the person’s face. Don’t complain to me about your problems when you’re exacerbating them with stupid spending.

But if you’re on top of your finances and you’re not using credit to pay for your stuff? I’ll just privately think you’re silly and be on my way.

What do you value?

I value technology. I love devices that make my life easier and less frantic. I hate saying, “I’ll check that out when I get home,” or “I’ll email that to you when I get a chance.” Because five minutes later I’ve already forgotten.

I DO NOT value high-end clothing, jewelry, or handbags. I don’t need a huge house or luxury car. I don’t have to spend holidays in another country to feel satisfied with my life. But it’s no skin off my back if other people do.

Do you judge people based on what they buy? What do you spend on that earns judgment from others?

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  • http://debtfreebythirty.net Niki

    I think you’re right about our initial reaction to judge. “Well, I would never do that,” comes to mind, but then I remember you’re not me and I’m not you. In general, not specifically about the iPhone.

    I know we spend too much on going out to eat I used to feel guilty about it, but not anymore. We pay our bills, have a budding savings for emergency, retirement and education. If our family wants to go out to eat and not use a credit card so freakin’ be it.

  • Tanner E

    Too true…

  • http://www.CFinancialFreedom.com Dr. Jason Cabler

    I think most all of us judge other people’s spending at times. Especially those of us who pay a lot of attention to our own spending and like to educate others about personal finance. You are right in that it’s really not up to us to judge, but if we see someone who is being really stupid with their money it may be a good idea to speak up. We just have to remember that that advice may not always be well received.

    I teach people in my Celebrating Financial Freedom course that it doesn’t matter what you spend your money on as long as you can afford to pay cash and it doesn’t take away from the today’s necessities and your future. There is nothing wrong with having nice things, but you have to be responsible in how you use your money.

    Keep up the good work Andrea!

    “When you help me with money, you help the world prosper.”- J.M. DuMont

  • http://cashflowmantra.com Cash Flow Mantra

    I am only judgmental of others spending when they can’t pay me the rent that they owe me, like the tenant who is thrilled by a new iPhone but is late on rent. Then I judge because that is stealing from me. Otherwise, I got too many other things to do then care about anyone else’s spending.

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    That’s exactly the kind of spending that drives me insane. Obviously if your tenant is late on rent, s/he can’t afford a new iPhone.

    On a slightly related tangent, I never realized how many people DON’T pay their rent on time. When I was married, we rented for 2 1/2 years and always paid the rent on time (if not early). Despite all our financial chaos, we never bounced a rent check or asked for an extension. I honestly didn’t know how rare that was until my cousin bought a few houses to rent out. His horror stories make me want to go back to my old landlord and say, “Why didn’t you appreciate us?!?!?”

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    Good points!

    A few years ago, I added a friend and her husband to my cell phone plan because they couldn’t pass the credit check to get their own. They had their own separate minutes and the bill went to their address. For a year or so, everything was fine. Then my friend asked me to make a payment “just until we get paid next Friday.” Thus began the pattern of missed payments, phone calls from AT&T, and money out of MY pocket.

    The infuriating part was knowing they could easily afford to pay their phone bill - they were just too busy spending on other nonsense. At that point, I was extremely judgmental because I knew their circumstances. Plus it affected ME.

    I think too many people worry more about what others are doing than what’s going on in their own lives, which is unhealthy. We all spend on things we probably shouldn’t at times, but people need to save all that energy for something else (unless another person’s mistake is costing them money).

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    You know I’ve struggled to get my eating out under control - from both a financial AND a health standpoint. I love restaurants and I love eating good food that I don’t have to cook. But the spending was out of control for MY comfort level so I’ve worked on changing it. Now when I go out to eat, I don’t feel bad - just like you guys, I’m not neglecting other things to do it and I’m not using credit.

    You are in a unique (and awesome) financial position and DEFINITELY shouldn’t feel bad about going out to eat every once in awhile! You can afford it! :)

  • http://twitter.com/prairieecothrif Miss T

    You are so right in this post. As much as I pride myself in not being a judgmental person, I have caught myself thinking “why would they buy that” or “look at what is in their cart” etc.I guess the trick is to try to not do this and correct ourselves when we fall into this trap.

  • http://www.makelovenotdebt.com/ Him and Her

    Thank goodness someone wrote this post. For YEARs we’ve been fending off the judgement on our site. Yeah, so what, we buy some expensive stuff, but we’re also saving like crazy.

  • http://twitter.com/angrymillionair Martilyo

    I feel, as humans, were are judgmental in the way that we compare the actions of others to what we would do. If you remember, I asked you if you were replacing the iPhone 4 with the 4S. You stated you were and the instant response I had in my mind was that it was a waste of money on an upgrade. Then you stated that you were giving your son the your old phone. Then, I didn’t see an issue with it. I feel we get caught up, at least I know I do, by being personal finance bloggers that our friends and readers think our finances should be super strict. We have to enjoy ourselves too while fighting our “debt monsters” or we face loosing our minds. The only difference is that I pay cash for the things I want. If I can’t pay cash, I don’t buy it. I want my net worth meter only to move in 1 direction.

    I had a friend who tried to justify to me that buying a new car was a way to help her get out of debt. She sounded like a salesman trying to sell me the car. ”It sits more people comfortably, better on gas, warranty….” When I asked her how much was the car, then it became “none of my business.” So I was just happy for her (read thought she was an idiot) and kept my opinion to myself. The car she traded in was a late model 2 door with low miles and a $15k loan balance. I am sure she is probably paying close to 30k now. Car fever…it’s an ugly thing.

    I value technology as well. If it can make my life easier, faster and more efficient at a reasonable cost, I am there. I don’t value expensive clothes. I usually wear them until they are not even worth donating. I do judge people on what they buy if they are just going in debt and trying to “act rich.” They are just digging a whole that they will probably never get out of. I don’t think people judge me too much now. Maybe make fun of me since I sold a 2008 Toyota Highlander and bought a 1998 Honda Civic with almost 200K miles. However, they can make all the fun they want. I will be laughing when I am debt free and they are not…laughing all the way to the bank!


  • Anonymous

    Everyone has an internal definition of what is right and what is wrong, and I think judging is one way of expressing that. It is what one does with that internal judgement that is key, I suppose.

    I am probably as judgmental as anyone, but what I think in my head remains my own business. Unless the person in question owes me money, I probably won’t say a word even if I may be thinking all sorts of things in my head. Conversely, as long as I don’t get judged to my face, I don’t really care what people think.

    You can tell I believe in hypocrisy, which is another word for civilization in my dictionary. 

    - Miss JJ

  • Dee

    Hey Andrea!

    This was a really good post, and I must confess, my eyes got SO wide when I saw that you preordered an iPhone 4S. And I’m not trying to be snarky, but this sentence seems like it describes you, no?

    ”There is one time when I feel it’s appropriate to call someone out on their spending – when it prevents them from paying their bills or reaching important financial goals.”

    I’m not an anti-iPhone person or anything (I’m typing this question on a MacBook and my iPhone 4 is next to me).

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    Well, the purchase came from my Christmas fund (my son is getting my 4 as most of his Christmas), so it’s not keeping me from reaching any financial goals. And all my bills are paid, so I’m puzzled about which part of that statement applies. Thanks for being honest about your judgment!

  • Dee

    Everyone has their things, as you said, and technology is yours. That’s what I think of when the whole judgmental conversation comes up: people thinking they are “better” because their “thing” is travel as opposed to tech. To me, neither is better than the other.

    This seems like a different situation, where the question is not “Is this bad because my “thing” is an iPhone 4S?” It’s more of a question of “Is this bad because it’s unnecessary?” I drooled over Siri and the other new features of the 4S during the iPhone announcement, but the phone isn’t different enough from a 4 to seem like a necessary purchase. That’s probably why my eyes got wide, not because it’s an iPhone and I think they’re bad (I want a 4S too!) It’s just, this doesn’t seem like a wise financial expenditure when there are other debts to be paid and savings aren’t that high.

  • http://carefulcents.com Carrie Smith

    I can be really judgmental but the most important thing I’ve learned (and I’m pretty successful at it now) is IF they ask my opinion I will tell them. But if they aren’t interested in what I think it doesn’t bother me at all.

    My sister gets enraged when people cut her off in traffic or almost hit her car by going too fast. She takes it so personally. One day I finally told her “yeah, cause everyone woke up today and decided to run YOU over”.

    We don’t know the reasoning behind what people do, and we come off kind of narcissistic by thinking we know that person’s situation. I try not to jump to conclusions, but as humans we are all very judgmental. Great topic!

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion regarding whether it was a wise purchase. The fact is, that money wasn’t going to go toward debt or savings because it was set aside for Christmas. When my son asked for an iPhone for Christmas, it made more sense to me to use his upgrade to get the new phone for myself and give him my iPhone 4 since it’s brand new. However, as I mentioned in my post, I’m not sure it matters WHY I made this decision - it was mine to make. I paid with cash. My bills are paid. I didn’t ask anyone reading here to donate money for the purchase. So while the purchase may not be necessary for you, it made sense for me.

  • http://twitter.com/angrymillionair Martilyo

    That is exactly why I don’t loan money. I either “give” it to them or simply say no, “I value our friendship/family relationship to have it ruined by money.” I had an ex-tenant tell me that she was going to be late on the rent because money was tight. Later that evening she was carrying in a bag with a carton of cigarettes and a 12 pack of beer. Since she shown me what her priorities were, I evicted her. Sounds mean, but I had bills to pay too…

  • Dee

    No, I understand what you’re saying. I didn’t mean to come off like I was attacking you or anything. Just thought I’d explain my train of thought since the post was about judging and how we evaluate each other’s purchases :)

  • http://bakingbudget.blogspot.com shanendoah@Baking the Budget

    I am a hugely judgmental person. I judge everyone about every thing, usually as an instant, gut reaction. However, I am also really good at keeping those initial reactions to myself and moving past them really quickly. As many have said- if you’re not costing me money and you’re not asking for my advice on how to cut your bills/get out of debt, etc, then the situation has no effect on my life and let’s all just move on.

  • Anonymous

    I probably judge people on a variety of levels, but not on what they buy. I think I judge (evaluate) people based on how the act, speak and appearance.

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    I don’t necessarily judge a person’s character by what they buy, but I do make judgments about the purchases themselves in relation to what I value.

    I know some amazing people who do some stupid (in my opinion) things with their money. I also know deplorable people who are making great choices. Which goes to show that you can’t really judge a person based on what they buy, as you mentioned.

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    I think you’re very self-aware to admit that you judge people! Everyone does, but everyone also has a different level of comfort with admitting and accepting that fact.

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    I agree - we generally don’t know another person’s circumstances (unless they’re family or close friends, and even that isn’t a guarantee). I will never forget helping a college classmate move to a new apartment. The apartment was in the worst part of town - I’ll be honest, it was a dump. About a month after I helped her move, she shows up to class in a brand new SUV. And in my head I’m going, “Okay, you’re letting your kids live in the projects but you’re buying a new car?!?!” Turns out her grandfather died and left her the vehicle (which he purchased with cash). So you never know!

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    I’m the exact same way. I ALWAYS have opinions, but I tend not to share them unless I’m explicitly asked. Or if I’m affected directly.

    People can call that hypocritical if they want, but I think it’s part of being honest with yourself (instead of saying, “Oh I would NEVER EVER judge others!”) while avoiding getting your tires slashed. :)

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    The personal finance community in particular tends to be the most judgmental about spending. I guarantee you, if I said I spent $200 on a pilgrimage to some other country to meditate with monks, people would be commenting, “That’s so amazing, and such a good deal!” But $200 for a phone? You’d think I killed someone.

    I have paid off thousands of dollars in credit card debt over the last few years. Haven’t used a credit card (other than purchases that I immediately paid in full) since 2010. I think I’m justified in using cash to make a purchase for whatever I want to buy. Of course I’m still working on getting out of debt. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy myself too. My definition of “enjoying myself” has changed A LOT - no more charging up thousands of dollars on credit. But this year is the first time in my adult life that I can use cash to buy something I want, and it’s a nice feeling.

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    I’ve seen some of the comments you guys have gotten - it’s ridiculous! So easy for other people to decide how you should spend YOUR money.

  • Yourfinancessimplified

    I used to be very judgmental. But, as time went on I realized that everyone isn’t like me. I’m good enough with the man in the mirror. That’s the only thing that matters these days.

  • http://www.wellheeledblog.com/2011/10/13/expenses-judgmental/ 6 Expenses That We Judge The Most | Well Heeled Blog

    [...] I have to admit that it has certainly crossed mine! Yesterday, Andrea @ So Over Debt wrote about our judgment of other people’s expenses (and vice versa). Inspired by her post, I’ve decided to focus on a list of expenses that always come under the [...]

  • JT

    We rented for a little while. During that time, a check literally got lost in the mail. We always paid on time. It took awhile for the landlord to even call to say anything. When he did, he sounded really worried because he thought we had become sick/died/some other strange thing had happened.

    Long story short, we canceled the check, and sent another. No problem. Not late fee or anything; the landlord knew that we paid on time all the time, and he was just relieved, I think, that one of his better tenants didn’t die in his home. LOL.

  • Red

    I totally do this. I’m not proud of it. For example, I’ve read the blogs of people who are desperately deep in debt, yet they budget for an iPhone data plan. It makes me shake my head.

    I’ve had to teach myself - especially after getting judged myself - that everyone has different priorities. For some people it’s a Coach purse or an iPhone. For me, it’s debt payments. I’m *obsessive* about spending every last penny on debt. And PF bloggers may look at that as a positive thing, but I take it too far sometimes. When I’ve got $7 to last me over a week because I put so much on my debt? I guess I think of it in similar terms now because I don’t *have* to pay off my debt. It’s a choice because it’s not due for repayment until May 2012. I’m choosing to apply every penny to my debt. For some people, that’s not living. They’d rather have an iPhone.

    Like Niki said, I have that initial reaction now of “Oh, jeez!” Then I remind myself that our priorities don’t have to align. Once I’m out of debt, I plan to spend on trips like a mad woman. And I’m sure there will be people out there who think, “Dude, she could have had a staycataion and put that money in an emergency fund or toward retirement.” Everyone’s a critic when it comes to how you spend your money.

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    I will admit, I’ve been kind of slacking on the debt repayment since I paid off my credit cards. I’ve been trying to get a grip on my fluctuating income but I need to just commit to a plan and find a way to make it work. It’s so different now that I’ve moved from small dollar amounts to the giant chunk I owe on my car.

    For me, trips/travel don’t have the allure they do for a lot of people. I’m all for experiencing new things and places, but the costs are often so high I can’t justify them.

    I truly believe everyone makes judgments (hence the post), but I’m fine with that as long as people don’t get in my face. I’m glad to be in a position where I can have a few extras, knowing I could easily get rid of them if I needed to for financial reasons.

  • Well Heeled Blog

    This is a very interesting post! I definitely have moments of “I’d never spend money on________” but the best part is that it doesn’t matter. Different folks, different strokes, different goals and interests. Inspired by your post, I wrote about the 6 expenses that I *always* see maligned in the pf circles.

  • ltjacobs704

    I think we all judge to a certain extent — but I think there are degrees. While I couldn’t care less about the latest and greatest technology, I’m all about the most fabulous cookware and kitchen gadgets! (Even though I have all perfectly acceptable and basic kitchenware to get dinner on the table).

    So, while I may think in my mind “I wouldn’t spend that kind of money on a phone” — it is mainly because that is not a priority for me, so while its not for me, I’m also not thinking “She shouldn’t do that.” Does that make sense?

    Where I get all “judgemental” I think, is when the spending on totally unnecessary things actually hurts someone else. I know of a situation where someone borrowed a large sum from a family member to get through a rough patch several years ago — and when I say large sum, I mean 5 digits large. Now that things have perked back up for the borrower, the borrower has taken several lavish vacations in the past year and the lender has to constantly ask for the monthly payment on the debt and the borrower often has a multitude of excuses as to why the payment can’t be made. The lender is now struggling financially too and I get very judgemental about the fact that the borrower can afford the lavish trips, but can’t pay back the money they borrowed. But, that’s just me.

  • http://www.sooverdebt.com Andrea @ SoOverDebt

    Yep, that makes perfect sense. That’s how I am too. I don’t enjoy cooking (OH, how I don’t enjoy cooking!) so I can’t imagine spending a lot of money on cookware. But that doesn’t mean you can’t.

  • http://insomniaclabrat.blogspot.com/ Insomniac Lab Rat

    Well I would NEVER buy a brand new iPhone, what a waste of money :-p Kidding! (Well, not kidding about me never buying a brand new iPhone, kidding about it being a waste of money for other people)

    Technology is not my top priority-I have an old, cheap computer, a hand-me-down 1st gen iPod touch, and a “dumb” phone. I’m 99% sure I’m going to get a free 3GS this weekend when I renew my contract. But clearly new technology is important to you.

    There are other things that I prioritize that I spend my money on, and it’s fine by me if different people have different priorities. I try not to judge unless someone is not paying his/her bills, or complaining constantly about not having enough money. I definitely judged a lot of my friends in college who went out to bars every weekend, and then complained that their parents weren’t paying all of their bills. But I find that I don’t have such a strong reaction to someone who has a fairly solid financial plan spending here or there on technology/travel/clothes/etc. Maybe I’ve been desensitized by all those college friends!

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  • http://twitter.com/smartfamfinance Shaun Fowler

    I love this post. Personal finance, budgeting, frugality; what’s the point if you aren’t using them to fulfill some need or goal.