When it Comes to Money, One Size Does Not Fit All

Last week I got some unsolicited advice about personal finance blogging. “You have to spend more time urging your readers to take action,” the person said. “People need to be told what to do.”

At the time, I nodded my head and responded calmly, “Okay. That makes sense.” Later, though, when I was alone and had a chance to reflect on the conversation, I was struck by the absurdity of it all and started laughing uncontrollably. Do people really need or want to be told what to do? Not the people I know!

A Matter of Perspective

There are two ways to make a point - you can be authoritative and shove it down someone’s throat by force, or you can provide information for the person to use in a way that makes sense to them (or not at all).

To be fair, the person who suggested I tell people what to do has one of those slick personalities that is well suited for selling cars or door-to-door life insurance. When you focus on “selling” to others, you develop a knack for convincing them of what they want or need, no matter how much they may protest in the beginning. If I spent years trying to get people to buy things, maybe I, too, would believe that “people need to be told what to do.”

Here’s the thing - I am a salesman’s worst nightmare. I’m skeptical, I do my own research ahead of time, and I’m not the least bit afraid to walk away. I’m also a licensed therapist with 11 years of training in “starting where the client is.” In other words, my former career helped me learn about people in a much different way. I’m not interested in whether or not someone wants to buy what I’m selling; I want to know why they choose one or the other. And I’m not invested in the answer because I believe people deserve to make their own choices with the information available to them.

How to Get Someone to do Something

I can’t speak for anyone else, but if you really want me to do something, there are a few ways you could go about it.

You could tell me I have no other choice. And I would respond by finding ANY possible way not to do it, just because someone said I had to and I’m stubborn.

You could tell me it was impossible. This approach has merit because I like the idea of beating the odds. However, I would have to believe it was possible myself before I’d try it - if I agreed it was impossible, I wouldn’t bother.

You could present all the options, making a strong case why that particular choice is better for ME. This would come closest to getting me to act in a certain way, though I would still have to buy into your line of reasoning.

Or You Could Let People Make Their Own Choices

If you’ve read my About page, you know that I’m not a finance professional. I’m not a banker. I’m not a CPA or CFP or any of those cool acronyms that some finance bloggers get to put after their names. I’m simply a person who got in a lot of debt and made a ton of mistakes, and now I’m sharing what has worked for me in trying to dig my way out. (With the added bonus of two college degrees that do make me qualified to talk about the motivations behind human behavior, which is what I write about most.)

I’m not a fan of telling people what to do, both because I don’t like to be told what to do AND because I don’t think it’s helpful for most people. Now, if you give me a situation, I can tell you what I would do if it were me. Or I can tell you what I did in the past if I’ve experienced that situation personally. I could even tell you about my cousin’s girlfriend’s friend and what she did in that situation. That information may or may not help you in YOUR decision-making process.

I will never tell you what to do because I don’t live your life. I don’t live in your house or raise your kids (thank God) or do your job. I blog about money and debt because I like to share information about my experiences. My goal is simply to encourage you to think differently about your financial situation if it’s not working for you, and to understand some of the patterns that could affect the way you deal with money. I also know a lot about crappy financial situations because of my history.

There are plenty of people who are qualified if you need specific information. If you have questions about taxes, go see a CPA (or read a CPA’s blog). If you want to learn how to build a house on a budget, go look up Bob Vila. But if you want to read about debt and overspending from someone who knows (and isn’t going to tell you what to do), you just might be in the right place.

So, Do You Like Being Told What to Do?

How do you respond when someone tells you what you “should” do or how you “should” act? Do you prefer concrete instructions, or would you rather interpret information according to your lifestyle? Does it depend on the situation?


When it Comes to Money, One Size Does Not Fit All22 Comments

  1. I think it depends on the situation. I don't always like when people are critical and are practically yelling at me to do something. I'm the type of person who likes to do my own research.

  2. I really don't like being told what to do unless I ask.

    I believe some people can be told what to do but I don't think it's many. The way I typically see work the best (even in my primary job) is that you tell a story that can relate to the person. If that person can then see themselves in your story and truly relates, then they'll take the proper action based on the moral of the story.

    For instance, if I talk about Long-Term Care Insurance to a client, it doesn't do a ton of good for me to just tell them to "buy it." But…when I ask them if they have a mom/dad that is needing long-term care, or if I talk about a client who didn't have insurance and had to go live with their children and burden them for the remainder of their life…well, then the answer of whether or not you should buy long-term care insurance is quite clear.

    • That's a great example, and it's exactly the kind of situation I was thinking about. People need to be able to see themselves taking an action, whether it's buying something or saving money or doing just about anything. By providing them with what you DO know and letting them see how it might apply to their own lives, you empower them to make the best choice (but you don't have to make it for them). Remind me to have you talk to my parents about long term care insurance - I REALLY love them, but I REALLY don't want to change their diapers when they get old!

  3. I definitely don't like being told what to do! The best example I can think of is with budgeting… I am a horrible, horrible budgeter if I use the standard with a multitude of line items. Discovering the balanced money formula changed my relationship with money in the best way possible.

    I would say being provided with options and figuring it out on my own works best, but I certainly don't expect options to all come from the same place. It's called personal finance because it's personal!

  4. I hate being told what to do. In fact, if you tell me what to do, I'll probably do the exact opposite just because I want to be a stubborn ass. I may even make a snarky comment or write a blog post about it :) However, when I'm presented with a dilemma, I'll research my options or read what others have done in similar situations. Then I'll take that information and decide for myself what I need to do. I'm an adult. I don't need orders barked at me.

  5. You can't ever really tell someone what to do, no matter how you do it, it will only be a guide. You can tell someone not to go to starbucks but in the end, they still have the choice to. They can either follow your guidance and not go or they could still go.

    The way I see it, telling someone what to do is just a different way of guiding them. You could also just relate pass experiences to them and they can choose if to take any kind of guidance from it or not. You can't change someone unless they want to change, all you can do is advise them and hope they go in the direction you would like to see them go.

    The best way for someone to learn is to make their own mistakes and successes. In the end it's personal, and everyone has the freedom of choice.

  6. Now normally I hate being told what to do, and I will dig in my heels and throw a temper tantrum to rival caffeinated 2-year-old, unless, of course, you are providing practical instruction in how to put something together. Lord knows I need all the help I can get with all things mechanical and construction related. So yeah, just put out the options and let me figure it out.

  7. I'm a lot like you, the second someone tells me what to do, I do the opposite even if it means shooting myself in the foot. My banker mother gave me all sorts of lectures about money, but the only ones that stuck were the ones where it was most of a discussion rather than a mandate. That's why I like your approach, say this is what works for me, perhaps you'd like to try it/ listen and make your own decision.

  8. I am always willing to take advice from other people. Whether or not I follow the advice depends on the situation and my feelings of whether the advice is good or not. A lot of people are more experienced in areas that I might not have any knowledge in, therefore their opinion might mean something to me. I am more of a give suggestions type of guy, put some options out on the table and if they decide to follow one, cool. If not, then it doesn't really matter because they have the option to make a choice. You can't force someone to take action, giving them some advice helps, but ulitmately they have to make the decision.

  9. I definitely don't like being told what to do. Giving options and the whole picture of everything is much better for everyone as a whole.

  10. Great topic. I'm with you. If you are looking for someone to tell you what you "must" do, then I'm not your guy. Regarding those acronyms, usually those type of bloggers will be telling you what you must do because they get commissions from selling these products.

    Personal finance is about individuals, and it's about attitudes. Take from my advice what you will, but you will never hear me saying you must do something. If you buy into what I'm talking about, I have some best practices to share, but if you want to do your own thing, I'm not mad at ya.

  11. When bloggers or journalists offer advice, most of it is geared toward someone living a different life than I am. (For those that are more like me and write interesting and inspiring posts, I scoop up those blogs and keep them in my feed.) Because I don't have credit card debt, or children, or a car, or like fancy clothes, or want to travel the world, most of the advice doesn't apply to me! (At least not yet — I pay more attention to posts about budgeting for a family and buying a first home, etc.) I use what I can from those recommendations, but I don't swallow them whole. I'm much more inclined to heed advice from someone who knows me personally and understands my goals.

    I like considering others' advice, as long at they understand (and don't resent) that I may make a different choice. I think it's good to have the extra information, and I particularly like hearing from people who have done something similar and want to share their experiences and recommendations.

    For my blog, I feel like you do: "I blog about money and debt because I like to share information about my experiences." I don't write a lot of financial education stuff, because there's plenty out there. I just try things, share my successes (and sometimes my disappointments), and generally live by example.

  12. I was a corporate trainer for awhile and we talked about "efficacy" a ton. Teaching people how to do things was irrelevant if they wouldn't change. The key with good training was to listen and to teach them in a way that they'd actually improve.

    Obviously, this meant that the best trainers were incredibly flexible about their methods and were great listeners.

    For me, it's showing me the top of the mountain and telling me what the weather is like up there. If you show me a path and I can follow it, then I'm likely to proceed. Brow beating me is never effective and I nearly always will balk if you tell me I should use a product because you do.

  13. I'm stubborn to the point of insane. I will find a way to do something if you tell me it can't be done-but reverse psychology doesn't work on me too well. I usually know when someone is trying to tell me not to do something simply so I will. I much prefer an honest, up front, here are the choices/risks/opinions, now make up your mind based on that. I've always learned by doing. I do not like shoving my choices down someones throat simply because even if it worked for me, chances are it can fail for someone else. Advice is great-both in the giving and recieving of it-but doesn't always apply to every situation.

  14. Hell to the no. I love this post, and I love you. I had no idea you were a therapist! :)

    I really hate, ok ABHOR, when people tell me what to do. I have spent most of life listening to others, especially my parents, and I truly regret all of those times. It was nice when my grandma told me to clean my room and stuff, because that taught me a lot about responsibility, but as an adult - it's not nice being told what to do, I'd rather someone give me advice. Or is that the same thing, just in a nicer way? I like constructive criticism.

  15. I think most if not all do not like to be told what to do. If they did we wouldn't have many rebelling. I don't mind being told what to do sometimes but that's only if it's coming from certain peers in my life. Other then that let me make my own choices. How else will I learn.

  16. I think the consenus does not like being talked doewn to when being offered advise or judgement. I think the way to inspire people is to relate with them. I want everyone to be have peace with their finances and some people find that in different ways - not necessarily bad or wrong, just different. I do encourage all with debt to make room for savings, because the day always comes where you have debt AND unforseen emergencies that are usually expensive. That is the one area I do get a little pushy about - but it is because I lived that nightmare many times over.

    Thanks for reminding us all to examine how we offer advise!

  17. I think it depends on the situation. I don't mind being told what to do, that doesn't mean I will do what I am told. I definitely will do my own research or reach out to a few trusted people to validate the decision.

  18. People aren't going to do anything until they are good and ready to do it. It doesn't matter if you tell them. There is enough information out there for people to make good decisions and yet they don't.

  19. I think people are really just looking for advice. I really like your blog because you have lived through this experience and you like an alcoholic (debtaholic) understand what I (we ) are going through. Once a compulsive spender, the ugly demon is always purring, waiting to convince you to let him out. I think you understand this. Getting out of debt is a long HARD process. You also understand this. When someone puts an experience out on the blogs I believe they are looking for support whether it is a debt payoff or a stupid financial move. None of us got here over night and we won't get out over night either. We need to be helped ,coerced and convinced. Don't you just love being a mother to all of us!

  20. I hate it when people tell me or strongly imply that I should do something. Usually I'll end up doing the exact opposite. I'd much prefer to be offered information to make my own choices. :-)


  21. Funny you should publish this because just today I was saying that there are blogs that speak 'with the voice of autority' and others that set up a market place - a space where information is offered and people are challenged to think for rhemselves and decide what is best for them. I di the latter - I like to tease and provoke; I can offer my opinion and I share my experience. But I don't do advice!

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