The art and practice of personal finance has afforded Mrs. 20SF and me many wonderful things. It allowed us to pay off students loans. It allowed us to pay off a mortgage early. It allowed Mrs. 20SF the opportunity to return to school and completely change careers. It allowed us the peace of mind to not have any concerns about where money would come from to pay off medical or other emergencies. It has mostly removed financial disagreement from our marriage (do any long-term relationships ever get to 100% on that one?). And, it allowed me to FIRE from corporate life, in the middle of a pandemic, at a young age, without concern for how we will pay the bills.
In other words, sound personal finance practice, mixed with hard work and a lot of luck, has been really good to us. My enthusiasm for personal finance led to the creation of this website, which has become a significant part of my identity for the past decade plus. And at the present moment, I’m more of a believer in the positive benefits of personal finance than I’ve ever been before. But, in spite of all of the high praise I have for it, I’ve completely stopped proactively bringing up personal finance to friends and acquaintances in real life interactions with others.
For many years, I looked for openings to spread the personal finance gospel. And there were many openings to latch on to: career change discussions, “I hate my job” discussions, “How am I going to afford this?” discussions, stock vesting or bonus day windfall discussions, saving for retirement discussions, etc. Whenever I saw the slightest opening, I’d walk through the door. A big part of that was my enthusiasm for the topic and its benefits. But I also felt like it was somewhat expected of me, given how much time I’ve put into writing about the topic for years.
A hard lesson that I’ve had to learn is that personal finance is a very sensitive topic for many and the last thing people want is to be lectured about it. Personal finance is also highly individualized. It’s complicated. It’s rare for someone to have a relatable lived experience, and even rarer, an identical lived experience or circumstance to me. And as such, any proactive gospel-spreading faced the risk of being unrelatable at best, or braggadocios or intimidating at worst.
We have to meet people where they are at. Long time readers reading this article right now likely have an interest in personal finance and (hopefully) I’m helping to scratch that itch for the thousands of repeat visitors who visit this site on a daily basis. People go to search engines to search for a specific personal finance topic at any given moment because they have an interest in that topic and (hopefully) I will have a relevant article that meets moment of interest. That also happens thousands of times per day. And, despite me proactively ending personal finance promotion in my real life, if a friend or acquaintance were to approach me about a personal finance topic, I still excitedly will reactively try to meet that moment (now with dramatically paired back tangents and diatribes).
Why should you care about this personal observation? There are a few lessons that I think anyone can take from this…
- No matter the passion, understand the context of your interactions and react accordingly. We all have passions in life and we want to share that enthusiasm with others, but being a captive or uninterested student to an overambitious teacher is not a good experience. We’ve all been there. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Show your enthusiasm on the right platforms and in the right moments, but practice finding the “off” button otherwise.
- When it comes to personal finance, don’t shy away from engaging when prompted, but tread cautiously. There are reasons why this is a rarely discussed topic 1:1 and why many pay strangers for confidential guidance, completely detached from the complex dynamics of their existing relationships. It’s rare to truly know all of the ins and outs and sensitivities of another’s personal finances.