Facing and Fighting Financial Trolls

Money is more about mind than it is about math — that's one of the fundamental precepts of this site.

If you improve your self-esteem, if you improve your mental attitude, if you improve your knowledge, you will improve your finances. To this end, it's important to avoid negative messages about money. It's difficult to improve your mental attitude when you're besieged by financial trolls.

What are financial trolls? In a recent article, Steve Pavlina shared five wealth lessons, the last of which was: financial trolls must be shown no mercy. Pavlina writes:

A financial troll is a close cousin to the forum troll, except that financial trolls strive to sabotage your financial pursuits. These trolls can be internal or external. They're the people who make comments like, “Wealthy people are so greedy. They only care about themselves and will take advantage of anyone to make money.” Financial trolls are also the internal voices that say, “If you make too much money, people will judge you harshly for it. They'll assume that's all you care about.”

Coping with external trolls
When I started Get Rich Slowly, I wanted people to like and agree with everything I wrote. Any time I received a negative comment, I took time to exchange e-mail with the person who left it. Here's an example of an actual criticism I once received: “I would love [this site] if only the privileged would acknowledged how lucky and privileged they are and how their ‘advice' applies to only other privileged kids.” I tried to carry on a conversation with the commenter, but nothing I could say would satisfy him — in his mind I was a rich jerk and nothing could change that.

I realized that 95% of these people aren't interested in a rational exchange of ideas. They're external financial trolls. They have chips on their shoulders, they're clinging to preconceived notions, or they just want to argue. They're not worth my time. Other examples of behavior you might see in external trolls include:

  • You might have a goal, and have a plan to pursue it despite the risk involved. The troll in your life focuses on the obstacles, on the reasons you can't achieve it: “You don't know what you're doing”, “Think of all the things that might go wrong”, etc.
  • Perhaps you admire other successful people. Trolls often resent success: “Warren Buffett go rich on the back of others”, “Bill Gates is a crook”, “Rich people don't work for their money”
  • Some trolls complain all the time. They complain about their jobs, they complain about their lives, they complain that they don't have money. They complain, but they rarely take action. Complainers are poisonous.

Defeating most external trolls is straightforward. Because they're not internal, you can usually just remove yourself from the situation. Ignore the troll. Change the conversation. Leave the room. Hang up the phone. Do not argue — as Pavlina notes, any time you argue with a troll, the troll wins. Do not engage the troll.

Coping with internal trolls
Internal trolls are more insidious than their external brethren. Because they are a part of you, eradicating them takes self-discipline. Examples of internal trolls include:

  • Self-defeating thoughts and behaviors: “I can't do this — it's too difficult”, “I'm not smart enough”, “It's too much work”, “I don't deserve to have money”
  • Procrastination — “I'll start next week”, “I'll worry about this later”, I can start saving next month — this month I'll buy an XBox.”
  • Rationalization — “Buying just one pair of shoes won't blow my budget”, “I'm out with my friends — I should join the fun”, “I should reward myself for how well I've been doing lately”
  • Barriers — “I don't know how to open an IRA”, “It's too much bother to set up automatic deposits”, “Sure I could call around for lower rates, but I don't like talking on the phone”

Conquering internal trolls can be non-intuitive. Most are a product of self-doubt, which is best combated through exercise, discipline, positive social interaction, and a healthy diet. Seriously. The following can also help:

  • Talk back to yourself! It makes sense to avoid arguments with external trolls, but confronting internal trolls is an excellent tactic.
  • Set financial goals. Review them regularly.
  • Read success literature: personal finance books, self-development manuals, and biographies of successful people.
  • Educate yourself. Learn about money. I resisted investing for a long time until I learned just how easy it was to open an IRA.
  • Find a mentor, a coach, or an advisor. Learn from others.

I have much more trouble with internal trolls than I do with external trolls. They're a constant threat.

Know when to seek help
Some trolls are difficult to defeat. What do you do about a spouse who insists on sabotaging your financial security? How do you deal with your own compulsive shopping? Problems like these may require the assistance of a trained professional: an accountant, a lawyer, or a psychologist. The important thing is to deal with them. Until you defeat them, they'll only hold you back, preventing you from achieving success.

[Note: T. Harv Eker's Secrets of the Millionaire Mind (my review) is all about defeating the financial trolls, both external and internal.]
More about...Psychology

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Duane Gran
Duane Gran
13 years ago

As we often say in the business, this is why it is called *personal* finance. I’ve seen before (and cannot locate an electronic copy at the moment) a list of 100 reasons not to invest in the stock market. It lists some sort of geopolitical mess or ripple in the markets for years 1905 through 2005 — every single year. However, looking back you can see how many of the fears didn’t pan out. Who among us feels pangs of anxiety about Russia leapfrogging us in space exploration with the launching of Sputnik? Back in 1957 many people were anxious… Read more »

Brett
Brett
13 years ago

Great advice. I have a little troll that posts on my blog every now and then. Whenever I post about some new frugal habit that I’m trying to implement, he comes by and tells me I’m not being frugal enough and that if I really want to be frugal I need to what he does. At first it really bothered me. Now I just ignore and laugh it off. I’m not going to let some anonymous commenter get me down.

ispf
ispf
13 years ago

Great post! Just wanted to say, I like this blog for the wide coverage of the topics ranging all the way from hard core money matters to personal development. In my personal war on the trolls, I find blogs like these are great allies! Thanks!

Angela
Angela
13 years ago

I think that sometimes it can be hard to deal with external trolls when they reinforce the internal ones. Like when an external troll tells you that something can’t be done and this reinforces your own self-defeating thoughts.

There’s also seems to be a slight implicit assumption that external trolls are not actually people that you know in the real world. I mean the basic tactic of ignoring is the same but its quite a bit harder, especially if you can only ignore the behaviour not the person.

Monika
Monika
13 years ago

Great post and thanks for maintaining this blog! My biggest financial troll has been procrastination, but I’ve finally kicked its butt. It feels great! I read your blog to keep me motivated, so thanks again! I’m sure you know this but comments like that criticism you got about the “privileged” are so misguided. My parents were VERY poor. I watched them struggle; risk everything by immigrating to a new country and working incredibly hard to better our lives. I work just as hard driven by their example and am happy to have achieved some success already, although I’m still working… Read more »

Adam
Adam
13 years ago

It can be difficult to deal with external trolls when they are… *cough*inlaws*cough*… I didn’t say a thing 😉

English Major
English Major
13 years ago

Whoa–I totally just wrote about this. I spent yesterday helping my boyfriend sort out his finances, and came to the conclusion that the biggest deterrent to dealing actively with one’s finances is the fear of feeling scared, confused, and doomed. “Internal troll” is a great phrase–thanks!

WH
WH
13 years ago

First off, I really like the names “internal” and “external trolls”! Next, sorry to hear about the externals, hope I never get one! And lastly, I’m not sure I agree with your Rationalization troll. I find that I’m less likely to break my savings diet for quite some time when I treat myself occasionally…it keeps me from what I like to call the “Saver’s Blues.” Really lastly, the scope of your blog is indeed impressive!

RJ
RJ
13 years ago

It seems that everyone will have a different set of internal and external trolls, and the nature of these forces will change throughout a person’s lifetime. For me, the external trolls are not naysayers in my attempts to save and be frugal, but rather are people who do not “get” what I’m trying to do. And it’s not like they’re trying to figure me out, either–it’s just that they haven’t put the pieces of my lifestyle together. One of my friends, for example, eats out a lot. He calls at least a couple of times per week to see if… Read more »

DC Portland
DC Portland
13 years ago

I love the troll concept. It is a metaphor that is easy to relate to. And one that we can bring forward in our minds when we are crossing a financial bridge. Our spending habits are inextricably tied to our images of ourselves. The “internal” trolls are always with us and can be extremely difficult to cleanse from our psyches. If you are constantly struggling with internal trolls, I strongly recommend spending money on a psychologist, therapist, or coach before spending money on accountants and other financial professionals. First things first.

mjh
mjh
13 years ago

I am in a social circle that is populated by hippies, punks and diverse shades of activist. I was telling a friend about how I’ve worked to establish good money practice and knowledge, and his reaction was that I was becoming an arch-capitalist.

Yep, to this guy, saving my fifty dollars each week implied an erosion of my ethics and social conscience. I couldn’t be bothered arguing with such a close-minded and bigoted person.

RJ
RJ
13 years ago

mlh– I’ve encountered that kind of reaction from time to time, and it is frustrating. What many of these people don’t realize is that, by rejecting a savings mentality (at its extreme, “arch-capitalism”), they are embracing a spending mentality which is pretty much a (hyper-)consumerist mentality. They may disdain people who spend money on Lexus cars and mink coats, but spending money on coffee, piercings, CDs, and other “alternative culture” goodies is still an act of consumerism. I find it amazing that many of the alternative types don’t get that.

Maxx Stiles
Maxx Stiles
13 years ago

Thank you for your wisdom. I learn so much from your web site and I check it every day.
Smash the TROLLS!!!

VinTek
VinTek
13 years ago

JD,

An excellent post, reminding us that the greatest obstacle to our goals is often ourselves.

As for the folks who reject a savings mentality, it doesn’t really bother me. I figure that financial Darwinism will eventually take its natural course with such individuals.

Beth
Beth
13 years ago

One thing to consider is that to some people, investing in the stock market seems unethical. I often see it advised on money-advice websites, but I personally would not feel comfortable participating in capitalism in this way.

I suppose peoples’ codes of ethics determine the kind of money habits they can adopt – to me, being frugal and conscientious in my spending and building up savings would be practices I would feel comfortable with.

Having money is not a crime, it’s just that one has to be scrupulous about how one accumulates it.

Scott-Debt Relief Options
Scott-Debt Relief Options
13 years ago

I completely agree with you that debt problems are often a lifestyle problem and in order to reverse its course, you must learn discipline and responsibility.

Just like an alcoholic in AA, a debt problem can only be cured when someone decides they really want to cure it and are willing to incur the sacrifices to make it happen.

Help from a third party is only effective once you decide to help yourself.

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