This article is by staff writer Kristin Wong.
For the past year and I half, I've thoroughly enjoyed writing for Get Rich Slowly. That's not to say it hasn't been a challenge. Some weeks, I'm completely run down and don't feel like thinking too hard about anything, much less personal finance. But I do my best to jumpstart my brain and produce something that I hope at least some of you will find useful.
Writing about money has forced me to get a better hold on my own finances, and GRS readers have kept me on my toes. I thought I'd share the money lessons I've learned since I started writing about personal finance.
Money shouldn't be taboo
Since writing for Get Rich Slowly, I've learned that it's totally OK to talk about frugality and budgeting and saving. I've always sort of talked about these things, but now I'm not afraid to tell people, “I'm on a budget” or “I want to be frugal.” This is probably obvious for people who read personal finance blogs, but outside of that world, money is kind of a taboo topic. In fact, when I first started visiting Get Rich Slowly, I was surprised at how open J.D. and other writers were about their finances. It's pretty refreshing, and here's why I think it's important to be open about the topic of money.
Not talking about money creates conflict
Money continues to be a big source of conflict in marriages, and the stats seem to show that it's probably because we avoid the topic like the plague. I don't blame couples for not wanting to talk about money — it's not terribly romantic. But then again, neither is fighting about something that might've been prevented with a little communication.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) found that 68 percent of people polled feel negatively about discussing money with a fiancÃ©. Forty-five percent of them said talking about money is a “necessary but awkward conversation,” and 7 percent said it was “likely to lead to a fight,” so they prefer to avoid the topic altogether. Eleven percent were afraid talking about money would lead to hidden financial issues.
Unfortunately, a lot of people do think money is an awkward topic, and I don't think that helps with it being a source of conflict. We tell ourselves money shouldn't matter, but it plays a bigger role in our lives than we'd like to admit. As with most issues, ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away — usually, it just makes it worse.
Not talking about money promotes financial illiteracy
If we pretend money isn't important, then we trick ourselves into believing we don't really need to learn much about it. From there, we continue a downward spiral of debt and poor decisions that we don't even realize we're making.
I'm not saying money is the most important thing, but it's still a part of everyone's life. I've learned that censoring money only gives it more control. Being open about it makes it easier to learn about it. And then you learn to be in control of it, instead of it being in control of you.
Not talking about money leads to spending more money
So many people are in debt, spending more than they'd like; yet we continue to buy, continue to keep up with the Joneses. I feel like if people were more honest about their financial situation, overspending wouldn't be so easy.
Here's an example/confession. While shopping for my mom one Christmas, I went to a tea specialty store at the mall. They were incredibly pushy — it was like walking onto a used-car lot. When I asked whether they had any coconut chai, they swiftly rushed me to a counter where, next thing I know, I was smelling leaves and being offered their “recommended size” — a huge canister of premium tea. “It's $10 per ounce,” they said, reminding me where the tea came from and how exotic it was. I did some quick math and realized their “recommended size” was upwards of $100. “Uh, do you have anything smaller?” I asked. Really, I wanted to say, “$10 per ounce?! Sorry, I don't have the budget for that.” I was then offered a smaller canister for almost $50, and — gulp — I paid for it. It was a huge money mistake; I completely gave in to the holiday hoopla and this store's sneaky sales tactics.
Back then, I thought it was the snobbery of the store that prevented me from mentioning I didn't want to spend $100 on tea leaves. But really, it's the taboo that exists around discussing money. When money is taboo, it's easier to spend it because you trick yourself into thinking it's not an issue. Standing there, being told to sniff these rare, exotic leaves, it almost seemed insulting to mention money. Even when I asked for a smaller size, it was awkward.
But the thing is, admitting something is too expensive is only awkward if you allow it to be awkward. Am I saying we should all turn into Extreme Cheapskates and pay for an entire restaurant meal in pennies? Or walk into a friend's home and immediately ask how much they paid for it? Of course not, but at the same time, I don't think there should be any shame in keeping track of your finances either.
I've known a lot of people who hang their heads when they talk about personal finance. I used to as well, but I've since learned that being more open about money usually leads to having more control over it.
The importance of keeping like-minded company
I've also learned just how important it is to keep like-minded company during your financial journey. When you're trying to get out of debt, stick to a budget, or reach any particular money goal, it's important to have support. It's great to have a community that keeps you in check and understands where you're coming from. That's another reason I enjoy writing and reading GRS and other personal finance blogs. Once I started interacting, it felt like people were speaking my language. What's more, since being open about these topics, I've been able to find supportive people in my offline life. I enjoy discussing money topics with friends and family members now too. It helps me to learn their perspectives and lessons, and it keeps me on the right track.
Being frugal isn't enough
When I first started writing for Get Rich Slowly, my personal finance knowledge was mostly centered around frugality. But being engaged with the community of readers and wanting to produce helpful content has forced me to learn that personal finance goes way beyond just being frugal. Since writing, I've learned how to make the most of my money, save better, earn more, start investing, etc. I've learned how to conquer some of my own hang-ups about money, which were holding me back. Some of these areas have been intimidating, but I'm glad I dove into them.
Frugality is still a big part of my life, and I really enjoy researching and sharing different ways to be frugal. But getting to the next stage of personal finance takes a bit more effort than that. Some personal finance topics can be intimidating, but I'm in a better place since getting over my fear of them.
It's all about balance
With so many of the topics we discuss, the bottom line has to do with balance: spending less vs. earning more, pursuing your passions, splurging. A commenter once referenced a quote that has stuck with me: “The virtue is in the mean.” I've found this to ring quite true with personal finance.
Last year, I took a pricey vacation. It was a splurge, but that's what I choose to splurge on — travel. I put down 50 Euro for a delicious meal without thinking about it, and I stayed at nice, comfortable hotels. I tried to get a discount where I could, but I didn't worry about it too much. Paying 50 Euro for a meal isn't a frugal decision, and, at first, I felt bad about it. But I quickly got over it, remembering that life is about balance, not money. You don't save for the sake of saving. You save for a bigger reason: independence, your children, a better lifestyle, etc. So you have to weigh your money decision with your own situation, your own well-being. Finding balance also plays a big part in the “do what works for you” GRS tenet.
But one thing's for sure: Being financially literate certainly helps you make better balancing decisions. I splurged, but I saved for that splurge, and I worked hard to afford it. I decided what percentage of my income I wanted to allocate to different areas, one of which included a vacation. I budgeted for it so that I didn't have to worry about the word “budget” while I was traveling.
When it comes to money, extremes rarely seem to work in one's favor. A steady, balanced route seems to be the most promising way to wealth and happiness. As I continue my financial journey, there will be plenty more to learn and plenty more to overcome, and I look forward to sharing those lessons and obstacles.