Ah, judging other people about their money decisions – it’s an increasingly popular pastime these days. Not that it hasn’t always been a popular sport, but now that we have the blessing of the internet and the phenomenon of the online spending diary, we can extend our judgement to people we’ve never heard of before and would have never needed to think about.
Rise of the spending diary
Spending diaries are having a moment of popularity right now, with Refinery 29’s “Money Diaries” book arriving off the back of the popular blog posts. We enjoy reading spending diaries because it gives us a chance to compare ourselves to others to see how “normal” we are: how far off the mark we are in relation to others, therefore to find out how rich or how poor we are.
We do care about people wasting their money, but maybe that’s not what we really care about. Perhaps we don’t care as much about people wasting their money as we mind them wasting their money and then complaining about it. It’s the hypocrisy, the futility of it that winds us up.
However, it’s not just that: we compare ourselves to those people and assume that we would do a better job with the money. The injustice of it lies in the belief that we would be more deserving of that cash.
One woman’s spending diary for the Guardian went viral and directed a torrent of abuse her way. Dissecting the aftermath, the writer, Elle Hunt, talked about the way that women’s spending is policed and used Refinery 29’s diaries as an example. High-earners don’t seem as relatable, but their pieces get more clicks. We want to know about people like us, but we’re undeniably attracted to those who are wealthier than us… so we can pour some hate on them.
On the other hand, think about the mountains of scorn poured out on those who are in receipt of benefits who dare to divulge what they spend their money on. The Victorian moralising that gushes forth makes you imagine the mutton-chop-mustachioed critics biting down hard on their pipes as they dip their quills furiously into their inkwells to deliver a scathing missive on the evils wrought by the abolition of the workhouse.
It’s not just online judgment
Most of us know how money can be the cause of friction between friends and family members. Watching someone we care about frittering their cash away whilst feeling powerless to help them… that’s an awful situation to find yourself in, and a tricky one to fix without offending anyone.
On the other hand, it’s horrible to be that judgmental hawk who never approves of their friends’ or relatives’ purchases or life choices. Even if you don’t know it yet, you’ll alienate yourself from those closest to you if you keep looking down your nose at them.
The problem with judging a person by their wealth
Wealth exists in relation to others. If I have £500, then I have £500. If you have £300, then I have more than you; if you have £600, then I suddenly have less. I haven’t done anything at all, but by comparing myself to you, I rise or fall.
Comparing your wealth (or lack thereof) to others inevitably leads to feeling either smug or frustrated. If you were to convince yourself that the amount of money someone has bears some relation to the kind of person they are, you’d be heading for nothing but frustration.
I’ve published our extra income reports but have struggled with them, as it’s not easy to figure out whether they’ll be off-putting or actually useful to anyone. We don’t hustle very hard as we’re not exactly motivated to earn more money, but we do save pretty hard, so the figures aren’t particularly high. So does this make us relatable, or uninspiring? Or does it just encourage harmful comparison?
Admittedly we can’t help but judge a little bit…
Honestly, we usually have to stop ourselves after we’ve started. It’s a reflex action that’s very hard to avoid, and we usually have to fight a lifetime of conditioning that tells us that people like us will be the people who will like us. Still, we have to fight to get down off the high horse.
Money bloggers are particularly susceptible!
I should be the first to admit that as a money blogger, I am part of a group that can at times succumb to a touch of money snobbery. It’s hard to navigate the route of wanting to help others to gain the knowledge you now have, without coming across as condescending or patronising.
Some of us can fall into the trap of thinking that, “If I’ve done it, anyone can”! But hey – that doesn’t work in the real world. No-one else has the same set of circumstances, experiences, advantages and disadvantages stretching back over their entire lifetime, so just because one person can retire at 30 or travel the world with only a laptop to pay their way, that doesn’t mean that we all can.
Why you shouldn’t judge, and when you should
With all rules there are exceptions, so here’s my take on why you should hold off from judgment and those times when you definitely are allowed to draw the line.
Why judging other people and their money doesn’t help:
- You may not know the full picture. If it’s online, you definitely don’t know the full picture. Filling in the blanks with assumptions only makes for a good fiction, not the truth.
- It’s only money. The amount they have or spend doesn’t make them better or worse than you.
- If it’s not causing anyone else harm, then don’t stress about it.
- People change and can become good with money, or bad with it, over time.
- You might well have been a dingbat with your own money at some point in time.
When to get filled with righteous indignation:
- When someone is neglecting a child’s needs or endangering a child because of their financial fecklessness
- When someone is taking advantage of an elderly or otherwise vulnerable person
- When someone is demanding or expecting that you or your family compensate them financially for their own bad decisions (especially recurring bad decisions)
- When someone has stolen from or defrauded individuals or large groups.
Over to you…
What do you think? Where do we draw the line between getting involved and giving up?