Monday, April 17, 2017

Should I Stay in My Lane?

Should I Stay in My Lane?
Sorry again for the long haitus. We have been juggling a lot with unpacking, getting ready for our housewarming party, which was lovely, building a farmhouse table in time for our party guests to distress with random tools, and selling our house. In case you were wondering, we went with option 2, selling to the investor for $225k, with them paying for all the closing costs.

There are never any good excuses for not writing for three whole weeks, but I suppose these reasons are better than most that I give. We're settling back in to a normal routine and I'm aiming to publish something new every Monday until our next trip in July. Here's to making it happen.
The other day I was in a grocery store in our new neighborhood, when I overheard a woman giving her elderly mother, who just happened to be in an electric scooter, a hard time over a soda purchase. The old woman wanted to buy diet grape soda, but it wasn't on sale: it was $1.89. For two liters.

"You don't finish the diet in time. It goes bad," the middle aged daughter was saying.

"And then it's just a waste," her husband chimed in.

"But I like the diet grape," the old woman protested.

"We buy a lot of soda. It adds up. Let's just buy the one that's on sale."

"But I'm paying," the old woman noted "and I like the grape."

But her daughter was not having it: they were going to buy the soda that was fifty cents cheaper and that was that. 

I had to catch myself from saying something to them or, god forbid, offering just to buy the soda for the old woman. I'm nosy like that, and apparently pretty judge-y, too, as I'm writing a whole blog post about this family's in-store debate on soda purchasing strategies. 

This probably says more about me than this family, but I really wanted to step in and point out that, as much as I'm a fan of frugality, there were probably better areas to focus those cost saving strategies. And that at a certain point, you're just being cheap instead of frugal. And, dang it, the woman has lived a long life and is sitting in a Rascal scooter and she likes the diet grape soda, and it's her money anyway, and she raised you. Let her buy the soda that she wants, you big jerk.

But I have to wonder, why should I care? What other people want to do with their money, or, if they're really controlling, with their adorable elderly parent's money, is not my business. Can't I just focus on my own shopping list and not eavesdrop on the minutia of random strangers in the supermarket? 

Do I not have enough going on in my life? Maybe I need a new hobby.

I know that the healthiest thing is just to keep my own side of the street clean, put my head down, and focus on my own financial situation. That's what a normal person would do, right?

But there's also a reason that some of us write blogs about personal finance, instead of just pursuing our financial goals in private. For better or worse, those of us who write about this stuff are interested in seeing other people make better financial decisions, too. And, sure, that's probably not going to involve things like making better beverage purchases. But it does involve better perspectives about money: about when it matters, and when it doesn't. The times when we think about it too much, and when we're clearly not paying enough attention. When we should try to save, and when it's okay to just let grandma get her stupid grape soda.

So while I'm probably not going to start chiming in with advice for people I run into in aisle nine, and while there are plenty of grey areas where there is no "right" answer, I want to give myself permission to criticize the whack financial decisions we stumble across all the time as Americans. And yeah, that applies to my dumb ass decisions, too. 

Because if it's taboo for us to point out the dumb things we are doing with money, how exactly are we supposed to improve?

18 comments:

  1. Because I have a blog, a lot of people ask me for advice. I tell them, "I'll give you information for free, but my advice will probably hurt your feelings." If they insist they want my advice, I tell them to install Tiller and talk with me in one month. So far only about half a dozen people agreed.

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    1. "I'll give you information for free, but my advice will probably hurt your feelings."

      That is classic. I am going to steal that, for sure.

      I hadn't heard of tiller before but I just checked out the website and it seems pretty rad. It's like Mint and Excel had a baby.

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  2. If you it makes you feel any better I do this kind of thing all the time. I might have taken it even a step further and thought, " well if you don't buy any soda, which is bad for your health, that's 100% savings!" :) What can I say? I get judgey, but I only think this stuff and never say it. I have plenty of friends I really want to save from financial "mistakes," but sadly (lol) it's not my place. :)

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    1. Hey Tonya,

      That does make me feel a bit better to know I'm not the only one doing this sort of thing. And yeah, maybe the better debate is whether to have any soda at all. :)

      I, too, usually keep my judgments to myself...until you put a computer screen in front of me.

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  3. It's taken me some time to balance frugality with life enjoyment. For a long time, I probably would've reacted like the daughter. Now, within reason of course, I'm much more likely to buy the dang grape and enjoy it. Money just cannot come above people. As Jesus says, it is the "least of these" and we should treat it as such while being good stewards. :-)

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    1. Absolutely: money can't come before people. That's a lesson for all of us, even those who 'have it together'.

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  4. Uncalled for advice usually isn't.

    I'm also known for straying from my lane... I try really hard not to. I need a Tesla to help me :-)

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    1. You and me, both! Teslas are beautiful machines, and kind of the future of cars, I think.

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  5. Maybe there's more to the story that you're not seeing. Maybe they don't want her to drink the diet one because of all the aspartame and are making up an excuse. Maybe she thinks it's her money, but it's not. Who knows? Could be a million reasons that we just don't know about. I tend not say anything unless the person is in danger/being abused, etc because most of the time, we just don't know the entire story. I can appreciate your empathy towards the woman though. Most people wouldn't even notice or care.

    And kudos for your goal to write every Monday! I know it's hard (I write twice a week and sometimes I'm pulling my hair out trying to figure out a good angle), but I'm sure you can make it happen! I believe in you! :)

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    1. Oh, I'm positive there's more to the story than I'm seeing, FireCracker. That's always the case. I guess I was interested in the question of whether, since as an outsider I'm always only going to see the tip of the iceberg, whether it's better off staying in my own lane or whether I should dole out financial advice where it makes sense (e.g. - should we try to stop people from foolish home purchases?) :)

      And yeah, here's to keeping up with a weekly post going forward. I'm really impressed with you folks who can write multiple times a week. Back in the blog's early days, we did that stuff...but I done run out of ideas.

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    2. We're still in the blog's early days (it's only 11 months old right now), so later we may get to the point where we run out of ideas. What helps is the continued travel and meeting new people....also the news. So there's always something to comment on.

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    3. I hear you. The real reason I don't write as much isn't the lack of ideas (that's just my excuse). I just don't make the time to write as often.

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  6. Well... I don't know what this says about me, but my main thoughts on reading this post were:

    1) Does diet soda really go bad? Like how long would you have to leave that chemical concoction in the fridge for it to spoil?

    2) I want to hear about building the table!!!

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    1. Ha! I think they meant that it would go flat, but who knows? Maybe it really does spoil? I can never keep soda in the fridge long enough to find out.

      I was thinking of doing a whole post on the table. Maybe!

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  7. Ha, I see the store situation in a whole different light than you ;-)

    What if grape soda is just an example of a deeper problem of wasteful spending? What if the person in the scooter routinely buys up expensive things, and then wastes them? Like buying grape soda, having a sip from the bottle, and then forgetting about it, and letting it go to waste. Or buying clothes, and never wearing them.

    Of course, it is also possible that the daughter is just not very nice in general ;-)

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    1. True. But they're still buying some soda. I just am not on board with the idea of focusing on 50 cent savings as a strategy (and this is part of my larger quest against "extreme frugality" as the primary tool to FI).

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    2. All good points DB40.

      Actually, the best outcome for all parties would have been to avoid soda altogether, but drink water instead. If you want to drink soda, avoid the urge, and just invest in soda companies instead ( or healthcare companies to hedge the bets)

      On a side note, I keep a folder with article ideas, and also write ideas on a notepad. I have article ideas for years to come. This has helped me write 3 times per week on average for over 9 years.

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  8. I can't help it either and can be judgey too. But I've definitely learned to stay in my lane, even when it's in situations with people I'm friendly with. I try not to give advice unless asked otherwise it comes off as judgmental.

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