Financial Schadenfreude: A Guide to Properly Communicating Personal Finance Concepts to Others

This guest post is by Mr. Broke Professional: the husband in the husband/wife team behind Brokeprofessionals.com.

Go on, you can admit it.  Sometimes you feel just a tiny little bit superior. Not in a “I’m so great, maybe even borderline perfect” kind of way,” but in a “I’m so reasonable”, and/or “why don’t other people actively track and manage their finances like I do,” sort of way.

Why it is Sometimes Tough for Personal Finance Devotees to Properly Communicate with Others

You are frugal and informed.  You are working hard towards financial security.  Sometimes it is easy to feel a little superior.  To perhaps scoff a little at those who do not know the difference between a traditional IRA and a roth IRA.  To maybe even feel a slight bit of schadenfreude when a friend asks to borrow money from you when their car needs a repair, or the like.  ”Oh silly (insert name here),” you think.  ”You have to get your finances in order!  If that happened to me, I would just tap into my emergency fund!”

At the same time it is not really schadenfreude, because all you really want deep down is for other people to do well.  You want them to make the “right” choices.  The problem is, if you have even the slightest air of snobbery about your “lessons,” then you will never be able to impart even a tiny fraction of your great knowledge.  Whether you are trying to tell a friend that dollar cost averaging into a diversified index fund may be the best investment or attempting to get your spouse or loved one to start budgeting their money, people are going to likely be resistant to your perhaps unwanted offers of help.

If you are reading this site, then you are either a personal finance blogger yourself, or you read and/or are interested in personal finance.  If so, with expanding personal finance knowledge will come a greater desire to help others.  Whether you are assisting others through a blog or face to face, it is important to keep a few things in mind so as to inspire rather than turn off the person you are trying to help.

Tips for Keeping Another Person Interested in Your Personal Finance Advice

1.  Give investing, debt reduction, or other personal finance advice with humilityNobody enjoys being talked down to.  Do yourself and the person you are trying to assist a favor and show some humility.  As much as may know (or may think you know), there is without a doubt so much more that you do not.

On our site I try to constantly remind readers of my mistakes (better for me to remind them then for them to remind me).  I find it is easier to facilitate an honest communication when our readers know that I make amateur mistakes all the time.  Or the fact that I still owe six figures in student loan debt.  The same applies in real life situations, maybe more so.

2. A Sense of Humor Will HelpAs with most things, attempting to use a little humor should pay dividends.  If Warren Buffet can incorporate some humor into his Berkshire Hathaway annual letters to shareholders, then you can feel free to mix a little humor into, for instance, your discussion with a friend about the best mutual fund companies.  FYI: Vanguard is my personal favorite mutual fund company.  (See, so you know it must be good, because I don’t even own a Van…note: it will help if your humor is actually humorous).

3. Be a Good ListenerOn a blog the comments and the analytics will tell you what topics your audience finds interesting to learn about.  In a one on one situation, it may be a little bit tougher to perceive such information.  If you can act as a good and active listener, then the person you are attempting to help will open up.  Thereafter your carefully chosen words can have a good chance of hitting home.

The other day my friend discussed his issues with choosing an investment strategy.  I was going to say at his age a target retirement or other such index fund with 80% in stock might make sense.  However, the more he talked the more I realized he was terrified of risk.  I knew he would be the type of individual who would sell the stock at a low point and never get the return he should out of such a volatile and long-term plan, so I tried to adjust my recommendation accordingly.  There is no one size fits all approach to personal finance.

4. Do Not AssumeThis is something I have a tough time with sometimes during my day job as a lawyer.  I have to remember that most people need me to provide them with a basic framework before they can move on to more complex issues.  If you can’t get to that point when discussing personal finance with another person, then any conversation will ultimately not have the desired effect.

5. Be CompassionatePersonal finance is a sensitive subject.  If someone is willing to open up about their problems, then you have to respect that.  In other words, do the opposite of schadenfreude.

With any luck, you will be able to make a positive difference in another person’s life, which can be amazingly thrilling.  Be careful to remember, however, that at the end of the day everyone has to make their own choices and their own mistakes.

Let me know what tips you use to help impart your personal finance knowledge to other people who are interested in learning from you.  I am looking forward to reading and responding to the comments.

Broke Professionals is a personal finance blog aimed at over-educated and underpaid.  Join the husband/wife blogging team of Broke Professionals as they attempt to dig themselves out of a combined six figures in student loan debt.

Comments

  1. Obviously, taking on a six-figure student loan debt has rewarded you richly with vocabulary words like Schadenfreude. Good luck on that “not talking down to” anyone thing. ; )

  2. This is a topic of large importance. Thanks for putting forward an informed and intelligent take, Broke Pro.

    I struggle with this all the time because I view Buy-and-Hold as the most dangerous investing strategy ever concocted by the human mind and yet most people believe in it and have a lot at stake behind that belief. I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all or to hurt people’s feelings. But that often does happen because my views are strongly held and very much outside the mainstream today.

    I believe that the core problem is that it is very easy to understand what works both re saving and investing. But while these topics are intellectually not at all challenging, they are extremely challenging from an emotional perspective. Corporate interests spend hundreds of millions to get us to believe the opposite of what is good for us both in the saving and investing areas and most of us are influenced by the huge advertising campaigns.

    Once we buy in, we become emotionally invested in the ideas. We feel like fools to learn that we have been behaving so stupidly for so many years. So we become defensive. It certainly makes sense for those trying to spread good ideas to aim to come across as humble. But we cannot change the reality that this stuff is very simple and there is no good logical reason not to save money or not to lower one’s stock allocation when prices become insanely dangerous.

    I believe that we all need to be more frank about the marketing issues at play here. Our behavior is shaped by the thousands of commercials aiming to persuade us to spend more than we can afford to spend and by the thousands of commercials aiming to persuade us that it is not necessary to time the market (if you don’t time, you are at the same allocation when stocks are dangerous as you are when they are safe).

    It’s always a delicate matter telling people that they are wrong. But it’s not the people telling the straight story who are being unkind. It is the people making fortunes by spreading bad money ideas who are the real cause of the trouble. I think that the role that advertising plays in keeping middle-class people from attaining financial security needs to be brought out more frequently and more clearly and more frankly.

    Rob

  3. Thank you for the thought provoking response. We all like to think we are immune to the constant barrage of advertising, but if it was so ineffective companies would not spend so much money on it. I noticed when my wife and I got rid of cable that we both lost weight and saved more money, without actively trying to accomplish either objective.

  4. It’s like this with everything though, isn’t it? Health nuts, greenies, etc. I always appreciate it if everyone keeps their opinions to themselves unless I ask them specifically for advice. Once people get religion in an area, sometimes it’s hard to shut them up. I try to keep my mouth closed about what I perceive as poor financial choices unless I’m specifically asked. Or if somebody’s showing off their new leased car, I might say, “Oh, we don’t do that.” But that’s really the extent of my financial proselytizing in real life.

    • Yeah I find our blog is a great way to be creative and show some of my opinions to people who are actually interested in such things. That way I do not bother as many people in the real world (hopefully). That said, one of the reasons why I started the site was because a lot of people (in my age group) would ask me about different personal finance things, knowing it is an interest of mine.

  5. This post isn’t about Schadenfreude, it’s about trying to get over one’s own arrogance and thinking that we ‘know it all’. I think if you want to help others your main job is to listen very well first. Two people may be in the very same financial situation, but will have to use different ways to dig out of their hole depending on their life situation.

    True Schadenfreude is when someone who thinks he’s superior to you breaks his leg and you can’t help but smile :)

    • Yeah, but I always feel a small sense of satisfaction, for instance, when the high living neighbor whose been refi-ing his way to two Lexuses and a twice annual trip to Disneyworld has his credit card dinged at the dry cleaner after she says she will no longer take his personal check. I know, that admission makes me a horrible, little, no good person – I just figured those “teaching moments” were the unspoken schadenfreude to which the title was referring.

      • Oh yes teaching moments – I’ve had those myself. They’re no fun, but they do ‘help’ in a warped sort of way. And no, I don’t think you’re a horrible person at all…

    • Yeah let’s face it….I just wanted to use a big word in the title. lol. As Phillyh area said as well, people who think they have a certain sort of knowledge or belief in certain areas can sometimes develop a “know it all” or “true believer” sort of personality. The important thing, as you point out is to realize that most things exist in the gray area.

      • Hey broke professionals, here’s another great word (at least 10 Euros) that I recently saw in a newspaper: Schicksalsgemeinschaft

        That would make for a great title – what do you think?

        Also, with the Euro up again, what’s the easiest ways these days to make money with trading currency?

          • It means something like a random group of people brought together by fate.

            About the currency, I was hoping you had an idea on how to take advantage of the currency fluctuations :)

  6. We all make mistakes. For most of us, its the very financial mistakes we make that become the catalyst for a financial turn around. Our financial education in this country is woefully inadequate, and most people do not have the background or understanding of what they are doing financially, especially when it comes to making the big mistakes… or even a bunch of little ones. As more financially enlightened people, we should be compassionate to others who may not yet be at this point. Take a walk in their shoes… just think about where you were before you started your journey.
    Pat
    http://compoundingreturns.blogspot.com

    • I just think there is no substitute for doing. For instance, I took real estate transactions as a class in law school. Real estate law is on the bar exam. Buying our first house has taught me so much more then I ever learned. I do not practice real estate law, and I have felt woefully confused at certain points in the process. If I did not have some of these (alleged at least) benefits, I do not know how I would get through the process of buying a home. That said, it is the doing that makes you learn. That is why I keep asking my parents for advice, even though neither of them went to college. They know what they are talking about because they have bought a few homes and they have years more of experience.

  7. I’m most frustrated when someone comes seeking advice then won’t follow it. It’s so hard not to feel a little smug when that happens. When you spend your valuable time trying to help someone and they devalue your input, all sorts of negative emotions come out of it.

  8. What I do not like is when someone asks you for honesty and then gets upset about what you have to say. I find that the older I get the less opinionated I am, after having been burned too many times. I am also more aware of the amazing amount of things I do not know. You know how when you are a teenager or in college and you think that every idea you have is so amazing and has never been thought before by anyone else? Life defintiely beats that out of you real quick out in the “real world.” At the end of the day though, it is hard enough to follow your own advice sometimes let alone for someone else to follow it.

  9. One of the key things is to not judge others. Don’t expect someone to take advice or help from you when they feel you are judging them.

    This is the reason so many people do not seek advice or listen or want to hear “experts” (self-proclaimed usually) on this topic.

    There are ways to offer help and ways to really discourage people. Most people are not good at offering help without making someone feel shame, feel inferior or less than. That includes people who mean well and others who are basically coming from a place of “I know better.”

    Many folks who have financial issues also have other issues that the average person is not at all qualified to address so “tips” and strategies are not always the answer.

    There’s a lot of other stuff that is usually going on with overspending and debt (which, by the way, is often the chosen behavior of highly intelligent and/or educated people. They DO know better. But other “stuff” is getting in the way.)

    We’re human, so almost none of us is free from a moment or two of “I told you so” or the equivalent when watching the problems some folks have.

    But unless you can get over that and be non-judgmental and more compassionate, you’ll never be heard and you’ll really not be worth listening to.

    Most people (excludes those with health and other issues that render them incapable of truly hearing–yes, YOU, Charlie Sheen!) will listen to people who they sense value them, respect them and are not making them feel worse.

    You never win by badgering, belittling, judging or shaming people into change.

    Hold them in higher esteem and hold them accountable. Show them how to do it and help them do it, if they choose.

    Being open about finances is being at one’s most vulnerable, no matter who you are. It’s the reason so many people, event those who want help, do not open up.

    Nobody wants the same people one has shared financial issues with hovering over them and watching their every expenditure.

    A close friend had to declare bankruptcy a few years ago. (COmplicated but it was not because of frivolous debts but because of other family members’ overspending, etc.) She shared this with a few people. One of those folks, a supposed friend, now constantly asks intrusive questions about her spending habits and makes comments that are inappropriate and unhelpful.

    Monitor what you say people and check your attitude. You may be in control today but that can change in a heartbeat. I know people who made incredible incomes, saved, invested, did all the right things and guess what: THey’re homeless, jobless and very sick due to chronic illness (that did NOT come from any lifestyle issues as they are athletes, exercise regularly and eat right). It can all change in a second. (Your company goes Kaput; your pension fund is non-existent, your medical benefits are cut. Yea, see how long YOU can last in that situation, especially if you’re older and you can’t even interview for some jobs cause you are unemployed and thus “undesirable” (see recent news articles on this!) even though you are out of a job because some exec drove the company into the ground even while making off with millions for him/her self.

  10. RE: Being frustrated when people don’t follow your advice

    If you believe that people must follow your advice, then you will be frustrated.

    Give freely, with no expectations, or not at all.

    Your gift is the giving. Beyond that, expect nothing back.

    This is why people don’t ask for help. The person who gives it expects them to follow it, if not all , parts.

    Sometimes, your actual advice may not be appropriate, relevant or even helpful.

    They are not devaluing your input (Is the value only there if they heed it? That seems to be what you are saying.)

    And not listening to your input is NOT de-valuing you.

    Let your ego go. It might be easier to be heard. People sense when others give advice with the expectation of: Well, now, DO IT.

    That’s not how real help works. Observe closely those in fields where they are trained to offer help and you’ll see how to better do it. And you’ll be less frustrated.

    I get how you feel, believe me, but once I learned to let go of expectations about what people will do with what I offer, the better off everyone was.

    You offer a hand. Doesn’t mean someone will take it. The gift is the offer.

  11. Nice sentiments. One of the reasons we write about personal finance is out of a genuine desire to help people. On a blog, it’s removed by several degrees. In person, it’s a little more, well, personal, and may call for combination of delicate/direct.

  12. I do this on my blog and in real life, but I always use my mom as an example for financial lessons. That helps remove the assumption that “I know it all.” If I actually learned a lesson from someone else and try to share it, it feels a lot less like “I’m better than you.”

    I also think it’s really important to figure out if someone really wants to change or if they just need a person to vent to. I think there are different phases to a personal finance journey and action/change is definitely not step 1.

    • Well said. I think all change begins in the mind, like you are saying. Also, the person has to really want to change. Only then will they be receptive. Independent thought is always best, and I am certainly no expert myself. (although sometimes my ego likes to make me think I am).

  13. Very true and useful information. As with anything, the more one becomes knowledgeable about, it is easy to unconsciously slip into “superior mode” when talking about personal finance. Very good tips on to be more humble about it and actually reach people.

    • Thank you for the kind words, as they say everyone likes to feel like an expert. The strange thing is, in my experience what I have found with truly successful people is that they are genuinely humble and like to invest in others. When you meet someone like that and realize that even they do not need to put on a front and that they can be down to Earth, then that tells you a lot about how you should be acting, ideally.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>