Are You Telling Your Friends and Family Too Much?


Loose Lips Sink Ships courtesy of J.L. McVay


A friend of mine, Andrew (not his real name), is married with two kids.  A few years ago, his life was like many Americans – he carried consumer debt, had no savings, and was stressed out.  Life was not turning out the way he’d hoped.  Then he realized he was responsible for the mess he was in and set about to change things.

He worked hard to improve his financial position.  He eliminated all his consumer debt, leaving only his home mortgage which he has now paid off more than half.  He owns a single rental property which he recently paid off completely.  Due to his and his wife’s diligence in paying down their debt, his wife recently stopped working to stay home and care for their children full-time.

Andrew’s family lives in a nice home, but he and his wife drive older, paid-off cars.  They don’t take annual, expensive vacations.  They aren’t flashy.

Andrew listens to financial podcasts like The Money Peach, reads books like The Richest Man in Babylon, and is excited about his future.

Although some would like to think so, this isn’t easy for them.  Andrew works two jobs.  One is seasonal while the other is commissioned-based so there are good months and bad months, good years and not-so-good years.  This requires frugality and communication.  Sometimes the couple is on the same page about purchases and sometimes they are at odds (like all of us), but they are always focused on the same goal – staying debt free so they can live a life that most can’t achieve.

While I’m in the office, I touch base with Andrew about our financial journeys.  It’s one of our favorite topics to weigh-in on and we’re very open about how each of us is doing.

One morning recently, he was slightly bothered.  I asked him what was wrong, to which he replied, “I learned something disturbing this weekend.”

“What?” I asked.

“You can’t talk about how you’re doing to most people.  They’re either going to be jealous or expect you to start paying for everything.”

Know When to Hold ‘Em

There’s a great verse in Kenny Roger’s classic country song, The Gambler , that we should keep in mind when we want to talk about our financial situation with friends and family -

You got to know when to hold ‘em,
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run

As we begin to build/acquire wealth, there’s a natural inclination to want to share with others how we’re doing.  We want to talk about the excitement we feel when we pay off our consumer debt, or that we’ve finally put $20,000 in the bank, or that we’ve purchased our first investment property.  I wanted to shout those experiences from the roof top!  I was on my way and I wanted to tell my friends and family.  I’d taken the first steps of getting unstuck from the financial quicksand I’d spent years slopping around in.  It was a burden lifted from my shoulders and I felt like I was floating above the ground.

However, doing so only pointed out to others that they were still stuck where I had been.  Happiness and joy were not the emotions my friends and family reflected upon hearing about my success.  Apathy and confusion were.

Most didn’t ask questions like, “How did you do that?” or “What motivated you to get unstuck?”

Instead, the subject would be glossed over or changed, never going deeper into a subject I was often aching to talk about.  It had been difficult to change the person I had been – really, effin’ hard, but nobody wanted to talk about that.  I had been terrible with my money.  I bought toys and comic books, thinking they were investments.  I ate out at restaurants more nights a week than I ate at home.  I didn’t have a savings account.  I didn’t have any investments.  I was a man spending like a child.

I quickly learned that most people did not want to hear about someone else’s changing and growing financially if it meant they had to consider their own station in life.  Doing so was like challenging a core belief among the middle class – that all of us are stuck in the same, miserable, inescapable situation together.  Most won’t like hearing someone is getting out.

As my financial position improved and I began to make wiser choices with my money, comments among my peers were made about the house I bought (too inexpensive – why didn’t I buy a bigger one?), the neighborhood I live in (not upscale enough – why didn’t I move to a wealthier part of town?), my car (used and several years old – why didn’t I lease a car?) and that I brought my lunch to work (weird, just plain weird).

Even though I acquired at least one new piece of real estate each year, no one wanted to discuss how the things I just mentioned allowed me to do that.  Instead, they wanted to make snarky comments to make them feel better about how they lived their lives.  I realized what was causing this and stopped talking to most people about what I was doing.

It had been years since I first experienced that.  Andrew’s comment, “They’re either going to be jealous or expect you to start paying for everything” brought it all back.

What’s in Your Wallet?

Andrew told me how his sister-in-law had come for an extended vacation.  He was happy she was visiting and spending time with his wife.  However, it soon became clear that whenever they went anywhere he was expected to pick up the tab.  His wife told him that her sister stated, “You’re lucky you married a rich man” when the two of them were alone.  His wife was appalled by her sister’s statement.

Andrew shook his head, thinking about the exchange.  “I’m not rich,” he said, emphatically.  “It’s taken a lot of effort to get to this point.  I don’t take fancy vacations.  She does.  We don’t spend money like she does, yet I’m now supposed to pay for everything because of that?  We’re careful with our money and she’s not, so we should be penalized?”

There is no such thing as an overnight success, but it doesn’t stop people in believing in it.

Andrew’s lack of consumer debt, his growing savings account, and his debt-free investment property are looked upon as good-fortune by his sister-in-law.  Not once did she ask about the hard work that went into getting to that point.  Instead, she wanted to go repeatedly out to eat and expected Andrew to pay for it.

That expectation was turning her visit from a happy event into a one that he’s anxiously awaiting its end.

Unfortunately, what Andrew was experiencing is something most will experience as they begin to build wealth.  Others who are not actively involved in the same pursuit, or are truly aware of the sacrifices you’ve made, will begin to judge. 

False assumptions will be made.  Luck, privilege, and unfairness are terms that get bandied while sacrifice, conservation, and delaying of pleasure would be better concepts to discuss.  However, those would require an honest look at how a person has lived their life.

It’s much easier to look at you and say, “You gotten lucky.”

Birds of a Feather

If you’re running down this road of financial independence, expect some occasionally not-so-positive feedback from friends and family.  They’re not going to understand the mission your on.  That’s okay.

We all don’t have to understand each other’s journeys to get along and love one another.

But it’s important to understand that your financial goals, your financial awakening, might fall into the category of religion and politics –things that are best not spoken about at family gatherings.  Maybe your family will be open to it.  Test the waters.  If not, be quiet about it and move on.

There’s an old saying, “Birds of a feather, flock together.”  Find someone who is on the same journey as you are financially, either in the blogging world or in the real world and talk with them.  It’s a great experience to share how things are going for you and see real excitement in someone else’s eyes when they understand the struggles you’ve gone through or in the middle of battling.

It’s not a great experience to share those same things with someone you love and respect and see apathy there and a desire to change the subject to anything but the thing you long to talk about.

Know when and where to talk about your financial journey.  It will make it better for both you and those around you.