Posted by Tim Stobbs on June 11, 2010
Perhaps one of the most difficult things to deal with when you look at personal finance is the habit of judging others. We see a big SUV drive by and assume “Sucker, you got to be hating the car payment, gas and insurance on that monster.” Little do you know isn’t their SUV at all, they are just driving it across town for a friend who drank a bit too much last night. Or perhaps you are in line at the grocery store watching a person get a rather big bill for a small pile of prefab food. Little do you realize that their mother just died and they are being lazy for a week while they deal with their grief.
Like it or not we all judge each other’s spending habits all the time, but often we lack any sense of context about their spending. We don’t know if they are the millionaire next door out at their one annual expensive meal a year that they have for their birthday. We don’t know if people were dealt bad childhood, a disabled sibling or parents who never taught them a thing about money. Yet we assume things about people to help us feel better about our choices (I didn’t buy a coffee today, but I notice Jim’s got his usual) or make up stories to justify our own spending habits (oh, but this is going to be so useful for me).
I would assume this is why personal finance blogs are interesting to people, because if you fellow them for a while you get some context into their lives and why they spend they way they do. For example, if you have been reading this blog for a while you might know I don’t spend a lot of money on food each month. Perhaps about $300 to feed a family of four. You might assume that I’m cheap and eat a lot of beans and rice. When in reality it is partly how I prefer to eat (I don’t like large servings of meat and I do make a meatless meal once a week) and I’m good at shopping for most of our basic food on sale ( I don’t think I’ve paid full price for a can of soup in years now). It also helps when you have a wife who works out of the house and can usually have supper started before I walk in the door each night. With out the context what I spend on food each month can be hard to understand when compared to your life.
Thus people are sort of islands of spending unto themselves. Unless you have a map of it or spend some time there it is hard to understand how they can make things work, especially if their lifestyle is significantly different than your own. We wonder how people can cut their own kids hair (and their own) yet turn around and gladly spend $300 on a new electronic gadget. We wonder how people can buy second hand clothes yet still eat off of good china with crystal glasses every Sunday night.
The reality of it is we will never understand another human being entirely and thus will never get their spending habits either. Each of us is unique. So snap judgements often cuts short your opportunity to learn from others and grow. This is the price of judgement of other people’s spending habits.
Despite knowing this I still do it to others all the time, it’s a hard habit to break. For example, I’ve never really got why people eat out a lot, it seems like such a waste of money to me. Then in the last two weeks just by how things worked out I ate out for just about every other lunch or supper (I didn’t pay for half of them). Now after that I’ve felt more sluggish than normal and I’ve had a stronger craving for sweets than normal. Yet I can understand the illusion of when you are busy eating out seems like it is faster than cooking. So now I actually feel a bit of sympathy towards people who eat out a lot since they don’t likely know what is feels like to have my usual energy or know that cooking from scratch doesn’t have to take much longer than eating out (when you factor in travel time or waiting in line).
In the end I think I might always judge others to some degree. It’s a deeply embedded habit. Yet rather than feel superior to others I’m going to try more to feel sympathy and compassion. It will be hard to do, but I think I will learn more from others this way and perhaps a few things about myself.
So do you judge others? If so, do you remember a time when you got it wrong? If so, please share the story. If you don’t judge others, please share how you manage not to do it.