Are You Guilty of This Financial (and Lifestyle) No-No?

by Alexa Mason · 24 comments

The other day, one of my good friends was telling me about his money situation. To put it simply, he was waiting on his next paycheck to be able to pay for his son’s baseball pictures.

I felt kind of bad for him, and my initial reaction was to start dishing out financial advice. You know: Tell him how he can stop living paycheck to paycheck, and that kind of thing.

But I bit my tongue.

My friend wasn’t looking for my sympathy or my advice. In fact, he’s one of the most frugal people I know. He already knows what to do. What he needed was somebody who would just listen; listen without judging; listen without telling him how he should be living his life.

While driving home, I was extremely grateful I’d kept my mouth shut and been a good friend. I haven’t always done this, though, so I started to think about how often I dish out and receive unsolicited advice.

Are you guilty of the same thing?

When You Shouldn’t Offer Financial Advice

In the case of my friend, he works 40+ hours per week for $10/ hour, and is raising two kids. He’s also frugal beyond frugal. In the wintertime, he blocks off heat to all but a couple rooms to save on electricity. And when his kids aren’t home, his house feels like a freezer. In his case, it’s an income problem.

He know he needs to earn more money, which is why he picks up overtime whenever possible and has been actively looking for another job. But he has a long journey ahead of him — and he knows it. He doesn’t need my advice at all. He needs my support, and I’m so glad I was able to recognize that.

And this is only one example. There are plenty of other situations where offering financial advice is not a good idea — even if you think the person needs it. To be frank: If a person doesn’t want to change and hasn’t asked for your opinion, you’re not going to be able to help them — no matter what you say.

When It’s OK to Offer Your Advice

Think back to the last time someone gave you unsolicited advice. How did it make you feel? Was it a slap in the face?

Probably. And that’s because, like my friend, you weren’t looking for it.

In my opinion, the only time you should give out advice is when someone specifically asks you for it. Otherwise, you’re wasting your breath. No matter how much you think a person needs your help, they’re not going to change until they are ready. And that’s out of your control.

What Do You Think?

I’m going to keep biting my tongue when I get that urge to tell someone what to do. I honestly believe that if we support the people who need our help — instead of judging them or giving unwanted advice — we’d all have better relationships.

Do you agree? Do you give unsolicited advice — on finances, or any other matter? 

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Talk about dishing out unsolicited advice.

    You ask, “Are you guilty? Sadly all too often, in spite of the fact that I have lots of educational training that clearly taught me not to do it. Not only is it not helpful, it very often causes people to defend and harden their present thinking. Instead we must wait for the “teachable moment.”

    I have learned one trick to help myself avoid this temptation (I admit I have to work hard to resist this). When I think about offering unsolicited advice I make a mental note of it, often writing it down since I have a practice of keeping 3X5 cards in my pocket to jot down all kinds of info I think I might need to recall later–names, etc. Then I save my insight for later use at a more appropriate time.

    Sure, I may never have an opportunity with that person, but maybe I can use the illustration in an article where I can help someone else. Say, that may be what Alexa did right here!

  • MoJoPokeyBlue says:

    I like to “talk” about money with my friends, only to find out how well/bad I’m doing in comparison to everyone else. I figure if I’m in a better financial situation that the “average” person then I must be okay.

  • Tania says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I try to be mindful, but I sometimes catch myself accidentally giving advice just because I’m so passionate about finances. To avoid sounding like a know-it-all, I sometimes just find a way to mention that I coach people in their finances, and assume if they have a specific question to ask, they will. I also try to remember that I like talking about money, but to some it’s a very taboo subject.

    • David Ning says:

      Just be known as Money Gal and everyone will open up Tania 🙂

      Seriously though, it does help people share more if they already know you are into personal finance, so it’s an awesome idea to let them know that about your coaching gig.

  • I don’t give out advice unless I’m asked for it specifically. I’ve looked at life with the belief that if a person wants something they’ll need to come to the realization to ask for it. 99% of the time I’m there for friends and family and listen to their financial situation. However, if the situation continues and it’s repeated over and over again I personally can no longer sit and listen so I’ll ask if there is anything I can do to help.

    • David Ning says:

      That’s great of you to offer help Jason. Hopefully there aren’t too many situations where bad financial situations come up again and again for the same person!

  • Katie K. says:

    I have to respectfully disagree, in a way… To start, I think it is possible to offer a friend advice without being judgmental. Offering advice doesn’t automatically mean that you are judging someone. For me, personally, I love talking about financial well-being. Every one of my friends knows this about me. No, they don’t always outright ask me for advice every time our conversation turns to finances, but I definitely offer it up. And they usually offer some right back. I consider these empowering, brainstorming, self-improving, two-way conversations and they never have a context of judgment to them. They are usually very helpful/insightful. And if you really think about it, the conversation led to that topic for a reason, right? Now, would I start spouting [judgmental] financial advice to a perfect stranger who didn’t solicit it from me? Of course not. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with offering advice to a friend when the conversation turns to anything you may feel passionate about. In the end, if trying to be a good and helpful friend is what motivates you, then I think you are doing something right no matter what advice you are offering — solicited or not.

    • David Ning says:

      Thanks for being bold and doing the right thing. Offering advice can definitely work, but it’s extremely difficult for most of us to arrange our words in a way that’s objective, accurate, and not judgmental. I’m glad you are able to walk this fine line and I wish more of us can learn this “art”!

      • jim says:

        I don’t get why it’s extremely hard for most to arrange your words in a way that’s objective and not judgmental. OMG! Are you serious? It’s math, it’s numbers, it’s practicality. There’s no “judgment” involved – at least not where I’m coming from. If I needed someone to teach me how to bake banana bread and they gave me the instructions, I certainly wouldn’t feel “judged”, I’d just be damn grateful for the “facts” and instructions. Where does the judgment come from?

  • I think one of the worst financial advice, even when asked specifically, is what stock to buy. I have done it once and will never do it again.

    • David Ning says:

      I get that a lot too, but it’s easy for me because we tell them not to try picking individual securities because chances are very high that they won’t be better off than just a good old boring index fund!

  • Assnap Kined says:

    Yes, I’ve probably given financial advice when someone wasn’t really asking, but the problem is that there are just SO MANY financial professionals giving terrible advice (or advice that is in the pro’s best interest), that’s it’s hard not to jump in.

    Assnap Kined

    • David Ning says:

      It would really help if we jump in and correct any misunderstandings whenever people are open to a discussion. Maybe people around you will end up coming to you for good advice in the future!

  • Syed says:

    You’re exactly right sometimes people just want someone to sound off to rather than advice. I do make an exception for this though: family. My family knows I run a finance blog and if they complain to me about something financial, I try to advise them on it. Sometimes they don’t like it, but they listen eventually anyway.

  • Cindi says:

    If I see someone suffering (like hiding in an office corner and crying) then yes, by all means, I offer advice. That’s my specialty and I try to help as many people as I can manage their money. At all other times, I keep my mouth shut and am always non-judgmental.

    Been there. Done that. Know what it feels like.

    • David Ning says:

      That’s good of you to offer help Cindi. Being non-judgmental is something I can definitely improve upon. Perhaps the best way is to offer them the opportunity to ask questions if they would like some advice but leave it at that.

  • Kevin Calhoun says:

    Thank you for the wonderful post! I’ve been on both sides of the situation so I truly identify with what you’re saying. Giving advice to a friend or loved one who isn’t seeking it is a waste of time and – in the long run- cause tension in the relationship. Biting one’s tongue is the best approach until asked. All your friend wants is a sounding board to vent and make sense of their thoughts out loud. Just being present is enough for them.

  • JAL says:

    Good post, I think I need reminding of this from time to time! I do find myself dishing out “advice” quite often, and then looking back and thinking “they didn’t ask for advice, why do I do that?!”

    PS – just discovered this site, looks like there’s lots of good stuff on here!

  • Ugh! Yes, yes I think I do give out advice when it’s not specifically asked for. Glad I read your post and will try to be more mindful of this in the future!

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