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

by Alexa Mason · 31 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 he is raising two kids. He’s also frugal beyond frugal. In the wintertime, he blocks off heat to all but a couple of rooms to save on electricity. And when his kids aren’t home, his house feels like a freezer. There may be some more places he can find some extra savings, but in his case, it’s mainly an income problem.

He knows he needs to earn more money, which is why he picks up overtime whenever possible. He is also actively looking for another job. But for a sizable chunk of the population, the pandemic hasn’t treated their job prospects very well. The economy is picking up and more companies will hopefully continue to keep hiring. The stimulus checks also helped a ton, 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.

When I was going through my divorce, all I needed when I sat down with someone was for him or her to listen to what I had to say. Instead, I got all kinds of advice most of the time and I was the one who had to listen. This dragged on for months and months. The unsolicited suggestions were all well-intentioned, but it didn’t change the fact that I really just wanted to avoid them at all cost. Some, like the ones where people were telling me what I should have done before the problems started, were obviously too late to implement. But even actionable advice just went in one ear and out the other. I was too emotional to hear what the other people were suggesting. I just wasn’t ready.

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. This is true even if your friend just bought something at Target.com and you are all excited about Capital One Shopping’s Target.com coupons because you just learned about it yourself. No matter how much you think a person can benefit from your help, they’re not going to change until they are ready. And that’s out of your control.

What Do You Think?

The more I learn how to better manage my personal finances how and why people get in financial trouble, the stronger the urge to tell people what to do when I hear about their financial troubles. Still, I’m going to try my best to keep biting my tongue. 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. And when we have a stronger relationship with someone, our advice will sink in better when he or she is finally ready and asks for our help.

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 }

  • Steveark says:

    I was the boss of a company with several hundred employees. I always had a pretty good understanding of finances and investing but I learned early on that if people have already made assumptions about you being “rich” based on your job position then the last thing they want to hear from you is advice on money. The assumption is that nobody making a ton of money has anything to say useful to someone making normal wages. We are out of touch, period.

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience Steve. It’s easy for people to just brush off money advice from those who’s done well by saying stuff like “it’s easy for you to say because you are rich”. Many never want to believe that others put in the work and persistence through the years. They just think others got lucky.

  • Dividend Power says:

    A lot of people offer financial advice since they think they know more than they know. I guess that is how many bloggers including myself start.

  • Beau W says:

    I’m happy I read this post. It’s a good reminder that sometimes you should listen and let your friends speak. Your right. Offering advice has its place and time.

  • Connie says:

    I completely understand wanting to help and trying to use past experiences to help someone in a trying time or in avoiding bad experiences to begin with. I now always have on hand copies of Dave Ramsey’s TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER to give out. That way, I am not the one giving advice and the advice is much more in depth. I have read just about every book out there on personal finance and find this one the most easiest to adhere to and the one that makes the most sense to me.

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      Giving them a book is a good idea. And if they have more questions, then you can talk to them about the specifics talked about in the book.

      Thanks for the tip Connie!

  • 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@MoneyNing.com 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?

  • 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@MoneyNing.com 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.

  • James Salmons says:

    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.

  • Alex says:

    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@MoneyNing.com 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@MoneyNing.com 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.

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      Good point Syed. I try to do that with family too, but I need to constantly remind myself that I need to still stay polite and objective.

  • Jason says:

    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@MoneyNing.com 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!

  • 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@MoneyNing.com 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.

    • Adele says:

      I agree with everything in this article and also the comment from Kevin.
      Thanks; great post.

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      Absolutely. Most of the time the friend just wanted to vent, and the best response is to be there for him/her.

  • 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!

  • Brandy says:

    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!

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      No worries Brandy. Many (if not all) of us are guilty of the same thing. We all need to be more mindful of offering unsolicited advice.

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