I Don’t Want To Be That Money-Smart Know-It-All!

Money-smart smugs

Debt Reduction: Keeping Smugness At Bay” – It was a post I wrote three years ago, only a few months into our journey out of debt. “Smugness is such an unfortunate characteristic,” I wrote at the time. “It takes the shine off accomplishment, and it obliterates the possibility of inspiration.  Judgment brings on defensiveness, so the walls go up.  And when we defend our position and keep barriers against outside influence, change is less likely than ever to happen.”

I had known through years of chronic indebtedness that smug, money-smart people only succeeded in putting my defenses up. I did not want to follow their example. They could have their mortgage-free homes, their paid-outright cars, and their well-padded savings and investments. If it all had to come with smugness, I didn’t want it.

Discovering my own inner-smug & biting my tongue

I had made a discovery when I wrote that post three years ago. A money-smart smug was threatening to take root in me. A young teacher had told me about the house he had just bought, and about how it was “a stretch” since he still had student loans. And a nice new car – with nice new car payments. “I tried to stay pleasant and non-judgmental,” I wrote of that conversation, “while everything in me screamed, Why did you take on a mortgage when you’ve already got so much debt?” It took all my willpower to bite my tongue.

What happened when I didn’t bite

Last week, I didn’t bite hard enough. A young woman was casually chatting with me about her hopes to go back to school next September, and about her husband’s unhappiness at work. She was trying to convince him to quit his job and to travel with her. Uh-oh! Red flags! He had never had “that life-changing experience” of travel that she had had, and it was time for his life to change. Teeth set on edge, not quite biting tongue.

“Can you afford to do that?” Politely asked. Doing OK.

No, they would have to take out a line of credit.

Don’t do it!!! screamed my inner-voice. “I’m not a fan of debt,” I said with might pass as a tone of motherly concern.

“Neither is my mom. She doesn’t think we should do it.”

More talk of her sympathy for her husband and his strong desire to change his situation.

Just nod and smile, Ruth. Don’t say anything. “What about looking for a new job?” I couldn’t let it go. “If he finds something he likes, you could save up for travel instead of going on a line of credit.”

“We have no debt at all right now,” she said.

“You don’t know what a treasure you have!” Stop it, Ruth!. “If you go into debt to travel now, you’ll kick yourself ten years.” Stop it!

 The young woman’s eyes widened. She said nothing.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t be telling you what to do.”

She found her voice again. “It’s fine.”

And unfortunately, I found mine. “But don’t do it. Sorry! It’s just a really good idea NOT to go into debt . . .”

I fumbled between apologies and blasts of urgent wisdom combined with intermittent tongue-biting for the remainder of our time together. I just did not handle that conversation well.

What should I have done?

But I can’t decide upon what I should have done. Should I really have just nodded and smiled? Should I have said, “That sounds like an exciting plan!” Should I have said how good it would be for her husband to stop working the job he hated and to travel? No! That would be lying! I don’t want anyone to work a job they hate, but I don’t think the answer is a line of credit and a plane ticket.

Should I have stated my honest concern once, gently – and then just left it? I truly don’t think she would have listened if I’d done that. (And I truly don’t think I could have done that.) But then when I allowed myself to voice my more animated protest, I shocked her.

I seemed to have it all figured out three years ago. “I just have to learn how to deal with the new discernment I’ve developed for financial self-entrapment,” I wrote after considering the young teacher with his growing collection of debts. “I don’t want it to lead me to nagging, judgmental arrogance.  I’ll aim for pleasant grace combined with honest but silent knowing.”

I missed “pleasant”, “grace”, and “silent” – all three – in my conversation with the young woman last week. She might think I’m a smug know-it-all. She might think I’m one of those chronic-mom-types who thinks she can nag anyone. She might well have been put off. Defenses up.

There’s a good chance I’ll see her again next week, and if I do, I’ll apologize properly – without backsliding into blurting out my opinion about her plans. I’ll let her know that last week, I was speaking out of my own history of bad money-management and my own experience with debt.

One of the things I’ve gained as I’ve developed money-smarts is the compulsion to share what I’ve learned with others. There are good, constructive ways of doing this, as well as obnoxious, ineffective ways. “People are ready to change when they’re ready to change,” I wrote in that three-year-old post, “and there’s no point in offering unwelcome advice.”

Do you have an inner money-smart smug? How do you respond to people who share their not-so-money-smart ideas with you? Your comments are welcome. Bonus point if you can tell me which movie the line in the post image is from. 🙂


*Photo courtesy of Studio Tdes

27 comments on “I Don’t Want To Be That Money-Smart Know-It-All!

  1. When I get into a conversation with someone about money and if I believe they are making a mistake, I’ll typically lead with our history, our mistakes, and how we overcame it. This way a least in my mind I’m not coming across as a money-smart smug as I give advice. You’ve stumped me on the movie line.

    1. I normally do just as you have advised here, Brian. I don’t know why I didn’t in this case. I hope to have the chance to do it right when I see her next!
      (And I’m stumped on the movie too! That was Laurie’s idea ; )

  2. I’m prone to smugness – in several different areas, truth be told – but I keep it in my head. This has less to do with my self-control, and more to do with my discomfort with confrontation.

    I think it’s great that you want to share what you’ve learned with others, but as you know, it won’t always be welcomed. Your plan for providing the context the next time you see the woman sounds like a great way to handle these situations in the future. You could even throw in a little self-depreciation: “Please forgive me if this is over-sharing, but here’s what I went through with debt… As a result, I find myself telling everyone to avoid debt whenever possible. I can’t help myself!”

    1. Oooh … I like that “forgive me if this is over-sharing” bit. I think I’ll use that. Thanks, Amy! I’m trying to become much better at confrontation than I used to be. Like you, I used to avoid it – but that just brought on inner seething. It’s awkward to confront when it’s unfamiliar – and clearly I still experience that awkwardness. Growing pains.

  3. I think there are a couple of things to consider in a situation like this. First, look at whether they are asking you for advice or just talking. If they’re asking, then by all means pull out all the stops, but if they’re just talking you definitely don’t want to go full steam ahead. You can still put forth some advice, but you have to kind of edge into it. In your case I might have gone in with “Wow, that sounds like a big plan, and it’s really a familiar story. We made a similar type decision, and while it was fun, we definitely had some regrets.” At that point, you’ve put it out there and you just need to see whether they bite or not.

    1. She was definitely just talking, and I definitely didn’t “edge into it.” In good conscience, I don’t think I could have just let what she said go – I just had to have more control over the way it came out – which was, unfortunately, “full steam ahead.” Thanks, Money Beagle. I’ll work on edging.

  4. Those are always tough decisions/conversations. “Help” is different than help. And to help (not “help”), it sometimes requires you to make people uncomfortable. Some situations are not suitable for that uncomfortableness. Some are.

    Regardless, you were trying to help. And thats not always easy.

    I would find it hard to believe that any PF blogger doesn’t have a money-smart blog. There are many factors that go into play, but I’m typically mindful of two: How well do I know this person? If it’s well enough to share personal information honestly, then I try to ask myself: “Would they even have the desire/motivation to change?”. If not, it’s like talking to a brick wall. Except this brick wall has feelings and your relationship could be permanently damaged.

    1. I’m glad you said that help sometimes requires you to make people uncomfortable. I allow myself to hope that the discomfort I brought about might still be constructive. As for the two factors you mention, I would have no problem sharing personal information with this person about our history with debt. I also believe she would be open to different opinions. I blew it by not coming at it from the angle of our own experience – I just allowed my “urgent wisdom” to blurt out. Thankfully, I will likely have the opportunity to repair any damage done. And hopefully, I won’t blow it – again. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Luke.

  5. Ok.. first off…. Sometimes I tell myself people couldn’t possibly entertain such thoughts. “husband quit job to travel with wife..on line of credit?” But, apparently they do. I myself bristle when I hear matters like this. I’m not perfect by any means and have made a couple of ridiculous decisions myself. But having gone thru the debt burning and learning process smugness does set in and it’s hard to watch someone on the debt rails…In situations like this I ask if I can offer my opinion or suggestion(s). That way I will will know if they’re open or not and I won’t waste my time or theirs lol!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Cava. Your word “bristle” describes exactly the sensation I experienced. And my own “ridiculous” history with financial decisions and debt is precisely what made me bristle. I don’t believe that smugness is an inevitable result of becoming money wise – that there is a way to be aware of the unwise money plans of others without being smug. Sort of in line with, “Remove the plank from your own eye, and then help another remove the speck from his/her eye.” I like your suggestion of asking if I can offer my opinion rather than just giving it.

  6. I don’t like smugness either (does anyone really?) and despite having a touch of inner money-smart smug, I do try to come across as being in a constant state of trying to learn and improve rather than as someone who has all the answers. But it can be very difficult to bite our tongues when we desperately want someone to avoid the mistakes we’ve made. I agree that starting with your history can be a good way to build a bridge if you have to say something. Stating your honest concern (once, gently as you wrote) might not have made a difference to the woman you were speaking with, but most times people need to learn for themselves. We can offer information and advice, but we can’t change anyone else. That being said, we’re all human, and sometimes words come out of our mouths before finishing the journey through our brains. All we can do at that point is to offer a sincere apology and try to do it differently next time.

    1. “it can be very difficult to bite our tongues when we desperately want someone to avoid the mistakes we’ve made” – Thank you! It was like hearing her say, “We’re going to set up our tent on the highway.” I couldn’t just nod my head and pretend I was supportive.
      “sometimes words come out of our mouths before finishing the journey through our brains.” – Well said! My brain was in desperation mode, and I just didn’t think it through. Thanks for your comment, Gary.

  7. I think as we get older, we see younger people making mistakes or are about to make a mistake, and we honestly just want to help and assist them the best way we know how. We want to impart our knowledge and let them know how money mistakes can really affect your future and not just financially. But sometimes people are really rocking to the beat of their own drum, and that drum is full of debt. And at that point, nothing anyone can say, will make them change their mind.

    1. I think it’s as you say, Mackenzie – my experience with money mistakes impacting the future negatively, “and not just financially,” is what made me speak out. My motive stemmed 100% from goodwill, but my execution of it did not convey that goodwill. I hope that this woman will not “rock the beat of her own drum” in this case. If she won’t listen to me, maybe she’ll listen to her mom.

  8. I definitely feel the tension of wanting to help people avoid big mistakes, without seeming like a know-it-all who has it all together. It definitely depends on my relationship with the individual, and, more than anything, on whether they seem open to help. As you wrote 3 years ago, until people invite advice, they usually aren’t ready to hear it. I’ve been there, and I think it helps to remember that.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Kalie. I really wish I had remembered that! I can’t quite account for why I didn’t in this case. Just an off day, perhaps? She was not asking for help – and I’m pretty sure I didn’t end up giving her any.

  9. This is a really interesting topic to me because I think personality type has a lot to do with what your answer will be. For me, once my opinion is formed, I feel compelled to share it (which is one reason that my husband is so thankful that I’ve started a blog). I tend to push people to be intellectually honest with themselves and with me, but I try to use it as a strength. Being pushy and naggy sucks, but I’ve also found that people are drawn to those who will draw a line in the sand.

    All this said, if I’ve said something unkind, I need to be quick to apologize for the character flaw and not use my personality as an excuse.

    1. I love honesty too, Hannah. And clearly, I feel compelled to share strong opinions as well. I am generally thought to be – and I consider myself to be – gentle and sensitive to others. But there is obviously a “pushy nag” going on too! I have no excuse for the way I talked to this woman. And while I hope to become more and more money-wise, I really don’t want any smugness to be a part of it.

  10. I look back at all the things we’ve done and all the things we probably should have done instead. I can honestly say that if we had always played it safe, we would have been unhappy. I like spontaneity, even when the consequences haven’t been the conventionally smart way of doing things. So, I have to say that giving your opinion is the right thing to do. If you had tried to force your will on her, that would have been bad, but you didn’t. You gave your honest opinion. What she does with it after that is up to her own free will.

    1. When you said, “I like spontaneity,” I thought you were going to follow it up with, “I like her idea of travelling with her husband.” But you didn’t. Do you mean that it’s OK to express honest opinions spontaneously? In the end, I don’t think I was wrong in expressing my opinion. I was wrong in fumbling it so badly. But I’ll work on that. Thanks for your comment, Kay.

      1. Yep, that’s what I meant ~ the traveling with her husband thing. But it’s hard to say that because it is the conventionally “wrong” thing to do. I also meant it for giving your opinion. As long as you aren’t strong arming her, why not say what you’re thinking? In the long run, she’s going to do what she’s going to do, but at least she’ll have your voice in her head giving her a different way of looking at things. I’ve been this girl. I know how she’s thinking. Good luck trying to change that!

        1. That is exactly where I’m trying to find discernment. If I say nothing and I’m convinced she’s harming herself, I’m withholding what could be a helpful wake-up call. If I get frustrated with her plans, then I’m over-stepping my bounds. I think the fine line in here is to offer what I believe is true – with goodwill – and then to let go of the outcome. I too have “been this girl’, and while I don’t want to lose all elements of that kind of free spirit, I definitely want to lose the elements that end up sabotaging the freedom it thrives on. Thanks Kay. I like this kind of back-and-forth on the subtleties of these tricky issues.

  11. I love this! I travel a ton for work, so get to observe a wide range of people from different places. And universally, when I hear someone say, “Well, ACTUALLY, blah blah blah,” the other person’s reaction is always an eye roll, or tuning out or even yelling back. Being a know-it-all just doesn’t serve any good, since it makes the other person shut you out — and think you’re a jerk! Observing this over and over again has been powerfully instructive for me, since I definitely have a tendency toward know-it-all-ness. 🙂 But like you, I don’t want to be that at all, so it requires real awareness to my speech and behavior.

    1. I even know about that “shut you out” reaction to know-it-alls because I’ve had it myself on many occasions. You are absolutely right in saying that real awareness is required on the part of those inclined to be know-it-alls. As soon as I was aware of that first red flag in my fateful conversation, I should have been formulating my plan for honesty combined with diplomacy. Instead, I made an obnoxious mess of it. Ugh! Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad you liked this post : )

  12. STAR WARS! The answer is Star Wars! Remember, everyone thinks it’s “Luke, I am your father!”, but it’s technically not. On a funny note, we always say this line a little differently as we mimic my then-4-year-old nephew, who said “Luke, I am your dad.”. It’s not nearly as traumatizing as it was in the movie when you say it that way, but it’s super funny. 🙂

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