How Humility About Personal Finance Can Be a Really Good Thing

I have been known to be a bit, shall we say, know-it-all about several topics. One of those is personal finance. I thought, once I got my debt paid off and was saving up a large chunk of our family’s income each month, that I knew all there was to know about this particular topic.

Of course, that’s an exaggeration. But, I am very quick to offer advice in this particular area, without necessarily being willing to listen sympathetically.

Sometimes, not having all the answers or feeling unsure about a certain area of personal finance, however, is important.

If you know you have all the answers, or that your way is the right way, how can you properly evaluate other ideas, or have an open mind to listen to new possibilities?

That’s where humility comes in, and humility often comes through failing at something.

So, if we have succeeded with money for a while, relatively speaking, how do we get money humility?

Spending

For me, it comes with knowing that I’ll never be the next Frugalwoods. I’ve never in my life been able to save a bunch of money without some superhuman hiding it from myself or putting it in an investment account before I get a chance to spend it.

Sure, over the years I’ve gotten a little better at handling money. We’ve used YNAB for years, we’re a month ahead in our budget, and if (when) we overspend, we pull it out of our savings and pay ourselves back.

But I’m always, always scrambling at the end of the month to figure out where to pull money from in our budget to cover our expenses.

Because of this, I’m less likely to judge others for something like prodigious amounts of eating out or clothes shopping. Sadly, I’m not above judging them for going into debt. But, it’s more of a “don’t do that! It’ll make you so miserable” kind of judgement, versus a “I’m so smart and you’re an idiot” kind of judgement. Working on that, anyway.

Earning

Since we’ve moved to our fancy-pants Country Club, I’ve become much more humble about our earnings, too. Yes, we are high-income earners, and Mr. ThreeYear makes a large salary. He has worked hard to arrive at his current position, and that has put us on a firm financial footing. I have contributed a very small amount to our total earnings, mostly by pulling us down a few percentage points from a higher-earning percentile under “individual earner” to a lower-earning percentile for “total household income.”

Me with my fancy new clothes, in the IKEA closet that we updated ourselves (post coming).

In our neighborhood, though, we joke that we are the poor friends. The people we hang out with have so much disposable income it makes my head spin (or they spend like they do). I think their incomes are higher AND they spend most of it, honestly.

It really is true that where you live and who you live by has a huge influence on your spending. I know this and watch myself living it each and every day. In frugal New Hampshire? I spent barely anything, and never questioned (ok, rarely questioned) our older, modest cars and Craigslist furniture.

Here, almost every home in the neighborhood is large, beautifully decorated, with a late-model luxury car in the driveway, an updated kitchen and pool in the back.

Do I know that I live in a bubble? Of course I do. My home, car, and kitchen are not going to look exactly like my neighbors because that doesn’t represent my particular set of values.

However, I also know where I live does affect my spending and will continue to affect my spending more and more, because I’m going to start to dress better (which, okay, admittedly, I needed to do anyway), update my living room furniture, and spend in other ways that match my neighbors’ spending.

“What?” you might be thinking. “How could you, Mrs. ThreeYear?” I’m just being realistic. I know myself. Even Mr. ThreeYear was on Stitch Fix last night, browsing new outfits. Yes, the King of TJMaxx is finally contemplating updating his look (I’m on board!).

The fancier (but more humble) Three Years.

So what do I do, if I know that my spending is going to be negatively affected?

Well, it’s complicated. We could move out of the Country Club, but that would be expensive. When I total the amount we’ll spend on new clothes and eating out, it’s a fraction of the cost of realtor fees and moving trucks.

Also, we’re enjoying having more social interaction with friends. One of our biggest complaints from New Hampshire was that we were socially isolated, and it was seriously depressing.

Tradeoffs

Would we retire with more money in the bank if we spent less? Of course. Do we need to? No. It looks like we will more than hit our goal of retiring when Little ThreeYear graduates high school, and if spending a little more now brings us happiness, then that is a nice way to follow the middle path, the Buddhist philosophy of not-too-much and not-too-little.

Humility

I’ll continue to cultivate humility as I live in this strange new world. It’s the place where I’ve always lived, no matter where I’ve lived.

Feeling as if I never quite fit, as if I’m a little bit off no matter which world I’m in.

As a teacher, I’m a little suspect because I live in a country club, as the neighbor of some of the students at our fancy private school.

As a resident of said country club, because I drive a used car with dents and scratches and constantly talk about the deals I find.

In the North, I was someone who wrinkled her nose at hockey and wanted to move as soon as possible.

As a Southerner, I don’t normally wear makeup or fix my hair and I curse a lot (I blame that on my time in New Hampshire).

As a personal finance blogger, I’m not particularly frugal and I’m not retiring particularly early.

I think this feeling of never-quite-fitting-in, which I’m sure lots of people feel, has given me a keener appreciation for others who are different.

It’s given me the feeling that I don’t have all the answers, and that I’m trying to figure it out too.

Maybe you, as a reader of this blog, would like me to take a more definite stance, to be less humble, provide less room for ambiguity in my posts.

Well, tough. That’s not who I am and not how this blog operates (but thanks so much for reading!).

I feel like we need more voices joining the fray who can offer other ways to achieve a similar goal. You could–

  • Build a business, throw everything you have into it, retire wealthy.
  • Spend all your money on clothes and Botox, find a wealthy husband or wife, and marry into money, then retire wealthy.
  • Live frugally, save 70% of your income, die early, leave a big inheritance to your loved ones.
  • Work hard, earn a good income, save 25%, retire at 65, retire wealthy.
  • Work hard, earn a low income, spend all of your free time and money on your children, retire late with no money, have your children take care of you.

We in the personal finance community are diverse, and as a diverse community can make room on the internet for diverse ideas and voices.

Where humility about every topic, including personal finance and people’s choices about how they spend their money, is on display.

Author: Laurie

Hi. I'm Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

6 thoughts on “How Humility About Personal Finance Can Be a Really Good Thing”

  1. Hey, there is tremendous skiing not far from Santiago, some of the best in the world and it is pretty affordable. The drive to the slopes is almost as adventurous as the skiing, they just do not spend a lot of money on guardrails down there!

  2. I think you are way too hard on yourself! It doesn’t matter how much you make and you shouldn’t be embarrassed about that. The most important thing is that people have a plan. That’s it. You do have a plan so you are doing things right!

  3. I’m a long time blog reader but haven’t commented before. I appreciate your perspective on things. Also I’ve saved money from two specific things you’ve mentioned. I saved $160 on a prescription through GoodRx and am in process of refinancing my mortgage to a 20 year loan shaving a year off of the term for a slightly lower payment than I have now. I wanted to thank you for those.

  4. I am new here and enjoyed your post! I respect that you are staying focused on your finances and making intentional choices even if you’re in an environment where people are spending effortlessly, extensively, and thoughtlessly. There is some of that in my community also. I’ve always struggled feeling like a slight outsider and a lot of our spending for our kids is to try and blend in, while stealthily saving like mad. It’s a delicate balance, especially when kids are involved.

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