Archive for Tuesday, April 25, 2006

When to offer, seek advice on money matters

April 25, 2006

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Often when I do my biweekly online chat, I hear from people who, like my grandmother, mean well but just can't understand why grown folks won't listen to their common sense financial advice.

Here's a typical question: "What is the best way to approach your family, particularly your mother, about developing short-term and long-term savings? Every time I bring it up, it turns into a confrontation because she goes on the defensive. I have been blessed with a great job. I save. I'm only trying to help but unfortunately I feel like I'm getting the 'she thinks she is better than us' attitude, which at times comes from my mom. What am I to do? I'm only trying to help."

I'll confess. For years, I thought I had to school my family and friends on how to better handle their money. I frequently offered unsolicited financial advice.

And guess what? To my surprise, people resented my "I know I'm better at money matters than you are" attitude.

They were right to be offended.

Trust me, people who don't handle their money well are quite aware of this fact.

What has worked for me is to stop offering unsolicited advice. Wait to be asked. Then, once you are asked, people can't or shouldn't complain that they don't like what they hear because they were the ones who invited you into their business.

Yet there are times when you should offer your opinions about someone's money habits, even if you haven't been asked. It's when the other person is your underage child or your spouse.

For instance, I received the following question from a husband frustrated that his wife wouldn't listen to him. He wrote: "I just got married, drive a 1998 Honda on a Lexus salary and I'm trying to educate an otherwise difficult spouse. She doesn't think through all financial decisions. If my car has a noise, she is quick to say, 'We need a new car.' How do I go about getting her to look at the whole picture?"

Even if you are meeting resistance, continue trying to help your spouse manage his or her money right. Of course, your communication should always be respectful.

Then there are people who invite people to comment on their finances when they really shouldn't.

One chat participant wrote: "My husband and I are looking to buy a home. We are very nervous about making this financial commitment (we both made the mistake of racking up $100,000 in graduate school loans). He wants to share the nitty-gritty of our financial situation with his family and friends. I think such details are personal and I only feel comfortable discussing these things with a professional."

My husband and I have rules for how we handle many situations in our home. We call them "house rules." We have a rule on who maintains control of the remote control. We have guidelines on how to argue. We also have a rule about who should be privy to our personal business.

Don't tell your mama, daddy, sister, cousin, girlfriends - nobody - the nitty-gritty details of your finances unless the person you are seeking advice from has specific knowledge or the expertise to aid you in a decision you may need to make.

Of course, even when you get advice from a professional, you sometimes need to get a second opinion.

When taking advice, especially about your finances, always consider the source and the giver's motivation.

When my grandmother said, "Even when I'm wrong, I'm right," she meant that even if her advice turned out to be wrong, it came from the right place.

- Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post.

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