On Growing Up In Front Of The TFD Comments Section

This is a weird thing to write, because it isn’t often comfortable to get so personal with people, especially when the people in question are actually internet strangers — no matter how close they might feel in the comments section. But recently, some comments I’ve gotten have left me wondering if there are things I’ve left out about myself on TFD that are actually really important pieces of who I am.

I am entirely guilty of this myself, so I’m definitely not accusing anyone of doing anything I don’t do every day, but when you turn on your computer and look at the creative content someone is producing and putting out on the internet, it is too easy to forget that the small sliver of their life that you are watching or reading is hardly enough for you to make a true judgment call on what type of person they are. On TFD and around the internet, we show only a fraction of what we do, and even through that tiny keyhole, it can be very easy to assume we see everything. 

Specifically, it has been noted more than once recently that I am not a financial expert. If she’s not an expert in finance, you ask, how is she writing for The Financial Diet? How am I supposed to take her advice or self-reflection seriously?

This is a hard question to answer. Short answer: you don’t have to. Long answer: *inhales*

TFD was not started as a place for finance experts to swap tips and give high-level advice. If you’ve read any of it, if you’ve followed it from the beginning or even read a good amount of the articles we’ve published, then you already know that. TFD publishes and interviews some experts, but it is primarily a place for people to talk openly about money as a topic, in an unfiltered and honest way. There are so many finance experts, and so many publications that publish technical instructions on managing your money goals. I consult them from time to time myself, and if you like them in one handy place, there are resources galore — in fact, we round them up for you every week.

But what about the other billions of people in the world — the ones who aren’t finance experts, but still have to deal with the green stuff on a daily basis? Those are the ones we’re here for. Those are the ones we are.

The TFD team members, as well as most of our regular contributors, don’t claim to be experts. We claim to be people, talking about our experience with money on a day-to-day basis. We might not be able to tell you exactly how you should manage your investment portfolio — but we will ask an expert to tell us what advice they’d give. We might not be able to tell you exactly how you can save enough money to move to a new city — but we’ll interview our friend who did it, and ask her what her best tips are. We might not be able to tell you the best way to start saving for retirement — but we will tell you what our mom did, and if we think we’ll do the same. The point is, part of the reason money has been such an obstacle for so many people is in part because we treat it like this elite, obscure subject that only certain people have the right to talk about. But TFD aims to make this conversation something everyone can be a part of, and that means that you will sometimes see money thoughts or struggles that seem beneath you, or not worthy of your time. When everyone gets a chance to speak, we are all at different levels.

The work that I do holds true to what I’ve loved about TFD since before I even became an intern, and I feel consistently proud and happy about what I do. It is absolutely understandable that content I produce may not be relatable or enjoyable for all readers — that is totally okay! It wouldn’t really make sense if it was. But to leap from “This article doesn’t relate to me, and I don’t wholly agree with it!” to “This girl is stupid, not a finance expert, and supported by her rich boyfriend” is kind of shocking, and very silly. Put simply: I’m a person who reads these comments, who sees frequent (and inaccurate) leaps to judgement about my own life, and am hurt. 

One of the reasons I started with TFD is because I do actually think a lot about money, and have always been relatively good with it. I make mistakes sometimes — little mistakes. Like, “I bought coffee three times this week,” and “I lost a pricey textbook.” Sometimes I go shopping when I should be putting the money in savings, or I forget my brown-bag lunch and buy something on-the-go. It isn’t great, but it happens. I have a self-deprecating sense of humor (as Chelsea rightfully pointed out to me as the team and I discussed it earlier this week), and that sometimes leads people to believe that I am a constantly floundering financial mess.

But the “messiness” that I’m ~known for~ — or at least, people think I’m known for — isn’t real messiness. I graduated with a college degree and only around $5000 in loans. I didn’t make the fun decision to live on campus because I knew it was too expensive. I have more than one job that I love deeply and feel emotionally fulfilled by — they also happen to pay me well enough that I support myself entirely. I own a car that I purchased myself, I have a retirement account that I contribute to monthly, I have an emergency fund and another savings account where I am saving for (eep!) an eventual house of my own. My credit score is over 750. I am doing my very best, and I feel happy — until I get a comment that invalidates it all, or implies that the only reason I’m happy and comfortable is because I’m supported by my “well-off significant other.”

I think it is worth mentioning here that I don’t believe that having one partner financially support the other is a bad thing — in relationships, more often than not, one partner will out-earn the other. Sometimes, one partner will fund the other, and help them out when they are trying to pursue a new passion or career path. I think that is amazing, and totally okay.

However, it has come to my attention more recently that people believe I’m being supported by my boyfriend. My boyfriend is a doctor in the middle of residency, and I think it is easy for people to hear the word “doctor” and assume that a lot of money comes along with the fancy title. Someday, it probably will — at least we hope so (babyboy does have a lot of debt to pay off!)

But as of right now, he makes a lot less than what you might imagine. On average, residents tend to earn somewhere around $50,000, give or take a little. Not terrible money, but considering the fact that my boyfriend has six-figures of student debt and routinely makes four-figure payments on it, that salary doesn’t leave him with a ton of money to live on. As of right now, we pay every single shared bill — rent, utilities, food, etc. — 100% equally. If we’re really splitting hairs, I actually often pay more of our shared expenses, because even though he earns more money than me, I don’t have a $1500-per-month loan payment, so I have a bit more disposable income. If he has an unexpected expense (last month it was an insane bill from the dentist) and things are tight for him, I will pay all of our utilities, or buy all of our groceries so he can make his loan payment on time and remain afloat. People assume I moved in with him so he could take care of me. Oddly enough, our decision to move in together was actually made because his roommate suddenly moved out, and he couldn’t afford to keep his apartment without someone to split rent with. (We had planned to move in together after my graduation, but did it six months early so he wouldn’t be in financial ruin, or have to move further away from the hospital he works at.)

I do acknowledge that I may be on a path or in a situation that isn’t always entirely relatable to every reader. I also acknowledge that I do come from a family where I had the great privilege of being supported and cared for, almost in excess, for my entire upbringing. (I wasn’t joking when I tweeted that I literally fell asleep as a child to a cassette tape of affirmations from my parents. They are amazing and I love them.) I acknowledge my relationship privilege, and the fact that relationship privilege in general is a thing. I feel lucky, and I know I’m in the comfortable position I am today because of the people in my life — but also because of myself. I’ve grown into the person I am today. I went to college, I applied for jobs, and I found ones that worked for me. I get up every morning and go to a job where I work 9-to-3:30 (so not 9-to-5, but close!) and come home to write, because it is a passion that I also earn money from. This could all change at any moment. I have no idea where I’ll be in a year, or five years from now — the future feels far, and entirely mysterious.

But that’s why TFD is a place I love to be: because I don’t have to be on the other end of my journey looking back at a finished picture, and explaining to everyone exactly how to do it just like me. I can talk honestly about the journey, and even if I don’t always give you the full picture (because I err towards the self-deprecating and not-braggy), I don’t have to worry if and when I do make mistakes. And while some of what I go through and learn may be thing you already figured out years ago, I’m not embarrassed to still be learning them. I’m okay with not having everything figured out yet. Not because I’m “bad with money.” Not because my boyfriend is supporting me and I’m floating along beside him not worrying about what happens. Not because I’m only 23 years old. Because I am a dang human being.

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at mary@thefinancialdiet.com!

Image via Unsplash

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  • Kara

    Tell ’em, girl. People suck. As an avid reader, I feel terribly that you had to write this piece. It must suck feeling like you have to justify your entire life to strangers on the internet. But I’m also happy to get to know you even more! We are ALL just humans, a comment box doesn’t change that.

  • Vianna

    Thanks for this awesome transparency! I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with some judgmental, inappropriate comments. Internet strangers can be the worst. I know you didn’t write this for praise, but know there are plenty of us out here who don’t comment often but think you’re great!

  • Mj D’Arco

    thank you for the transparency… i think that people start having misconceptions when what you post is only relating to your mistakes without any posts about your success.. you wrote about how your laziness cost you a semester’s worth of tuition, about money mistakes you have been making etc. when read holistically they do make you seem like a financial mess… how about bringing some balance on how you are being successful saving for retirement, how you managed to have such little debt from college etc. ? whether right or wrong, people do end up making assumptions, and by choosing to make this information public you open up yourself to criticism (now there is nice criticism and spiteful one). By providing both sides of the story you do come off as more relatable… best of luck!

  • I’m sorry the situation was such that you felt you had to write this piece, but I also appreciate the transparency and honesty that you displayed here! It’s what makes you a great writer, and I’m sure it serves you well in other parts of life. I relate to you the most out of the regular TFD writers, probably because I am also 23 with a college degree and moved in with my boyfriend only a few months before you moved in with yours, and so I especially hate to see comments being nasty and judgmental towards you (although I do generally hate to see nasty comments on anyone’s post, anywhere). Keep on keepin’ on!

  • Anon

    I actually don’t think you’re bad with money but I think that leaves you scrounging for content sometimes. To be honest, there’s just not a hell of a lot to say about money when you’re on top of it and your mistakes all hinge on minor, fixable things. This is a broader problem about the site, though. This is a site that claims to be about people struggling to figure out money in their youth but who is struggling out of the team? All of you seem to be doing totally fine, if not positively flourishing. It makes the endless comments about privilege ring a little hollow. It’s nice that everyone recognizes their privilege. It would be nicer of the contributors weren’t overwhelmingly middle class white ladies on a solid financial footing dealing with fairly minor problems.

    I haven’t seen much in the comments about being supported by a partner. I have seen exhaustion with the type of endless detailing of purchases made or not made that half of the articles on the site seem to be. As a reader, I’d really like you to stop writing them. You make money doing childcare. Why not write a few articles about that? Do you see it as a viable career? How did you get into it? Have you observed any patterns in how parents talk to their kids about money? What other jobs have you had? Any insight from those? Have you started an IRA? How did you and your bf decide on a budget for your apartment? What was the process of finding an apartment for the first time like? Did you use a realtor? Any surprises?

    I don’t think these problems are all on you. I think the site is flailing for content and you’re being called upon to pick up the slack in a way that’s difficult to sustain. I do think you’d be better off writing less frequently so you could produce more substantive pieces.

    • Wendi

      Couldn’t agree more, Anon! And Mary, what bugs me about your writing almost daily for TFD is how young you are and how elementary many of your pieces are. And no, I can’t remember which at the moment but many times I have read your pieces and thought they were written for only 18-year olds and/or wondered why they were written at all. Enough with the I bought this and regretted it to my dying breath. I understand that it’s your job to fill the space, but less is more and management should be much more concerned with quality and not quantity.

      • Anne

        Honestly, I think this comment is so unnecessarily rude. You don’t have to read articles if you don’t want to/ don’t feel like they were written for you, Wendi. Was the point of your comment just to make Mary feel like her work was inadequate/ not good enough for you?

        I really enjoy your writing Mary and I hope you keep it up!

        • Wendi

          Angry much?

          • Anne

            Not angry. Disappointed.

      • Wendi

        If I wasn’t clear, my comments were directed at management.

        • Kyle

          “Mary, what bugs me about your writing almost daily for TFD is how…” but this is directed at management???

          • Wendi

            How? Did I not acknowledge that Mary is told what to write? Did I not say, “management should be much more concerned with quality and not quantity?”

    • Amy Papworth

      I completely agree with this. I really enjoy reading TFD, largely because it makes me feel like I’m being proactive about understanding personal finance, but a lot of the writers seem to come from incredibly similar backgrounds. Recognising your privilege is so important, but it would be great to hear from other voices. Women of colour, women at various stages in life, women with kids and without, and some women from other countries. I’m English, if I’ve read about the importance of a 401k once, I’ve read it a hundred times. I now know vastly more about 401ks, than my own pension scheme. I also second Wendi, that a lot of the content seems to be fairly basic. I’m younger than your demographic, and find a lot of it quite obvious.
      On a more positive note, I do really love the honesty in a lot of your posts. I also really enjoy reading about dealing with friendship groups with vastly varying incomes, as someone who lives in London the polarisation is insane. The budget recipes are also always great!
      Ultimately, I agree that quality over quantity should be prioritised.

  • Nicola

    It saddens me you had to write this. Your articles are some of my favorite to read and I always notice when you haven’t posted an article in awhile. I rarely comment but always read (and enjoy!)

    Some people just look for something to complain about. Everyone’s situation is different and I think it’s great that TFD gives us the chance to learn about the different issues/challenges/successes people face.

  • Smashley

    Oof, I’m really sorry that the comment situation got to the point you felt you had to write this. You’re one of my favourite writers on here and I do find a lot of your pieces resonate with me. But I think you’ve struck a chord here. You’re touching on a much bigger issue that I think really has the potential to mess a lot of us up with money. The whole preconceived notion surrounding status and relationship privilege. I think there’s a lot that could be explored there. I know I would read the hell out of those articles.

    I do agree with anon’s post further down suggesting that TFD as a whole is shifting content wise. Probably due to some growing pains, because you guys are taking off and it’s amazing. However, it does feel like a a voice or tone is missing. I’m not sure what that is, and that’s not on you, that’s a larger TFD thing.

    Regardless, you and the whole TFD team are fantastic. Haters gonna hate.

    • Christine

      I was totally going to comment “you tell em, girl” too, because internet strangers are the actual worst and it’s unfortunate that you even had to write this Mary – but I have to say I also agree with anon in some ways too. I absolutely love TFD, I’ve been following from the beginning and read it every day. But more recently, I find myself not that interested in many of the articles. I read maybe half of them now, whereas I used to read them all. And that could be for a number of reasons… maybe it’s my age, I am 30 and married with a one-year-old child, so I am probably not the typical reader here, but I am still terrible with money and wanting so badly to improve. I don’t find a ton of advice or instruction about that here, maybe I just like reading about and knowing that there are others like me out there, and that’s okay – the point of TFD isn’t that you’re all experts who can help me fix my finances. Maybe it is a shift in TFD content as it evolves over time. I am sort of tired of the “these purchases were worth it and these were not” sort of pieces that I feel like I am seeing more and more on here, and now that I think about it, maybe that does feel like “flailing for content” as anon said (although I wouldn’t have thought to say that quite so harshly). I know you girls have been busy with other projects such as the book and tour so that could have something to do with how the site has been going recently. Maybe there is something else that I can’t put into words that is making me not interested in many pieces anymore… but I do still love TFD and won’t stop reading any time soon. I can’t wait to see where you girls will take TFD next!

  • Carolyn Fergus

    I cannot believe you were put in the position where you had to write this, but I guess I should never underestimate the steaming trashpile that is any internet comment section. Keep doing you girl, I love reading your pieces and seriously admire you.

  • Laura

    The comments re: having an S.O. in a lucrative field come across as personal attacks and I don’t believe they have place in a comment section. However, I have seen very few of these on this site.
    Agreeing with anon, the main problem seems to be with repetitive content about purchasing this but not that.

    You not being a financial expert is a problem if you’re posting daily. Honestly, I think this schedule is ridiculous. I don’t know if this is your choice or demands from the TFD staff, but it’s absurd to think that someone who is not a financial expert can generate compelling content about finance every day. If you took more time to write more substantial articles about your credit score, experience working in childcare, etc., I think there would be more positive feedback.

    TFD’s insistence on publishing so many article’s on a daily basis has resulted in a massive decline in quality since the beginning – I am saying this a former regular reader.

    I think it’s best to ignore comments about you relationship status – that is irrelevant. But the site staff’s refusal to pay attention to comments about the quality of the content and overall repetitiveness is baffling.

  • MH

    Damn, Mary, if I had been on the fence about your writing/story before, this would’ve just firmly knocked me onto your side. Team Mary, Team Figuring it Out, Team Real Person. Thank you for sharing even more of yourself today.

  • Ella

    I’m sorry you were personally attacked and I commend you for calling out that it’s wrong to assume your “doctor” boyfriend is supporting you. Power to ya!

    I also hope to see some changes to the TFD editorial calendar after the many comments this week from those of us feeling disengaged from a large portion of TFD content. I understand that a few commenters might be outliers and traffic might be indicating these articles are performing well. But although I often click on the articles and sometimes read through that’s not always an indicator I’m enjoying the content.

    In summary, can I have a survey to fill out to say how much I appreciate the TFD team and about the content I like best? Please :)?

  • Elena

    I think I’m going to get a lot of push back for this comment, and as a long-time TFD reader who cares about this community–and who followed along the first day you joined TFD–I’m OK with the push back. This is not about the allegations that you are being supported by your boyfriend, which should have been common sense for anyone who is aware of residency salaries, but rather a broader point about your blogging approach.

    Mary, I went back and skimmed your articles from the last few months, and in the overwhelmingly large majority of them, you mention your boyfriend and/or the fact you live with him, often within the first two paragraphs. This excludes any interviews or any articles about “X People’s Feelings on Y.”

    Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with mentioning someone who is very important in your life. Many of Chelsea’s articles detail reference her relationship as well. However, for me, this is just one easily identifiable symptom of a predictable and formulaic approach to blogging. Others include a general platitude about life in the introduction, followed by a list of things/items/thoughts that you regret/don’t regret/thought were worth it/not worth it during the week/the summer/last 12 months/college years. These articles were great in the beginning and drew readers. But over time, they simply continued to skim the surface. They lack depth and critically, insight.

    Over time, it creates the sense that you have very limited life experiences and are “scrounging for content.” It is possible this could lead readers to question why they are following along with your financial journey. Some of your articles could also be further edited for length and clarity of expression. When I read your writing now, I’ve started playing bf-bingo: my first thought has become, I wonder if she is going to mention her boyfriend and the fact that she lives with him and then made a purchase this weekend that was/was not worth it. Even this article did not disappoint.

    I’m not saying that you should be the resident financial advice expert. I’m saying maybe consider tackling smaller topics but go more in-depth. One suggestion for an approach would be taking a much narrower topic, thinking critically about it, linking some anecdotes together thematically, and zooming out to a bigger understanding or takeaway. For reference, see any of Chelsea’s pieces.

    Bottom line, I think you are a valuable member of this community. I *don’t* want to have to go through my TFD feed and skip articles based on authorship because I already know exactly what those authors will say and how they’ll say it. I want to continue to read your posts and watch you grow on your financial journey.

    Alright, let the fire and brimstone descend.

  • Savanna Swain

    Mary,
    It makes me so sad that you even had to write this at all- you shouldn’t have to justify yourself to anyone. Your life is your life and none of your articles have EVER tried to tell people that your choices are the only way to live.
    All of you are so great at being transparent about your personal circumstances and it infuriates me that people have an issue with this, or somehow think that by you all being honest, it makes you less worthy of money writing.

    Please know for every mean commenter out there, there are thousands of us who LOVE this site and appreciate all the work you ladies put in every day to deliver content that is accessible, entertaining, and informative.

    And for everyone else, a word of advice:
    If you don’t like the content, go to a different site. It’s that simple.

    I mean really… I’m not gonna say an entire cookbook sucks because I don’t eat shellfish and it has some lobster recipes in it.
    I’m not gonna knock an entire site just because I don’t like one particular series/piece.

    • Lisa

      I think most of the critical comments aren’t “mean.” Some absolutely are, but alas, the internet sometimes brings out the worst in people.
      A lot of the critical responses are from fans or former fans of the site who are saddened to see so much filer content. It’s not that we dislike one particular article, it’s that there are so many that don’t really bring anything new to the table.
      This might just be me, but if I were a content creator and a regular reader/viewer lost interest in me, I’d want to know why so I could see if there was something I could improve on. It’s not mean to point out that someone could be doing better. A lot of the suggestions are “post less frequently.” How is that mean?

      • Savanna Swain

        I’m specifically referring to the comments that attack her credibility to write about money. They were on her last article, not this one, and from the looks of it, most of them have been deleted by the staff.

        I’m not implying that we shouldn’t offer criticism as consumers, and I think the comments on THIS article are much more productive. I see lots of people offering suggestions regarding what kind of content they DO like, rather than simply complaining about what they don’t like.

        Someone said something about conducting a reader survey, and I think that would be an awesome and positive thing for the team to do.
        The TFD audience has grown tremendously over the past two years and I think it’s important for us to understand with a growing audience, content can change. Maybe an article one person thinks is just blandly stating the obvious isn’t that to a new reader who is just becoming interested in personal finance.

        Also I think Chelsea & the team do everything they can to bring as many diverse perspectives to the table as possible. I frequently see them all tweeting asking for more stories from women of color, low income writers, health based content, etc.

        Anyway, I agree that we have a responsibility to let the TFD staff
        know what we like. However, I believe there’s a way to be critical without unnecessarily attacking someone.

  • Kara

    I don’t know the writer or the comments referred to, but honestly this article is so cringe worthy.

    It sounds like the writer is writing a response to one or two people on particular and attempting to justify their lives.

    You don’t need to justify anything.

    I expected an article about growth, and how writing for TFD has impacted your life. What I got was a over-explanation of why you do things.

    No thanks. Do better, TFD

    • Tina Morris

      It wasn’t what I expected, but I understood it, because I just read a different post with a couple of commenters getting kind of insulting with a 20 year old (younger than my own child, so I found that upsetting) but also because I’ve seen this same sort of self-justification post on other blogs (of all varieties). People make a lot of assumptions about writers they don’t even know and then make really harsh, judgmental comments. Like some others here, I often wish they had a little more content for someone in my demographic & situation, but I would not offer to be that person who discusses balancing trying to pay off debt, remodel a house, still have some sort of annual vacation, catch up on retirement savings, budget to buy a new roof, the next AC and the next car all in 2 or 3 years, and meanwhile worry that I will end up having to take care of my parents before too long and that my high-functioning autistic son may never be fully independent. I could read or write a wealth of articles about that stuff, but would I want to open myself up to the internet commenters of the world? Hell, no. So, while I never felt any of these people needed to justify themselves to me, I understand their desire to.

  • Violaine

    I feel sorry you had to write this! I sometimes post comments on your article and I usually enjoy them. To be honest, I think TFD targets a wide audience, so obviously many articles don’t really relate to everyone. It’s fine! I read your articles and I can’t relate too much because I am 10 years older than you and my college years are over, but I would have loved to read them when I was at uni! Similarly, I don’t really relate to articles about investing or buying a house because I am not there yet. It’s a website – people need to accept all articles aren’t going to be relevant to them. What you write is relevant to young women in your position. What someone else writes may be super helpful to someone trying to buy a house or move across the country. I never expect every article to be about me; I am glad when I find one and I ignore the others!

    Keep writing, keep posting. Some people may not like what you do, but many will.

  • Lee

    Mary, keep doing exactly what you are doing!! Your content is relatable, funny and so darn truthful. This world is all about the fakeness of instagram and your content slices through that bs to show us what life is really like. I also agree with other commenters that it sucks that you were driven to write an article like this. If things get particularly bad, turn off the comments under your posts. You should feel good about your content, not be left hurt and angry because some Pissy Polly had to let off steam. I love checking TFD and seeing multiple articles to choose from. All that ruckus about limiting posts will actually cause you folks to lose readership because there is less to choose from and enjoy.

    Best of luck!
    Lee

  • Sara

    Unrelatedly to your writing, can I just say I feel you SO much when it comes to having a significant other who’s a “doctor”, thinking it means we’re living large. My husband has at least 6-7 years ahead of him before he starts making the big doctor bucks. I was the breadwinner during med school on a staggering grad school stipend of $30k…SO over the “at least you married a doctor!” comments.