The Secretly-Terrible Piece Of Money Advice I’m Sick Of Hearing

There’s a lot of really great money advice that takes the form of people sharing things that they’ve done to save money, and using specific examples to illustrate it — I’ve given advice like that when I share the straight-up oddball things I personally do, like wearing the same thing every day and cutting my own hair.

I like reading other people’s crazy stories, too, because it opens my eyes to things that are possible that I probably never would have considered doing otherwise, but those stories can quickly veer from “fun, interesting story with some hefty associated savings” to “downright terrible, no-good, very-bad money advice.”

All with one tiny, seemingly innocuous little twist, too.

They can so easily go from “I spent (or saved) money this way, and here’s why I liked it,” to “You should spend money like I did, because it’s better.” Which like…again, doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary in personal finance, right? Like, we’re all out here trying to teach people how we do money, and how they can do it better?

But there’s a line between those two things, and the line is called, “You should just care less.”

Wait, how did you get from A to B on this?

Let’s look at an example, shall we?

I don’t spend a lot of money on makeup, because I don’t care. Sometimes, if I forget to moisturize, I’ll literally pull the jar of Costco-brand coconut oil out of the kitchen cupboard, slap some on my face, and call it a day.

This approach saves me a lot of money, and if you also don’t care about makeup, you should try it! It’s pretty great!

But I’m never going to blanket-advise that everyone should take this approach, because that’s insane.

Maybe makeup is your favorite hobby, and you could spend an entire day watching tutorial videos and trying them out. H*ck, maybe you make those tutorials for fun. Maybe you have always had “problem skin” (I think you look great bb) and the thought of trading in the $100 moisturizer that doesn’t make you break out for a literal food product made 100% of oil gives you heart palpitations, and not the good kind.

You care about makeup and skincare. No amount of me “explaining” how much money you can save is going to make you care less. And it’s not going to change your behavior, either. You are going to keep spending money on it, and — I might lose my personal finance card for this — you totally should.

Yeah, you can’t make people stop caring about things they like (duh).

It’s useless to try to tell people that they should just…not care about the expensive things they already care about. And if you’re like uh, no, people really should care less about expensive things (or you have a know-it-all coworker or uncle who you think probably agrees with that statement), let’s add some context real quick.

I was alllllllways the person who thought I was going to have a 10-person wedding. Seriously, I was going to have it in our not-large backyard, and it was going to be so great.

And then we got engaged, and the reality of it all set in. See, as a couple, we have deeply expensive taste when it comes to one thing: Family.

(You’re already seeing how “just stop caring” is bad wedding budget advice here right? Good.)

See, a big part of both of our families lives somewhere that’s not Ottawa, and we really like our families. There’s also just very few occasions big enough for everyone to justify prioritizing a cross-country get-together, and — depressing sentence alert — the only ones my side of the family has had recently have been funerals.

So yeah, we care about throwing a party for all of our family, all at once. And given that our families count eight — eight — uncles between us, we are not looking at a backyard-friendly guest list (sorry not sorry, not everyone has access to a giant, free backyard to host a wedding in). All of a sudden, my smug 10-person plan has ballooned to renting a venue, paying for catering, etc.

But I care about it, and no amount of “just elope!” or “you should keep it smaller to save money!” is going to change my mind. I think that’s pretty normal. You’re not going to argue I should just care less about my family to save money, right?

(Oh please god tell me everyone is nodding right now.)

That doesn’t mean you can spend endless money in the name of “caring about something,” though. Far from it.

So what should you do instead of giving up the things you care about?

Just because you care about something doesn’t mean that your bank account will magically grow to the size of your caring, and immediately cover the price tag of the things you care about. So while “stop caring” is bad advice, so is “if you really care, buy it and consequences be damned!” (Basically, the YOLO advice. Just assume the YOLO advice is almost always not a substitute for a financial plan or a budget.)

Here’s what you should do when you really care about something, and you know you’re going to spend money on it…but you don’t want to ruin your financial life to make it happen.

Understand your numbers

You need to know the basics to make informed decisions about “spending on the things you care about” — and I mean the basics.

  • You need to know how much money you make every month.
  • You need to know how much of that goes towards needs (which come before wants, duh).
  • You need to know how much of that goes towards your savings goals.

Whatever’s leftover once you’ve covered your needs and your savings goals is what you can afford to spend on wants — and that’s ALL you can spend on wants.

Cut back on other things

Everyone has a hierarchy of things they care about, right? Like yes, of course I love my lattes, and I’ll do a whole lot to stand up for anyone’s right to keep them in their budget…but I love my dog more.

If push came to shove, I would give up lattes in my budget to afford dog food, ya know?

You need to know which of your I-Care-About-This Things are The Things, and which ones could take a backseat if they needed to. Maybe they need to ASAP in order for your monthly money situation to work, maybe they might need to in the future if you added something new to your budget, or maybe they’re situation specific (ahem, like saving for and planning a wedding).

Figure out the parts that are really worth the money

Sure, there are times when The Thing is The Thing is The Thing — like the only skin cream that makes you feel like your face is a face actually does cost $100. But if your thing is “having family at your wedding,” there are probably still ways to cut down on how much that costs to do.

And no, I’m not assuming that you have access to a magical free venue that can suddenly make your bigger wedding affordable, but if renting a venue to hold everyone is the big expense, do you really need the fanciest buffet or the filet mignon for everyone? (Because “having family around and feeding them” isn’t the same as “showing off fancy food to family.” They’re your family, they will love you even if you order them pizza. Maybe…especially if you order them pizza?)

Save up for it if it’s really big, really important, or both

I’m not here to tell you that saving up for a wedding is any more or less morally ~pure~ than saving up for a Birkin bag or a nice car or a fancy vacation, because obviously, it’s not (and this is clearly not that blog, or that article). But if the thing you care about happens to be an expense you can’t just pay for out of your monthly salary, you need a savings plan to make it a reality — and you are officially not allowed to count the money you save towards this want as part of “saving 10% of your income.”

That shit is for retirement, and you do not want to be the old lady who lived in her Birkin bag.

To help you get to where you need to go, there are a few tactical things you can to do stay on track for this thing you’re saving up for.

  • Set up a separate savings account, and nickname it so you know what it’s for.
  • Set up automatic monthly contributions that happen without you having to lift a finger.
  • If you find yourself with an extra $20? Consider “buying” yourself $20 closer to affording The Thing, and putting it into your savings account (it’s basically planned spending at this point anyways).

If you care about something, you can probably afford it

Sure, you might not be able to afford it and everything else you want, but even if what you care about is something that is roundly demonized as “not worth spending money on,” if you like it? Do you.

You can still have a dog / live in an expensive city / rock a designer bag / have a big wedding if you’re willing to make the adjustments you need to in your budget and your life.

And no amount of advice to just “care less” about it should change that.

Desirae blogs about money at Half Banked, and spends altogether too much time on Twitter. She takes “money nerd,” “no chill” and “crazy dog lady” as compliments. 

Image via Unsplash

  • Anon

    Thanks for this. The version of this advice that I always find irritating/annoying/condescending is “but no one really values that.” Specifically, with books. I understand libraries exist. I know I could be getting books for free. I do, in fact, use it. I also really value building a personal library, in large part because I grew up in a place where the local libraries sucked. But for whatever reason there’s a whole line of thought that buying books is some hopelessly wasteful sin that is probably done to show off to people how smart you are, not because you actually read the books you buy.

    • BI

      Same. When I heard that advice, I thought, is that what I do? Do I buy books to show off or pretend to be a certain kind of person to other people? But I looked at my bookshelves and I realized I have books that I love–books that span from non-fiction about history and world religions to children’s picture books. I also have no shame about the fact that I hate certain books that I’m “supposed” to like (like The Great Gatsby, ugh). So I’ve concluded that the people who say that buying books means you’re showing off how smart you are probably say that because that’s what they do/did. And so for them it makes sense to say “people” shouldn’t buy books because they think everyone else does the same thing. Whatever. You do you, Anon.

    • Summer

      Totally never understood anyone thinking that books are a wasteful purchase or intentionally acquired for the purpose of showing off. I’m rather deliberate about the books I purchase hard copies of vs. what I’ll borrow from the library or read as an ebook, so if it’s on my shelf, it’s something I bought because I fully intend to reference again in the future.

    • LynnP2

      To me, reading is one of the great joys of life. However you cultivate that joy is no doubt worth it. For me, it’s buying kindle books – I never hesitate because I am so much happier when I’m reading regularly.

  • BI

    “the old lady who lived in her Birkin bag”
    This sounds like the title of a personal finance nursery rhyme. Love it

  • Summer

    Nice to see a realistic post like this. Yes, we should all be working on building emergency funds and maintaining at least some semblance of a budget, but we also have to live our damn lives. I’ve said numerous times in comments here that I refuse to sacrifice all joy in life just because I have student loan debt. Yes, I could technically shove every spare penny at the remaining $31k until my balance is zero, but I don’t want to sacrifice opportunities to travel or eat at restaurants or add to my cookbook collection for literal years until that happens. Everything in moderation, including “responsible” spending.

    • LynnP2

      This, 100%.