What managing money has taught me about judging others unfairly

By Ben Luthi

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 11 2013 9:15 a.m. MST

As I've spent the last couple of years working with people on their finances and writing about them, I've realized that we also do the same with money.

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One of the easiest things to do is to judge another person. People do it all the time, sometimes without even knowing it. Some say that an interviewee only has 30 seconds to give a good impression, otherwise they're toast. If you meet someone in the supermarket who seems angry, that person can easily be labeled as an angry and mean person. If you find someone on the Internet whose opinion differs from yours, you almost can’t help but question their intelligence.

As I’ve spent the last couple of years working with people on their finances and writing about them, I’ve realized that we also do the same with money.

The funny thing is that, for the most part, someone else’s financial decisions don’t affect us at all — the exception being when it is someone close to us like a family member or friend who we are dependent on or who becomes dependent on us. So why do we do it?

Goals, personalities and experiences

When I started an internship in financial planning, I learned very quickly that there are many people out there who don’t share the same views I do about money. Some of the people I met with didn’t seem to value it as much as I did, and others seemed to be so stingy that I just couldn’t understand how they could enjoy it. But what it came down to is that these people all had different goals, personalities and experiences.

Personally, I love to travel. So when planning my retirement, I want to make sure there is enough money available so I don’t have to scrimp and save to do that. Personally, I want to be able to afford a spontaneous lifestyle, but some people just don’t enjoy traveling. They tend to have a more homebody personality and therefore have different goals.

During my internship, it was hard sometimes to resist the urge to be like a mom trying to get her toddler to try a new food. “Just try it! I know you’ll love it, and you’ll be so grateful that I made you try it.”

Some people grew up in a situation where they weren’t taught about money. Some people grew up in a home where parents didn’t make good money decisions and their unfortunate children simply don’t know any better. Although it’s true that they are responsible for their own decisions when they become adults, they don’t know what they don’t know. It’s important, therefore, to refrain from being quick to judge when we meet people whose decisions differ from ours simply because they are, well, different.

Not knowing the whole story

During my experience in financial planning, I've also run into people who were neck-deep in credit card debt. Because of my experience, I’m a huge proponent of the responsible use of credit cards, but there have been times when I had to restrain myself from yelling, “What were you thinking?!” As we continued to talk, though, a lot of them had legitimate problems that were outside their control — unemployment, medical bills, disability, etc. By nature, they were actually quite frugal. It just didn’t look like it on the outside.

The reality is that even if you know someone personally, you don’t know every facet of their life. You don’t understand everything they have gone through. It’s often wise then to withhold judgment and remember that even though not all of the decisions we and other people make are rational, there is a reason.

When it’s good to judge somebody

There are times, however, when judgement is important, even vital, to your own finances, principally when their decisions start affecting you. For example, if you are trying to quit drinking alcohol, it’s generally not considered wise to hang out at bars or with friends who are going to encourage you to drink.