Confessions of a Reformed Money Meddler

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When I Became Aware of My Meddling Ways

I can trace this problem back to when my sister was planning her wedding. I come from a family of opinionated people who aren’t afraid to tell each other when a shirt looks too snug or a new haircut isn’t the most flattering—and when my sister wanted moral support and sympathy while being barraged with unsolicited advice from my mother and her future mother-in-law, I tried to remain as practical as possible, and inadvertently left “us” and joined “them.”

Specifically my betrayal concerned her four-figure floral arrangements that I suggested could be easily re-created from Trader Joe’s’ à la carte selections, by a willing volunteer or two. And asking aloud if the beautiful-but-pricey bridesmaid dresses she’d chosen could be worn again. A few emotionally-charged conversations later, I’d been reprimanded, apologized and was back in safe, sisterly harbor—with a stern reminder that picking up the tab wasn’t my job, and therefore it wasn’t my job to drop hints about where to save a few bucks.

RELATED: How I Did It: I Held a 100 Person Wedding for $4,000 

According to Dr. Mara Wagner, professor of modern psychoanalysis at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, nosing into other people’s business generally stems from something we’re conflicted about in ourselves.

When the meddling turns to money matters, it can signal an issue we’re having with our own finances, says Dr. Wagner. “It’s called projecting,” she explains. “If you’re projecting something of yourself onto another person, what you’re really trying to do is change yourself from the outside in.”

Maybe we’re having trouble saving for our own home, or maybe we’ve watched our credit card debt spiral out of control and feel helpless. “It doesn’t mean that what we identify in others isn’t totally inaccurate,” says Dr. Wagner. “But the fact that you’re pointing it out signals an impulse-control problem within yourself.”

Aha.

I’d been laid off three months before my sister’s wedding, and was living in an apartment that, frankly, I couldn’t afford. Even though my other expenses were reasonable, I felt constantly strung out and worried about how I’d scrape enough money together to pay rent each month. And while I idealized a life of financial abundance, I had trouble instituting that idea in reality, instead allowing cash to melt away at bars, where I’d down cocktails I felt I needed to take the edge off. I had absolutely no business nosing into other people’s financial matters—and yet, like a drug, I couldn’t resist.

RELATED: How to Cure Your Money Comparisonitis

How I Finally Got My Bad Habit in Check

In both cases, my intentions were good—but, on the other hand, meaning no harm to either my friend or my sister didn’t mean my opinions were warranted or desired. In fact, when plans with my apartment-buying friend started to dry up, it hurt—and I knew, in turn, that my meddling had hurt her.

  • John

    I agree with “taking the log out of your own eye first” but a true friend, that really cares about their friends, will take the time to think about how they can lovingly communicate truth. I’ve got plenty of friends who will tell me what I want to hear, but the few that love me enough to be honest with me, even though they know I might initially react or even over-react negatively, those are my true friends, which are more valuable to me than gold!

    • Julie G

      The difference between your friends and the author is that your friends were probably aware of their own motives when they advised you. It sounds like the author is just now getting around to examining her own motives, and discovering the fact that loving constructive criticism wasn’t her intention, but propping herself up was. In the future, when she gets her own house in order and knows her own motives better, she might be able to give the kind of advice your friends have given to you, but not until then.

    • Rachel

      I see where you’re coming from, but I have to disagree. Most of my friends are competent, capable adults who make their own choices, even if those choices might not be my own. And, adding in my two cents when not invited is just insulting their ability to make their own decisions. I have to respect the fact that I may prioritize things differently, and that the financial aspect is only one part of decision making. Failing to factor in utility, lifestyle, quality, and just plain joy is a mistake.

      If your friends ask for an opinion, then by all means, pipe up. But, if they’ve made their decision, deriding it will do you no good, and potentially only lose you a friend.

      Just so we’re clear, I’m all for intervening when there is serious damage being done (addiction, financial catastrophe, abusive relationships, etc.), but spending a little too much on wedding flowers isn’t that case.

    • Mimi Von Boom

      I agree with you in theory. In practice, however, I’ve seen this type of behavior be the very thing that reduced those friendships to acquaintances without much time or warning. What’s worse, in my experience when you’ve damaged a friendship in this way it’s rare that it ever really returns to its former glory. People tend to remember the time you second guessed their ability to reasonably and rationally plan for their own decisions as they saw fit and they tend to not trust or confide after that. I’d rather be there to help a friend brainstorm a solution once she asks for it than sacrifice the friendship on the bridge of “but I was helping her avoid making that HUGE mistake…”

      • michwake

        Yep, many people can’t handle the truth. When they do discover that maybe people were right they are too embarrassed to admit it.

  • michwake

    I’m guilty and agree with everything you wrote. I’m trying to get out of debt myself and feel like I need to share the things I’m learning with my friends in worse situations. I have no room to talk and I know it. :-)