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Money Mistake #1027 – Finding My Community

As I’ve mentioned a time or two, I’ve made many mistakes with my money. One of my biggest money mistakes involved how I went about finding my community. When I first started to learn about financial independence, early retirement and investing, I made two mistakes based on arrogance. First, I mistakenly assumed that everyone was as interested in it as I was. Second, I believed that I was right.

So I would talk about money with everybody and give them unsolicited advice about how they should save and invest. I cringe when I think back on how I interacted with friends and family over this topic. While I still believe my intentions were good, the truth is that I had no business giving anyone unsolicited advice. I should not have been telling anyone what to do with their money!

As hard as this may be to believe, I failed to contemplate the extremely faint possibility that other people’s priorities and dreams weren’t exactly the same as mine!!!

If you’re here reading my ramblings, then I assume that you have some interest in personal finance. After all, I’m constantly talking about using money as a tool to build the life you want. Money should be allocated in a way that allows you to obtain your heart’s truest desires, atleast the ones that can be obtained with cold, hard cash. I exhort you to only spend your hard-earned money in ways that get you closer to your highest priorities, your most important goals.

In the real world, my family and friends were not willing to talk about money with me. They viewed my discussion of the topic crass, impolite, and – probably – judgmental. Save for one or two people, they were not my money community.

It took me a long time to accept that I couldn’t discuss a topic near and dear to my heart with those I was closest to. Truthfully, I felt hurt because I thought I was offering them help. Again, arrogance played a part in my hurt feelings. I have to admit that I thought my example of how to structure money was worth emulating. After all, that was one of the main reasons why I was sharing my thoughts about money. Despite the arrogance, my hurt feelings were also rooted in the belief that I couldn’t be my true self around those I loved best. I had to hide this side of my life, this part of my personality if I wanted to be with them.

I couldn’t be real with them. That sucked.

I set about finding my community, the ones who would allow me to be authentic in this area of my life.

Time has passed, and I like to think I’m a little bit wiser. Unless specifically asked for advice, I hold my tongue when other people bring up the topic of money. One of the fastest ways to alienate others is to make them feel judged. Sadly, I admit my guilt. I did judge people’s actions with money. I had too little respect for financial viewpoints that differed from my own. Now, I keep my mouth shut unless someone asks me what I think.

And when I am asked for my thoughts, I strive to be supportive when I share. Just because I don’t share someone else’s priorities and goals doesn’t mean that they aren’t entitled to pursue them just as ardently as I pursue mine. Racing in the Indiana 500, climbing Mount Everest, or becoming the world’s best potter might not be my dream, but I will help you figure out ways to fund it if that’s what you need from me.

Thankfully, I have learned. For some people, money is to be spent on the Now because it will create joy today. For them, spontaneity demands that one be willing to spend. Other people simply view life as completely unpredictable and that tomorrow will take care of itself. Everyone brings their own history to every money decision that they have ever made. I’ve known people whose illnesses were never disclosed to me, but they have lived far longer than they’d been told they ever would. For them, planning for retirement was not in the cards because they weren’t expected to live past age 35. What would be the point of saving for a future that they would never see?

Looking back now, it is easy to see why my exhortations to save fell on deaf ears. Everyone was coming at money from their own perspective, one built on their own goals and priorities. It wasn’t for me to change their mind. However, the onus rested on me to change my own viewpoint and to find the space where I could discuss these things.

Enter the internet. I’m old enough to remember chat rooms, so that’s where I started. Then I moved on to blogs, and stumbled upon the grand-daddy of them all – Mr. Money Mustache. And down the rabbit hole I went. Though there have been many wonderful blogs over the years, I don’t remember them all but here’s a quick list of the ones that stick with me:

Finally, I had found a place where others were talking about one of my favorite topics – money. The anonymous posters of the world wide web didn’t want me to shut up when I asked questions about how they invested. I didn’t feel that they were judging me for being curious about this part of life. If anything, I felt like I’d found my tribe, such as one can on this particular platform.

So I read more and more, learning a lot about so many things related to money: CoastFI, real estate investing, the housing bubble, geoarbitrage, early retirement, investment styles, crypto, income inequality, etc… I even found blogs that spoke to high income earners and opened my eyes to how their concerns differed from mine. The blogs that really got me thinking were the ones looking at the intersection of money and social justice. Once your personal needs are met, aren’t we ethically obliged to make the world a better place instead of engaging in further consumerism?

These were things that I could never have discussed with 98.5% of the people in my real life. It felt good to have found my community, even if it was online.

If it had to do with personal finance, I probably spent a fair amount of time reading about it and figuring out if it would work for me.

Finding my community online also helped my relationships in real life. I knew there were others I could talk to about money. That meant I could talk about everything else with family and friends. There was space for me to wonder why they weren’t interested in early retirement, automatic savings plans, the management expense ratios of mutual funds vs. exchange-traded funds. I was able to unload my thoughts about money elsewhere, with people who shared my financial point of view. That meant I didn’t have to work so hard to persuade my inner circle to share it too. I listened to them instead, and learned how they wanted to approach their finances.

And you know what? It was good for me, for our relationships. Their viewpoints helped me to improve my money-choices. I loosened the reins a tiny bit. An impromptu ice cream cone at the park wasn’t going to result in an impoverished dotage. However, it would create a great memory about a summer afternoon with loved ones. Watching how my family and friends spent their money, and the joy it brought them, forced me to question my own choices. Slowly, I realized that I had to find a balance between today and tomorrow.

Finding my community has been fantastic! I need not agree with everything every person posts online, but I have found like-minded people with whom to have discussions. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also found people in real life who share my interest in money. I no longer need to change the hearts and minds of my family and friends on the topic of money. Finding my community has allowed me to be my authentic money-self without alienating those whom I love best.

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