Thoughts on Privilege In Financial Advice

by | Nov 8, 2016

Normally on the first or second Tuesday of the month I’m compiling and sending out a Top Three email to subscribers, highlighting the latest collection of thought-provoking, or informative posts on investing, the finance industry, retirement planning, or budgeting that stood out for me as I read.

(If this is news to you, you can subscribe over there in the sidebar, or down at the bottom of this post if you’re on mobile.)

I didn’t send it out this month, what with the launch of season three of Because Money, the rapidly-approaching public launch of the new and improved Canadian online investing fee calculator (which currently lives on a public Google sheet but is moving to its own website on November 20th), and some important client work that just has to take precedence over my more extravagant reading tendencies. (Who am I kidding? It’s all important.)

I have a list of over a hundred articles, blog posts, and journal papers published in November that I didn’t get to but will still read through and combine for the Top Three email in December, but in the meantime I’ll leave you with two related things that are making me think today:

Why I (Kinda, Sorta, Sometimes) Hate Calling Myself a Minimalist, by Cait Flanders

Cait is one of the most thoughtful writers online right now, and if you haven’t read her stuff before, this post is a great example of the kind of personal growth she’s transparently sharing, and one (of many) that resonated deeply with me.

Here’s Cait, on minimalism as a privilege:

Even my personal definition of what minimalism means to me is a privilege. Being able to decide what adds value to your life and letting go of what doesn’t – how fortunate am I to be in the position to apply that to any area of my life!? If my diet is making me feel bad, I can walk into a grocery store and buy better food. If the work I do is leaving me unfulfilled, I can find other work. If I need/want to learn a new skill, I can take a class. The list goes on and on.

And, from Frances Woolley in the Globe and Mail:

November is financial literacy month. Canadians are being advised: Start with a budget. It is about as effective as declaring National Fat Shaming month, and advising Canadians: Start with a diet. Saving money, like losing weight, requires fundamental lifestyle changes. But it is hard for anyone to change the way that they live.

You see, we money writers, planners, and coaches are often blind to the privilege we enjoy, and are quick to judge the choices other people make on the scales of our own affluence. Our lack of empathy for people who struggle with concepts that come easily to us translates into contempt and hopelessness when the actions we prescribe turn out to be harder to follow than we make them out to be.

It translates into people not asking for advice, because they’re positive they’ve made too many mistakes to bother.

It translates into a laser-like focus on optimizing our money and an iron-clad list Things That Are Good (emergency funds, DIY investing) and Things That Are Bad (credit cards, except if rewards points are involved and affiliate commissions are available).

It translates into advice for where people should be, instead of for where they are.

Looking back, I’ve often been blithely ignorant of my own privilege many times as I’ve written, tweeted, or laughed my way through a blog post or podcast episode. I’ve given clients advice that they aren’t yet equipped to follow, instead of focusing on the next right thing. I think I’m getting better at treating people with empathy and starting from where they are, but there’s lots of work to do.

The easy finance answers we sell, most starting with that terrible four-letter word “just”, as in “just start budgeting” or “just stop using a credit card”, might only be easy for people who grew up on an economic spectrum with access to resources and opportunities, or with employed parents and fairly decent money habits, or with healthy bodies and minds.

As we hand out advice, let’s remember that we are where we are because of where we came from, and – almost certainly – because of an incredible amount of luck. Let’s not chalk it up solely to personal achievement without acknowledging the privilege that made it possible.



Latest posts by Sandi Martin (see all)