Finance

Personal Finance Isn’t An All-Or-Nothing Proposition

I have to admit that one of my favorite things to do is read the comments for online posts and articles. Some people really hate the comments, but I find it interesting to hear all the different perspectives around the same post. There’s usually a wide range of opinions. Even though I know my thoughts on the post, it’s fun to read what other people think.

By far the best articles for comments are around bloggers who have already retired early (like this one, and this, and this). Aside from those, my favorite blogger website for reading comments is Mr. Money Mustache. If you are a finance blogger then you’re definitely familiar with him. If not, be sure to check out his website. He and his wife retired in their early 30’s BEFORE having a child. Impressive to say the least. For simplicity, I’ll be referencing MMM throughout this post, but please know that the idea I’m discussing applies to any blogger or personal finance article.

The reason why this is my favorite is because MMM takes a strong stance regarding ways to improve your finances and he’s very outspoken about it. Most of the comments are from people who wholeheartedly agree with him (and often defend him). But there are a few who disagree with MMM’s stance or question how viable it is.

What strikes me most about the comments that question MMM’s ways is that many seem to think that if you can’t adopt all the ideas, then it’s not worth making any change. Or if one idea isn’t practical then the entire idea is impossible. Maybe this is a reflection on each person’s individual outlook on life, or maybe we become jaded as we get older. Regardless of the reason why people feel this way, it’s important to remember:

Life isn’t an all or nothing proposition, so why do we treat our finances that way?

In no other facet of our lives would we have the perspective that if one aspect isn’t how we want it, we should give up altogether. For example, if your job responsibilities include a few items that you don’t care for, you probably won’t quit your job. Or if your kids aren’t turning out exactly how you want them to be, you wouldn’t give them up and quit parenting. So why do we treat our finances differently? Just because we can’t do something exactly how someone else has done things doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to better our situation.

I’m a by-the-books kind of person, in that I am fine working within a formula if it’s proven to work. After all, I’m not out to reinvent the wheel, so why not follow the path of someone who has already achieved what I’m currently striving for? But it seems like people new to the idea of early retirement, high savings rates, and frugality decide that it’s not worth trying if they can’t embrace the exact path that led someone else to that end result.

By all means, I’ll admit that MMM has some ideas/methods that may be hard to implement. For example, he suggests ditching the car and biking to work instead. That doesn’t work for me for two reasons: 1. I work 20 miles away from home (which MMM would take issue with anyway) and 2. I live in Minnesota, home of -20 degree (-40 degree wind chill) winters. It’s just not practical or safe. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t find other ideas from him that I can incorporate into my life and finances.

Instead, we should be adopting the ideas that work for our lifestyles. No one needs to live a life identical to MMM or any other blogger. We should be living the lives that best suit us instead. Rather than focus on an all or nothing route, we should be incorporating changes that improve our situation but still fall in line with our lifestyles. Over time, you can make more changes as your lifestyle evolves.

All I ask is that you read blog posts with an open mind. What one person is doing may not be suitable for you, but it doesn’t discredit the idea of early retirement or a high savings rate as a whole.  Please don’t treat your finances as an all or nothing proposition. Even small changes throughout time can make a huge difference.

5 thoughts on “Personal Finance Isn’t An All-Or-Nothing Proposition

  1. I have definitely used “all or nothing” as an excuse for not doing something in the past. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is the power of small changes – especially in terms of finance. And, I can’t make lots of small changes at once. I need to give each one time to stick. I’m sure that’s what a lot of the folks who get defensive about MMM’s suggestions are doing – using all or nothing as an excuse. For so many, it’s easier to stay stuck. Until, of course, the pain is too great to continue in that manner.

    1. Very true — I’m sure we’ve all fallen into that trap at one point or another. It’s easier to fall deeper into despair than to climb your way out. It’s those small changes and steps that make the most impact, especially at the beginning. My hope is that people reading personal finance posts can be inspired when reading about how other people have made changes, big or small, to better their situation.

  2. Reading the comments section is an obsession of mine. An often unhealthy obsession, especially when any article or video about gender politics comes around…

    Definitely agree on how it’s not an all or nothing approach. It’s like cooking, in a way. To me, it’s more important to learn the techniques like knife skills or how to taste as you go than it is to learn a recipe. Way more flexible, too, when something unexpected happens like the stock market tanks or you run out of onions.

    1. I love that analogy! Flexibility is by far one of the best traits to have. How you react to things dictates the course your life will take.

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