“Why would they do such a thing?”, one of the most common questions in human existence since the invention of language besides “What’s for dinner?” “Why would you do such a thing?” That’s asked a lot less because it is too confrontational, and rarely is asked in a way that encourages a response. “Why did I do such a thing?” Ask that and invite yourself to understanding yourself and the rest, whether that’s political, compassionate, personal – and yes, even financial.
Why did I do such a thing?
That may be the best question to inspire a frugal lifestyle. Frugality can mean appreciating the value of your resources; not just money, but time, community, and nature. Frugal folks are less likely to spend freely, unless they’ve already thought through where they can and can’t do that.
Someone who can’t pay all of their bills doesn’t get to spend freely. Everything that asks for money is valuable and must be addressed. Prioritization of necessities becomes a necessity. I’ve recently been through that and can see it from here. Buying a box of paperclips or a new computer mouse can seem like a splurge and a luxury.
Someone who can pay their bills and not much else has some free cash, but it must be spent smartly or else it is too easy to fall back into not being able to pay those bills. A regular opportunity to buy small things or save up for something big eases anxieties like a bit of butter keeps the food from sticking.
There’s some sweet spot where there’s enough to spend freely without thinking, but not to excess. That spot is different for everyone, and it moves as circumstances change.
I feel sorry for people who indulge in excess. They can easily lose connection to personal values, true costs, and an understanding of folks who are at least partially frugal either by choice or necessity. Sadly, too many of them lose track of social values, too.
Congratulations to those who, regardless of income and wealth understand that values are real even though money is artificial. Even for them, values are personal and hence personal finance remains personal.
Why would you do such a thing?
That’s the question that creates debates, arguments, and rifts.
Ask it sincerely and gain insights that can explain why someone does something unexpected. It probably wasn’t unexpected to them. Ask it to learn without expecting to teach and the other person may appreciate the value of someone who cares enough to listen without imposing their values. Ask it without an agenda and find that you probably shocked them because it is so rare.
Some sociologist could comment on the history of such questions, but it seems that we are all so divided and opinionated that asking personal questions can feel like an offense or a reason to deploy defenses. Ask it and watch or hear responses like “What’s it to you?” “Why? What are you getting at?” It isn’t easy to ask it without at least some layer of implicit or explicit judgment. “Why’d you buy that?” “Why’d you buy that?” “Why’d you buy that?” “Why’d you buy that?”
No wonder it isn’t easy to get to understand each other. Imagine how valuable it is to master that skill. I’m still working on it.
It is also why sharing personal finance insights is so difficult. It takes time and trust to gain the understanding of the other person’s perspective before any additional value can be shared. Decades of experiences and situations are how each of us get to where we are. Someone who gives advice after only hearing five sentences about something complex is relying on luck, arrogance, or a lack of caring. No wonder listening is valued so highly.
Why would they do such a thing?
Welcome to divisive cultures and politics. If there’s a they, there’s an us. They are probably doing something they think is right, just like everyone.
As I type, I take quick breaks to search for the source of a quote that I’ll have to paraphrase. “Everyone does what they think is right, even if they don’t like it.” There’s always a justification or rationalization, though sometimes it takes years of counseling to uncover it. Ideologies make things sound simple. Realities are more abstract. People aren’t spending money the way you think they should? There’s probably a variety of reasons for that. Some will be practical, some ideological, some spiritual, some – well – accidents and randomness happen.
Few people intend to spend their way into poverty; though there are those who are trying to time their time and their money to run out at the same time.
Saul Bloom: You’re all aces in my book, but I want the last check I write to bounce. – Oceans 12 on IMDB
Few people intend to lose touch with their real values; but along the way they were encouraged somehow to at least temporarily pursue other goals. Advertisers rely on this. Do you value early retirement or a fancier car? The car ads usually get bigger budgets.
As with most of my posts, I write this because I’ve witnessed it. I’ve received a surplus of advice from people who only know a snippet of an episode in my life. I’ve listened to friends criticizing friends who’ve made choices they don’t agree with, without trying to understand why. I’ve watched political debates that rely on prejudice and generalizations instead of recognizing that no one is average, no one is a stereotype, and that everyone can change.
Writing is an interesting exercise. Writing is an opportunity to collect ideas, organize them, and present them without being interrupted. That does not, however, remove the possibility of misunderstanding. If it was possible to write perfectly, then there’d be no debate over holy books. Expect less then from any form of communication, even ones are broad and personal as sitting with someone, listening to their story, maybe asking “Why would you do such a thing?” And then remember to ask it of yourself.