If you’ve ever asked a question about money only to feel embarrassed, ashamed, or defensive at the response, you may have encountered a Money Bully. Money Bullies come in a wide variety, but they all share the need to make other people feel small to make themselves feel important about their financial knowledge.
I know this because I’m a recovering Money Bully. (It may be an occupational hazard of writing about personal finance.) As I get older, though, compassion has started to replace judgment and intolerance — good news for everyone around me.
Money Bullies can be anywhere. Some people are married to Money Bullies. They may lurk in your circle of family and friends. The Internet is bursting with them, especially in comment sections. Here’s how to spot them (and perhaps detect if you’re one of them).
The Unsolicited Advice Giver
If you accuse the Unsolicited Advice Giver of being a bully, she likely will be baffled — and probably deeply wounded. Self-appointed experts may genuinely believe they’re being helpful, while ignoring that little spark of superiority they feel every time they set you straight.
A cheery “Thank you!” and a change of subject may be enough to derail unwanted advice. Repeat offenders can be met with etiquette’s secret weapon: the unsmiling, wordless stare until they blither to a halt.
If you’re the one tempted to enlighten someone else, ask yourself how you feel when someone offers unrequested advice about your kids — or your appearance, or anything else that’s important to you. If that’s not enough to stop you, Google the phrase “unsolicited advice” so you can see how the rest of the world feels.
Are you in debt? Did you lose your job? Have you fallen victim to a scam artist? In the eyes of The Shamer, it’s always and entirely your own damn fault. To this person, there is no bad financial outcome that couldn’t have been prevented if you’d just been smarter.
Shamers aren’t just trying to put you down. They’re trying to convince themselves that nothing bad will ever happen to them because of their superior acumen. Bad luck, bad economies, and bad health happen only to others — or so they desperately hope.
Engaging with a Shamer is a no-win situation, so get away as quickly as possible.
None of us were born knowing everything we needed to know about money. Some had good teachers early on, but all of us make mistakes and learn through trial and error. The Know-It-Alls pretend otherwise, and because other people couldn’t possibly know something they don’t, they can get pretty aggressive and obnoxious if they feel contradicted. Their overconfidence may be their downfall, since they either don’t seek out good advice or don’t follow it when they get it.
Deal with The Know-It-All the same way you do with any other boor at a party: Excuse yourself and find a better conversation to join.
Did you negotiate a great price on a car? The One-Upper insists you overpaid, and knows someone who got the same vehicle for thousands less. If your investments returned a solid 8 percent, The One-Upper is getting twice that.
One-Uppers are the ones always crowing about their great stock picks (or their kids’ achievements). Braggarts can be socially tone-deaf, so the only response may be, “Wow, that’s amazing. And how about them Yankees?”
It’s not just credit card debt that’s wrong to these folks — even having a credit card is a moral flaw. They want you to operate outside the modern world, paying cash for everything (including houses) and ignoring the role credit scores play in everything from insurance premiums to getting an apartment to the deposit required for utility service.
Puritans don’t understand that credit is not synonymous with debt or that millions of people use credit cards without carrying balances. Puritans aren’t interested in updating their worldview, though, so it’s probably best not to try. Haul out the best all-purpose response to end an argument — ”You may be right” — and move on. (Note that you haven’t said they ARE right. You’re just refusing to fight anymore.)
Any convenience or luxury is suspect in the eyes of The Scrooge. How can you think of taking a vacation when you’re not fully funding your retirement account? Why are you paying for haircuts when you could do it yourself? And how dare you suggest turning on the air conditioning?
Sometimes Scrooges live painfully frugal lives themselves. Other times, they simply feel they deserve comforts that you don’t.
The Scrooge is fairly easy to dismiss unless you’re married to or employed by one. The best approach may be convincing Scrooge that spending a little money now could prevent spending a lot more later.
The boss who doesn’t care about uncomfortable working conditions, for example, might care more if you point out the high cost of employee turnover. The spouse who balks at a vacation or couples therapy needs to hear that it’s an investment in your marriage — which could prevent the massive and unnecessary expense of a divorce.
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