10 Personal Finance Commandments You Don’t Need to Follow

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Do you ever find yourself trying to follow advice you don’t really believe in? Here are 10 popular personal finance-related “commandments” and why you don’t necessarily need to follow them.

  1. Be frugal. I enjoy the many benefits classic frugality brings. It allows us to be more flexible, generous, and prepared for the future.  However, frugality has its limits. Frugality in itself is not truly a value, a purpose, or even a goal. There are many situations in which frugality as a controlling value would lead you astray. It’s just a tool to give yourself options. Please don’t make all your choices, including non-financial ones, based on frugality alone.
  2. Earn more. There are so many messages out there about how and why you should be increasing your income. I believe in increasing your income and growing your career in an ongoing fashion, to a point. But killing yourself to make more when you have a solid career, or basing all your major life decisions on income alone is also misguided.
  3. Go minimalist. Just because empty space is in, doesn’t mean you have to revolve your life around having less stuff. I appreciate the practical benefits of not being up to your eyeballs in useless junk. Totally get it. But when you are trying to make your house look like the cover of a Crate & Barrel ad, or causing marital division over how many shoes your spouse is allowed, it might be time to reign in the “minimalism.”
  4. Be normal a.k.a. Keep up with the Joneses. Cliché as it may be, it’s tempting to feel like the weirdo when you’re the only one in the neighborhood without an addition, kids who are in all the “enrichment” activities possible, or with mix-matched furniture. If we’re honest, we all conform to culture to some degree, and that’s not always a bad thing. But other people’s lifestyle choices shouldn’t be the main factor in yours. Whether that’s being fancy or frugal.
  5. Side hustle. Did you know you can make more money if you keep working after you get home from your day job? Would you like to read 1000 listicles about this fascinating and innovative concept? Just because side hustling is all the rage, just because so-and-so is making so much money this way, doesn’t mean you should be, too. It all depends on your goals and situation. If you have available time and actually need more cash, hustle away. If you’re short on time and not on money, I don’t see why you would. Unless you love money.
  6. Buy a home/Rent forever. Just because home ownership is the traditional path, doesn’t mean you have to. If you don’t want to deal with it, don’t. And just because it’s in vogue to question home ownership, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. Owning a home can allow for options that renting doesn’t, and that’s hard to quantify.
  7. Retire early. Why not declare an end date and race toward the finish line? Because we never want not doing something to define us, and early retirement at its simplest is just that. Instead of just inflating our lifestyle or our bank accounts, we also want to inflate our usefulness to others. And even inflate the lifestyles of those in need. If you’ve got better things to do with your time than work, start doing some of that now and see where it takes you. Stay flexible, and be responsible with your money, but also with your heart.
  8. Be more productive. Did you know that if you sleep one hour less per night AND give up caffeine and sugar AND exercise and read more, you could be BETTER!!!? Better at what, I’m not sure. Perhaps better at yawning? Or crying? In all seriousness, the productivity stuff appeals to me a lot and of course wasting less time on Facebook is a good idea. But when my value as a human is defined solely by what I do—what I produce—I might as well be a machine.
  9. Slow down/simplify. In response to all the DO MORE! productivity hype comes a very welcome call to slow down and simplify life. And as much as this reminder is needed, it also falls short. Because life isn’t simple, or slow. Life with kids gets hectic. Having friends is messy. Living with purpose means you have big stuff on your plate, and that isn’t something we should avoid in an effort to make life easier.
  10. Curate your life. Life is meant to be lived, not curated. For example, my closet is not an art gallery, nor does it exist for the sole purpose of self-expression. Clothes are for not being nakey. My home is for living in, not admiring (though I believe in frugal aesthetics). The pressure of trying to get my possessions or my schedule “right” is too much for me. I’ll gladly be sloppy, tacky, and busy if I don’t have to think about my life as a museum.

Which of these tools match your values, and which don’t? Have you noticed any other “commandments” that don’t fit your life?

18 Responses to “10 Personal Finance Commandments You Don’t Need to Follow”

  1. Brian says :

    So many points of view out there, you need to find what works best for you in your personal situation. What aligns with your values, what things add value to your life. #1 and # are not top on my list. Sure I brown bag my lunch every day and declutter to make things easier around the house, but you won’t find me buying the same shirt five times to take the decision out of what to wear or making my own laundry detergent anytime soon.

  2. Amanda says :

    You know, I feel the pressure of so many of these things, but some just don’t work for me in the long run. #3 and #5 are the ones I’ve been thinking more about lately (not in a good way). It’s funny, both are related to making more money. But, I have enough. Why would I want to spend more time going after more?! It’s a balance, for sure.

    • Kalie says :

      I think being in the PF blogosphere can make it hard to resist the constant messages about earning more. I know it has been for me.

  3. Hannah says :

    What are you better at? Crying?

    Ha!

    I’ve thought the same thing before. This is why I no longer wake at 5AM even though I actually could do so much more and I’m leaving money on the table. I go in fits and spurts with sugar. I feel so great when I don’t eat it, but it feels so good to eat it.

    Great reminders on every point!

    • Kalie says :

      Yeah, I was completely baffled as to how you were waking up that early with a baby! I think having a second baby changed my capacity more than just having one, and that meant leaving a paycheck behind. Oh well. God provides 🙂

  4. Emily from evolvingPF says :

    Of these commandments, I think I’m grappling the most with whether I believe I should maximize income, or if not maximize at least earn the average-ish for my education level.

    I’m off the beaten path now in working part-time for myself, which allows me to be my baby daughter’s primary caregiver during the day nearly every day. My husband earns enough for us to live comfortably though not lavishly (nor to save lavishly) at his job, and I’m bringing in some additional income as well that we’re putting toward our mid-term goals.

    But I’m certainly hearing our culture and the PF blogosphere whispering that I should have a normal job and higher paycheck. I’m still evaluating whether, even if I don’t believe the message, having a job is right for our family.

    Thanks for this list! It’s been thought-provoking.

    • Kalie says :

      The decision about how much/where to work is very real, especially for parents. And it’s even hard, I think, if you’re in the PF blogosphere where there are pervasive messages about earning more. I’ve tried to find peace in doing what we’ve decided is best for our family and being glad we have enough. It’s a constant struggle to return to this view, though.

  5. DC YAM says :

    “Would you like to read 1000 listicles about this fascinating and innovative concept?” Haha it is crazy how many posts I see on Pinterest as I scroll through my feed! I obviously contributed to the sheer volume of lists but man there are so many! I liked this post and I agree that things are usually more gray than black and white. Each situation is different and applying a universal law like “earn more money” is bad advice in many situations.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, any of these messages has valid points and is addressing real problems or needs. I like how you said things are more gray in real life, so these guidelines don’t apply universally. So true.

  6. Josh says :

    Being minimalist & earning more are two struggles (and polar opposites). If you earn more, it’s just natural to feel like you might need to spend it on something physical to validate or prove that your extra work has rewards.

    My wife & I are like every other family. We purge a little each year to keep our house navigable and tidy, but, we always find that the children get something new from relatives or us to take the spot of what my wife & I had just cleaned out from our newlywed days.

    As some of the others have said. Everything in moderation.

    My wife & I working to earn a little more money just to have more disposable income, but, I never want to go back to the salary I used to make because of the lifestyle that went along with it. Being content with having less, makes it easier for us to draw the line in the sand with our desired salary and need to do side hustles.

    • Kalie says :

      So true about the continual cycle of purging and acquiring when you have little kids. Hey, at least you’re not saving everything! And that’s great that you’ve found balance in leaving behind the high-stress, high-salary job, and now can side hustle for some extra income.

  7. Cheryl says :

    Everything in moderation. I think some of these are good reminders, but don’t need to be done 100% of the time. Wouldn’t life be boring if we slowed down all the time? But it’d be too crazy if we were productive all the time too.

    I like the word listicles, I haven’t seen that one before 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      Great point, Cheryl. There is a time and place for each of these pieces of advice, but they don’t apply all the time. We need balance or moderation.

  8. Fruclassity (Ruth) says :

    Ah! Some of these hit home for me because I’ve been susceptible to their influence. I’m especially struck by the contradictions inherent in them. For instance, I often feel that I need to take steps to be more productive. And yet I long for simplicity. You can’t have it both ways! This is a good wake-up, Kalie. I’m going to be examining my motivations and efforts a little more closely. Thanks : )

    • Kalie says :

      I also find myself feeling torn between the contradictory facets of some of these, such as frugality vs. minimalism. Sometimes it is cheaper to hang on to certain things. Anyway, as soon as I start feeling guilty I know it’s time to look at why I’m doing something in the first place–because someone made it sound appealing, or because it’s what I really want and value?

  9. Julie says :

    I think what I struggle with the most is the financial experts that say to do this and do that or you will be a failure in life. Poor people don’t always have those options. Sometimes you just can’t have a 410-K or retirement savings, a car fund, or even an emergency fund. When you are in survival mode you are just trying to figure out how to get enough food for everybody and which are the lucky utilities that get paid on time each month. When you make too much for the food bank, subsidized utilities and housing, and Medicaid but not enough to cover the necessities. When you have medical bills coming out of your ears even with insurance. Or when you ask your church elder to jump your van with 300,000 miles on it (again) which he gladly does after saying “Why don’t you just get a new one?” God does provide and I do feel blessed. I think that I have learned that it is important not to make assumptions about others. To not offer advice to people that just won’t work for them. A lot of advice does work for a lot of people but sensitivity is good too. People who look like they have more money than me, often have less. I think a lot of people leave God out of the equation and try and help in a worldly manner instead of a Biblical one. I don’t know if I’m making any sense other than in dealing with money management one size doesn’t fit all and maybe that is the commandment I’m disagreeing with. One size can fit many but I think with financial professionals the attitude seems to come across as “my way is the only way”. Which you did touch on with all these examples. Ultimately you have to do what works for you and your family. Not someone else. Love your blog and learn a lot from it.

    • Kalie says :

      It is important to consider the intended audience when reading bloggers’ advice. Much personal financial advice assumes you are not in survival mode, though there are some good pieces written for those who are. I agree that the advice would vary widely, and you need to take your situation and convictions into consideration.

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