A Word on Tone Deaf Financial Advice
This week renowned financial guru Jean Chatzky tweeted out the following:
Her intentions are good, her advice aspirational. What she says is true: it would be ideal if we could all have 1x our salary saved by the time we turn 30.
But, unfortunately, the tweet is out of touch...and holy shit did Twitter let her know.
This is a problem that has plagued the financial industry from the very beginning: professionals offering advice to only the privileged few, while ignoring the plight of the majority of Americans.
I was going to rant about how financial professionals aren't connecting with the vast majority of struggling Millennials, and how their advice is applicable only to a small, privileged segment of the upper-middle class...but then...something happened.
I was called out for the same thing.
I recently wrote an article for The Scold in which I broadly outlined what people should be focusing on financially in each decade. Admittedly, I wrote the article in a rush and it was in response to a question I had received about what each generation should be doing with their finances. I thought it was a good and easy topic to cover. I offered a few focal points for each generation. I submitted it to the editor and didn't give it much thought.
A couple days later, I read a comment which said the information I provided was good, but it was "part of the old middle-class" and that Millennials just aren't anywhere near where I said they should be financially. At first, I got defensive. My information is helpful, damnit! But then I really thought about what she was saying and yup, I pulled a Chatzky. I meant well, but I came off as out of touch and speaking from a privileged perspective.
It's tricky to be both a financial planner and personal finance writer. Legally and ethically, I cannot offer specific advice in my writing because every person's financial situation is different. So that means myself, and Jean Chatzky, are forced to write about general rules of thumb, guidelines, and benchmarks. We can make suggestions and talk about money philosophies, but overall we have to keep it pretty nonspecific. I wish I could give tailored advice to every person in America, but unfortunately that's just not going to happen. Instead, I write, I podcast, and I tweet advice I think is as generally applicable and useful as possible.
I'm also well aware women, people of color, and other marginalized communities are not working from the same starting line as your average white, heterosexual, male. Facts are facts: it's much harder to accrue wealth if you aren't a white guy. Don't @ me, dudes. From economic policies, systemic sexism/racism, and patriarchal values, I know it can be next to impossible for many to get ahead financially. Don't believe me? There are SEVERAL studies on why wealth inequality still persists in the United States.
I learned a valuable lesson this week. Jean Chatzky and I both need to do a better job at creating content that is helpful to the majority of people and not just the privileged few. Tone deaf personal finance advice only exacerbates problems such as income inequality, the shrinking middle-class, and it perpetuates the myth that financial planning and literacy are only for rich white folks.
When we send out tone deaf and privileged-based content we are continuing to tell the rest of America they are doomed to a life of living paycheck-to-paycheck without the hope of ever becoming part of the demographic Chatzky was actually addressing in her tweet.
Out of touch financial advice is part of the old regime, where financial institutions had no interest in helping everyday Americans because they do not generate enough revenue to keep the filet mignon and expensive wine in their mouths. I don't want to be a part of that outdated culture. That goes against my personal and professional mission of spreading financial literacy to those who will truly benefit.
I naively became a financial planner because I wanted to help people who were like me: broke and looking for a better way. I also wanted to help people who were worse off than me by spreading the good word of financial literacy. Tone deaf content makes it more difficult for me to get people to listen. I've learned my lesson, I hope other financial writers and professionals will as well.
The odds are against the low-income earners, the working and middle-class. Those we elect to office in Washington D.C. may never do enough to help everyday people. I believe financial professionals like myself have a duty to combat financial illiteracy in order to rebuild the middle-class and lift marginalized communities out of poverty.
I'm truly sorry if my advice ever seems out of touch and tone deaf. I will do better, that I can promise you. I hope my colleagues will try harder as well.