Paycheck Chronicles

From The Mailbag: Why So Vague?


This week's question thrills me and frustrates me at the same time.

Dear Kate,

You almost never tell people what they should do?  What is the point of giving financial advice if you don't actually give any advice?

Irritated in Illinois

I'm going to have to guess that Irritated and I have different approaches to things.  His question brings up a pillar of my thoughts about "financial advice."

Dear Irritated,

I don't consider myself a financial advisor, but rather a financial educator.  My job is to give readers information so they can make the right decisions for themselves, their family, and their personal situation.

Personal finance is "personal" for a couple of different reasons.  First, no two people, or families, are in the exact same situation.  Second, personal finance isn't just about the math or the IRS regulations or the best way to do something.  Personal finance is also about your risk tolerance, your feelings about various topics, and what helps you to sleep at night.  Every person is different, and every person changes as their life goes on.  There is no single right answer for every situation or every place in time.

For these reasons, I don't think it is appropriate for me to tell people what they should do, particularly when I'm writing an article that might be read by a broad range of people.  In fact, I go out of my way to emphasize that every single situation is different, while presenting things that you might want to consider.  Even when my title is more declarative, such as Don't Save Your GI Bill For Your Kids, the body of the text presents general information while emphasizing, repeatedly, that this might not be the right answer for everyone, and highlighting particular situations where the general advice of the article might not apply.  (As a side note, I'm glad you noticed that I'm wishy-washy.  The comments on that particular post make me wonder if people even read it, as the chief complaint is that I'm making too many assumptions and not accounting for individual situations.)

If you are looking for someone to tell you what to do, then a private relationship with a trusted fee-only financial advisor might be a good choice for you.  Even if you retain an advisor, I encourage you to be educated about your finances.  Your advisor may be fabulous, but they are not you and can't know your feelings and what will truly make you feel secure.

I do hope you've found a lot of useful information here at The Paycheck Chronicles that helps you to make smart decisions for your particular situation.  Thanks for writing in!


There you have it, folks, the reason why most Paycheck Chronicles articles have tons of qualifying terms like could, might, maybe, for some, occasionally, and may instead of declarative words like would, will, and always.  Just like most of the rest of life, there are very few always in personal finance.

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