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Constructive Criticism and Financial Privilege

A while back I posted about the importance of being prepared to take advantage of opportunities.  That post came full circle as recently I have read articles by other bloggers on financial privilege versus hard work. Many have posted about recognizing the advantages some may have over others. The thing is those discussions led my mind in a different direction. Particularly it led me to the importance of being able to receive constructive criticism and it’s relationship to judgement.

Every Person is Unique, Financial Privilege and Judgement

A few weeks back Couple of Sense wrote about financial privilege and how he does not like articles ending in “If I can do it so can you”.  His point was that not everyone can do it.  That our own privilege increases our likelihood of success.  Saying you can do it may potentially be belittling to those that cannot.

In some ways he has a point. Every person’s situation is unique. I’ve harped on the personal aspect of finance here on this blog to no end and I stand by it. That uniqueness guarantees even if you follow someone else’s playbook to a T you will not get the same outcome. No person’s financial plan or life will be a direct fit to your’s. I had a leg up by my parents letting me live at home until I paid off my student loans. I also had a leg up by simply having parents that pushed me to get an education. I recognize part of why I am successful is because of those things. Someone who does not have those things may have a harder or even impossible time replicating my end results. Others may have an easier time due to different privileges.

Judgement and Results

Furthermore, stating see I made 5 million dollars doing X so you should too is not only unrealistic but can come off as a bit judgmental. After all maybe your goal is not to make 5 million dollars. Maybe you have to take care of a sick or disabled relative. Maybe you are disabled yourself. You might even be held back by more subtle disadvantages. So you will not achieve (R)esult because you have not done X,Y, and Z is judgmental. But…

Constructive Criticism and Actionable Advice

You should do/try X, Y, Z on it’s own tends to be more similar to constructive criticism. The simple reality is no matter what your financial situation the simple steps to promote financial health will work for you. If you can do all 3 of Earn More, Save More, and Invest it well your situation will be superior to not doing so. In articles with these types of constructive criticisms or even self analysis you can discern a million different ideas. Not all of them will work for you so you need to pick and choose to your situation. However many of them can be beneficial.

Constructive Criticism: Lessons Lead to Better Results

For example, on a salary of 300K a year cutting out 3K a year on lattes is a drop in the bucket. Conversely making 17K a year, cutting out lattes is not going to make you a millionaire. But perhaps the latte removal would still benefit you in some other way. It might be directly by decreasing some of your financial bleed from lifestyle inflation. Or it may trigger some tangential idea that causes you to increase your savings significantly. Or perhaps for the lower paid individual it will spark you to drive harder to increase your income. The possibilities are endless and why I so frequently recommend reading about finance. You never know how the learning may benefit you.

Financial Privilege is Not all that Important!

But I digress, back to the topic at hand. Now we’ve established that X, Y, and Z is more constructive criticism as opposed to  X,Y, and Z equal (R)esult is more judgement. But why do so many finance writers focus on the latter X, Y, and Z equal (R)esult? Are they judging you? Well, no. Here is the thing about financial privilege, and really any other type of privilege. We can recognize it until we are blue in the face. You can shout it from the roof tops. But, unless your going around making judgements about others it’s not all that important. There I said it! In fact, beyond using it to remind yourself not to judge others it’s actually a bad thing to focus on privilege.

Why you should not Focus on the Financial Privilege Constant

Here is the thing, by it’s definition a privilege is something you receive through no act of your own. Now you have just started embarking on your financial journey of improvement. What should you focus on? Something you can’t change or the actions you can use to improve your situation? The answer is obvious. You control your destiny and your change in (R)esult from this point forward depends on X, Y, and Z, not Privilege. Why? Because Privilege is a constant. The only things you can change to achieve a better result are the things you control, the X, Y, and Z. Focusing on Privilege for self evaluation is a road to self defeat.

If you look at your lack of privileges in the context of you then you have a higher likelihood of viewing that hurdle or aide as a reason not to push hard with X, Y, and Z. After all how can you dig yourself out of debt, become the first out of high school degreed individual in your household, make more then your parents combined, or anything else if your focused on how bad you had it when you started out?

By the way, for the record, that last sentence describes me to a T. Throughout my life I focused on the American Dream as a driver of why I could achieve those things despite my beginnings. Did I do it alone? No. But without that belief in the American Dream I’m not sure I would have done it at all. Hope brings outcome, despair brings failure.

Why do Blogs focus on X, Y, and Z equal R

Blogs Focus on the whole equation because people do better with examples. People want to see how the millionaire next door took X, Y, and Z steps to earn 3 million dollars and retire by 40. Some of that is financial voyeurism. Other parts of it though are some validation that those X, Y, and Z steps actually work. After all without examples would you believe you could travel hack a vacation to 0 cost, retire by 35, or any number of other things? Probably not. But the real values in these stories to you are not the other person’s (R)esults. No the value is in whether the X, Y, and Z are applicable to you and what impact they will have on your (R)esult. If you open to reading another’s story and using it to critique your own situation then likely you will be better for it.

Focus Only On Your Result

One final note. I have stated you need to evaluate whether those steps work for your situation. That being said in the same way you should not reflect on your privilege or lack thereof when making a change, neither should you judge your success by that of others. I know its hard. In a previous post I even indicated it might be impossible so you should instead pick something average and compare yourself to that bar. In any case you as the reader should never assume that X, Y, and Z will mean R to you. Your mileage will vary and not every one of these steps may even benefit you. But by reading, experimentation, and constructive criticism you can hope to significantly improve your Results over time. That should be everyone’s goal, to continuously improve.

What is your view on Constructive Criticism or Privilege as Judgmental?


  1. Laurie@ThreeYear
    Laurie@ThreeYear January 21, 2018

    I completely agree that continuous improvement is the goal. Comparing ourselves, if we’re high income earners, to low income earners, is irrelevant and ultimately unproductive, because it has nothing to do with our actual reality.

    I see focusing on our privilege as a way to check ourselves against hedonistic adaptation, or a way to give ourselves some perspective. “All of my family expects me to give them $$” my husband complained recently. “I started at the same place as they did and have achieved this.” Yes but he did have some advantages that they didn’t, like an innate ability to create incredible relationships that helped him boost his career. It doesn’t mean he stops working to improve just because he’s made it. He always wants to get better as compared to his past self. And me, too. Even if it’s not as many financial goals anymore, we still constantly work to improve, in our communication styles, inter-personal relationships, etc!

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance January 23, 2018

      There certainly is an aspect to recognizing where you are today and using that to drive yourself forward. Thanks for the insightful comment.

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