Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Those tips for saving money

This morning my mother apparently looked at one of those tips for saving money things.  "How to save $10,000 a year," or some such.  Tip number 1, "Bring your own lunch rather than buying one."  Which my mother always does.

It occurs to me, as it always has, that these things are made for people who don't actually need to save money.

For example, the one that I see most often is, "Don't buy a latte every day," to which I respond, "If I were rich enough to buy a latte every day I wouldn't be in money trouble, now would I?"  I mean, seriously, if people were rich enough to be doing all of the things the people who write tips for saving money assume they are doing, then they wouldn't need to be looking for ways to cut corners, they'd be free to set money on fire without worrying about the loss.

I suppose the reason that the things are written that way is that it's much easier to help someone who already is financially set and doesn't realize it because they're spending too much than it is to help someone who has real financial problems.  But the result is always the same, the people who actually need advice on how to save a penny here or there look at the list of things and say to the ones they are told to stop doing, "I'm not doing those things, I wish I had the money to do those things, not that I'd use it on those things if I had it," and look at the ones they're told to start doing and say, "I'm already doing those things, I've been doing them for years/as long as I can remember," and in the end are left with a sense that there is nothing they can do because everything they might do they're already doing.

And thus those tips for saving money are not intended for people who actually need to find a way to stretch their money, but for people too stupid to realize that they've already got much more than they need.  To the stupid people they may be of some help, but to those who actually need help they're cause to sink further into despair.


  1. I'm groggy, this is probably rambly:

    I feel like there's two kinds of financial distress: one being "I make money but I'm terrible at saving it and spend it on needless things instead" and one being "I don't make enough money". "Save money!" articles are aimed at the former probably because there's not much an article can do to help the latter; if your take-home pay isn't enough to cover rent and a reasonable amount of midgrade food, "saving money" becomes eating less than a reasonable amount, eating cheap food like ramen, or moving. Which results in a quality drop. "Saving money" should allow for the same quality of life with less cost, like making coffee at home instead of buying a latte -- you still get coffee AND more money. Forgoing coffee altogether because you can barely afford food is a different matter.

  2. @Bay

    I think that dividing it into two categories is overly simplifying, consider, for example, if we were to add just one more:
    1 I make so much money I can buy a latte and lunch every day not to mention doing things other people would consider splurging on a very regular basis, but because I do spend so much money on stuff I don't need I'm terrible at building savings (your category 1)
    2 I make enough that I should be able to be adding money to my savings, but for some reason I'm not. Clearly there's some non-glaringly obvious thing I could change to save more, but I don't know what it is. (new category)
    3 I do not make enough money. Full stop. (Your category two)

    The articles are always aimed at the people in category 1, whether by my count or yours. And category 3 (2 by your reckoning) is beyond help as far as such articles go.

    But category 2, how to save when you're not spending on clearly needless things but you're still not operating at optimal efficiency so there is still more money to be had if you make the right changes, you just don't know what those changes would be, is the one most in need of help that can be helped. Yet they seem to be the ones constantly ignored.

    If the aim were to actually help people then there would be many more articles attempting to help people in category 2 than there are attempting to help people in category 1.

    There are not.


    And that's just by adding one category to your dichotomy, imagine if we added more.

  3. I would think that's because the aim is to help people while writing an easy-to-write article, whereas writing one to help people in your category 2 would actually involve some research to figure out those not-glaringly-obvious things.

    So, there might be one or two such articles out there somewhere, but if so, I've never seen them...

  4. I've seen articles that at least appeared to be aimed at Chris' category 2. But I suspect they mostly take the form of "work out, in detail, where the money is going, and then see what's susceptible to change". Much as good weight loss advice (outside medical conditions) will always come down to "take in less energy and/or expend more energy".

  5. I think most of the things often recommended in the second category also take more time or resources (like a car or a Costco membership) that are difficult for low-income people, like cut coupons or buy in bulk. So they aren't useful either because most of the people in category 2 and very few in category 3 don't have the resources to take advantage of them.