Personal Finance is Personal
You’re ready to up your money game, so you start searching for financial advice. You begin looking online and find thousands of articles to choose from. Or you turn to Amazon and your local library for books to improve your financial knowledge. But you quickly notice some articles and books tell you to do precisely the opposite of others.
The more you read, the more confused you get.
Because even if the financial advice conflicts, you can see how each argument makes sense. They’re backed up with numbers, and some include real-life examples. Analysis paralysis sets in. So instead of taking action on what you are trying to do – fix your finances – you sit back perplexed and don’t make any noticeable progress on your money matters.
Who Do You Believe and What is the Best Financial Advice for You?
Before you go searching for any more answers, you should know there are few universal truths in personal finance – no matter what anyone tells you. Is there anything everyone agrees on? Yes. To get ahead financially, you have to spend less than you earn.
But most other “sacred cow” money advice can be disputed. There is no “one size fits all” personal finance plan. Why is that?
There is a lot more to money decisions than just the math.
Take a look at these ten examples of conflicting advice in personal finance.
1. Taking on Debt
Being able to do a debt free scream or post on social media that you are #debtfree is the goal of many. And most would agree if your goal is to pay off debt you shouldn’t take on more of it – especially bad (consumer) debt.
But there are others who think you can leverage debt and take on more of it to accelerate building wealth. Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, explains that using other people’s money (banks/investors) to invest in cash flowing assets like rental properties is the smart thing to do.
2. Eliminating Debt
You may have read about different ways to pay off debt. Money guru Dave Ramsey believes in the debt snowball method. He thinks people get out of debt by modifying their behavior. Paying off the smallest balance first (regardless of the interest rate) builds momentum and motivates people to stay focused on their finances.
Others think you’re wasting time and money by not focusing on the highest interest debt first. If the high-interest debt is on a large loan, it might take a long time to feel like you are making progress. Those who choose this debt avalanche method (also called the debt stacking method) may lose motivation over time.
3. To Budget or Not
If you need to get your finances in order, it makes sense to create a budget and track your expenses – whether you do that through apps, spreadsheets, or using paper and pencil. You’ll even find different ways to budget. A few examples are the zero-sum budget or the envelope method of budgeting.
The anti-budget is another option. In this method, you first take money each month to pay off debt, invest, and save. Next, you pay your monthly bills. Whatever money remains is yours to spend without tracking.
4. Emergency Fund
Most people believe in having some kind of emergency fund. But the size of the fund is up for debate. Is $1000 the goal? It can then be used to pay off emergencies like a car repair or an appliance that quits. Or should your emergency fund be 3-6 months of expenses? For many people, this could be $15-20K. That’s a huge difference.
Others think putting that kind of money into an account earning very little interest is a waste. They believe that if you have other ways to get money in case of an emergency (using credit cards or a home equity loan/line of credit), you should instead invest the money earmarked for an emergency fund.
5. Using Credit Cards
There is conflicting advice here too. Even though it’s hard to navigate our world without a credit card – some people do it. And with the average family having over $16,000 of credit card debt, maybe others should stop doing using them too.
But credit cards can cover you in an emergency, help you build your credit score, and provide you with benefits like cash back, travel rewards, and warranties on purchases. But there is no benefit if you can’t pay them off and face steep interest rates on your balance.
6. Earning Extra Money
Everyone has a side hustle these days. And many people have more than one. Some have even moved to the gig economy as their primary source of income. Others are scratching their entrepreneurial itch by starting a small business.
But if you have a W-2 job and need extra money, does it make more sense to freelance, start a side gig, or take contract work, over working available overtime hours or striving toward a promotion in your field? Overtime and promotions have the potential to make you more money, but side hustles and entrepreneurship are undoubtedly what’s popular right now.
Should you buy a new or used car? Does leasing ever make sense? There can be a case made that each one makes sense depending on your life situation and the offer given.
You might have heard the frugal idea that you should only buy a used vehicle. Many swear by the high value of buying used and avoiding the depreciation lost when you drive off the new car lot. But that discounts the low-interest rates, maintenance packages, and warranties offered on new cars. And even though many would disagree, there are a few smart reasons to lease over buying new or used.
8. To Rent or Buy a House
This is one of the hottest debates in personal finance, and like the other options in the list, only you can decide. Renting allows you to have greater mobility and more fixed expenses. You’ll probably spend less time on home maintenance too. But you’ll also have to prepare for criticism that you’re throwing out your money with nothing to show for it – even if you are investing more of your hard-earned cash than your homeowner friends.
If you buy your home, you are in control. You can change the paint and landscape the yard. It’ll take time, but it’s yours. And your mortgage payments will help you build equity. But new homeowners often don’t have a plan to pay for large expenses (think furniture, appliances or a new roof) and end up going into debt.
Should you invest in a Roth? What about a 401k? Should you max them out or not? Which one do you put money in first? When you decide to invest, do you buy international funds or not? What about investing in index funds or REITs?
You might find just as much conflicting advice and ideas about investing in yourself! Is it worth it or not? For everyone who thinks their advanced degree paid off, you’ll find others telling you it’s a waste.
You’d think everyone would agree that retiring is a good goal! But not when you read the statistics. Some people never want to retire, and some may need to keep working whether they want to or not.
And what about retiring early? Should FIRE be your goal? Are you planning on being frugal forever (Lean FIRE) or are you going to work longer and save, so money is never an issue in retirement (Fat FIRE)? Or does somewhere in between make more sense?
Financial Advice Conflicts for a Reason
After reading all of these examples, your head may be spinning! If money experts recommend all of these different strategies, which ones will work best for you?
The most important thing to remember is that personal finance is just that – it’s personal. What works best for one person may not be what’s best for you. Making smart financial decisions isn’t just about the numbers. Your unique situation and your behaviors and emotions (and those of a spouse or partner) matter too.
Ready, Fire, Aim
Reaching financial independence is your end goal, but “trying on” different money advice on the path to that goal can be overwhelming. Read, learn, discuss and ask questions about what you don’t understand.
But get started.
Waiting until you become an expert in each area will set you back. Create your own personal financial plan, making adjustments as you go, learning from mistakes. Remember – one size fits one.