Privilege with the Happy Hour Ladies
Today is the last Friday of the month and my regular listeners know that on the last Friday of the month, I host the happy hour on the podcast where I gather great friends with me to drink cheap drinks and talk about money topics. Today we’re talking about what has been a hot topic lately, especially in the personal finance writing space, and that is privilege. At least we started with privilege, and then the conversation progressed to the ups and downs of being a public voice in the very sensitive days we are living in. I hope you enjoy this conversation and, as always, receive it in the positive manner in which we intend to communicate.
What are we drinking?
Melanie from Dear Debt — Malbec
Tonya from Budget and the Beach — Huckleberry Vodka
Liz, Mrs. Frugalwoods, from Frugalwoods.com — Bota Box Night Hawk Black Red Wine Blend
Shannon — Black Box Malbec
- Tonya requested to talk about privilege, because it is such a hot topic.
- There was a post on the Freedom is Groovy blog called The Alt-FI Manifesto, and it caused a firestorm on Twitter, which led to a lot of discussion on privilege, race, and other topics.
- Aside from the article, Tonya’s question is if there is an obligation for personal finance bloggers to disclose that they came from a background of privilege, where does it come into play, and how do people feel about it.
- There is a lot of back and forth about this topic in the personal finance world.
- Do you feel like you are a woman of privilege writing about money?
- Melanie feels like she is a woman of privilege, being born in the USA, not having any credit card debt, coming from a two-parent household, and having two parents that went to college. She had a lot of student loan debt that set her back, but she feels privileged.
- Tonya feels the same way. She came from a solidly middle-class background and she had her college paid for, which she didn’t realize how big of a deal that was at the time. Being born in the USA is a huge privilege already, and there are a million versions of that alone. She considers herself to be very fotunate.
- Liz absolutely feels privileged. She has devoted a lot of time in her book and on her blog talking about it. In her book, she wrote something about how on the day she left the hospital after being born, she had these built in privileges like having two parents who have been married for a long time, who had advanced degrees, and who were a supportive and loving family. She started from a very fortunate place and it has carried forth, because a lot of these things compound. If you live a fortunate childhood, it is likely that you will leverage that into a successful college career and then a successful job. Liz sees privilege layered through everything she has done.
- Shannon has an interesting relationship with the word privilege. She never thought about using the word privilege until recent years and in the personal finance space. She feels like people use the word to say they are sorry. She feels like her journey is her journey. Shannon grew up in a HUD home, because her mother and stepfather couldn’t afford a home on their own. Shannon didn’t know this growing up, because she didn’t know about her family’s financial situation. She grew up in a very blue collar neighborhood and both of her parents grew up below blue collar. Her grandfather was a postal worker and her grandmother worked briefly for the military. Shannon’s dad grew up in a two-bedroom apartment with five people. Her mom grew up in Jamaica, Queens, and her mom’s father was a southern baptist minister. Her mom’s house was broken into on a regular basis and she thought she was giving Shannon a good life. Shannon’s dad went to the Airforce Academy and then ended up becoming a doctor. By the time Shannon went to school, he was able to pay for her room, board, and books. She felt very fortunate. Shannon has been working since she was 14 and has never given much thought to privilege, because she just had the life she had. She does feel like was better than her parents’ lives were growing up. She doesn’t know when privilege came into the picture.
- What does it matter, if you are privileged or not?
- Melanie thinks it matters, because it is not an apples to apples comparison. It is the thinking of “I paid off all of my debt, and so can you”, and “I retired early and so can you”. It can get really problematic, because sometimes writers don’t disclose that they are married and their spouse is helping them pay off debt. Or, they don’t disclose that they had a huge windfall of cash or they inherited a house that helped them get set up. These details are important to share for context. It all comes back to context for Melanie. In personal finance, the juicy headlines are really sexy. Everybody wants to know how Melanie paid off debt or how Liz retired early, and Melanie wants to inspire people, but it is important to know your situation may not be the same. Melanie didn’t live in L.A. when she was paying off debt and she shared an apartment with her then-partner, so she could cut her living expenses in half. Melanie feels her privilege has increased since starting her blog in 2013, since she started out making $12 an hour and living on food stamps.
- Tonya agrees with Melanie. She sees both sides, because the titles like “How I retired at 22” are sexy, but there are all of those details that are left out and they could make a person feel bad about their own situation. It is tough, because we are all just writers writing our own thing and there are no rules about what you need to disclose. You are allowed to write whatever you want, and if you don’t like what someone wrote, don’t read, don’t follow, and don’t promote. It is as simple as turning it off. She does see where people want to have the discussion, but feels like she is on the fence about the whole thing because you are allowed to write whatever you feel like writing, but there are consequences. Freedom is Groovy now has a lot of haters. He wrote the blog post and he needs to own what comes out of it. It’s hard, because the people who are making the most money and are having the most success are the people who had the success in the first place. Tonya needs to be empowered to follow her own path and read what she feels supports her own life and interests and not get too caught up in the drama of everyone else’s lives and what they write.
- Liz has been attacked by not disclosing enough information. It comes down to this: it is difficult to figure out what you want to share and what you don’t want to share when you write about your life and your family. Early on, Liz and her husband decided they wouldn’t be sharing specific numbers on their blog, because they aren’t comfortable with it. There are people who are angry about it. People think if you put some of your life out there that you should be transparent about every single thing. Liz tries to contexualize things as much as she can and acknowledge their privilege. The first chapter of her book is devoted to privilege. Their privilege allows them to give back by supporting their community, by volunteering, and by doing work they feel good about. Liz also gets criticized a lot about acknowledging her privilege too much. The more she writes the more she receives criticism of equal amounts from each side — you don’t acknowledge privilege enough or all you do is acknowlege privilege. The internet is a devicive place. A lot of people go there to vent or to be cruel. She fosters a positive, supportive environment on her blog, because she sees that she has an opportunity to help people. Liz acknowledges in the book that not everyone can reach financial independence by working hard and being frugal. Every journey and relationship with money is unique.
- Shannon: When you start writing anything online, whether a tweet, a blog, or an Instagram post, you become a public figure and put yourself on a public stage. As your voice gets to more of the public, it gets interpreted in different ways. Shannon recently watched Sex and the City 2 and wrote an email on International Women’s Day about the scene in the movie where the women sang “I am woman”, because it hit her that women in particular don’t do enough to change their own situation and help other women. There are so many more oppressed parties than women in the USA. There is so much more we can do, and we need to change our thoughts about being dissatisfied and turn them into actions. After she sent the email, she immediately received a few complaints from Financial Gym clients, saying she shouldn’t be writing about how women only have themselves and other women to blame about deep-rooted issues. Shannon was accused of being aggressive and victim blaming. Shannon wrote back that we all need to be empathetic to each other and try to understand why someone wrote what they wrote and where they are coming from. All you can speak is your truth and you don’t need to agree.
- What about people who write their truth and it is really negative? Is it okay?
- Tonya thinks it is okay, as long as you own what you write. The basis is the intent of the article. Tonya has been following Freedom is Groovy and they have been very supportive of her life and they tend to write about very lighthearted topics. She doesn’t feel like they are malicious people, but she feels like he is misguided in what he wrote. Unless you are writing things that could potentially endanger another human being, or spreading hate, it is freedom of speech. You need to know that people may not support you anymore, like clients who were considering leaving the Gym after reading Shannon’s email. Take a moment before you enter the battle to decide if you need to expend energy on that battle. The answer is usually no.
- Liz likes to be supportive and kind. It is important to remember that people get in touch with you when they are upset. Think about all of the reviews on Amazon. You tend to write a review when you are unhappy about something. Negativity can be a stronger emotion for people and it isn’t necessarily representative of how everyone feels. Shannon received three emails back and the email was sent out to 20,000 people. It is important to stay focused on what you think is important.
- Shannon has always fixated on losses. In her career, less than 10 percent of clients left, but she would always fixate on that instead of her 90 percent success rate. Whenever you feel like there is a lot of negativity coming at you, her solution is to focus on gratitude and external positivity. Shannon likes to send positive emails to people. We need to do more of this in life. Pause and take a deep breath before you are going to write something negative. It is so easy to put something negative out there. Why is something bothering you so much? What is it triggering? What response are you hoping to get?
- Melanie quoted Lady Gaga who said “Social media is the toilet of the internet”. People spend an immense amount of time and energy fighting every single battle on the internet, but that is their gig. There are plenty of positive things to spend your energy on. If you are feeling super strongly about one or two things, go for it. There are some people who just want to stir the pot on everything. It is easy to put that out there.
- At the end of the day, what was the Twitter storm leaning toward?
- Tonya: There were so many directions it took, it was probably leaning toward a couple of instigators. Racism, privilege, and political leanings were among the popular topics. Brene Brown wrote Braving the Wilderness right around the time Trump was elected president. She brought up a good point that we’ve become a country where if you aren’t with me, you are against me. There is no middle ground anymore. If you don’t agree one way or the other, you are the enemy.
- Shannon: Once a topic gets public, there is no gray. It becomes a black or white thing. Red Table Top is on Facebook with Jada Pinkett Smith, her mom, and her daughter. Recently they had on Jordan Woods, the person at the center of the Kardashian drama. It all becomes one sided. Nobody’s human existence story is one sided. There are a lot of nuances. You can no longer just defend somebody. Nobody needs to have a public stoning.
- Tonya: If we don’t experience empathy, it is not simply that the writer is a horrible, evil human being. Tonya isn’t just going to write someone off. Maybe have a discussion with the person to see where they are coming from and see them face to face. Everyone is so critical and harsh. If you are getting angry, just turn it off. You don’t need to make an announcement that you are no longer following someone, just move on.
- Have you ever been involved in a public rant?
- Liz has not. She is a lover and she doesn’t like to attract negativity into her life. Negativity is a product of the internet. You reach a certain threshold of people reading what you write and it is a product, in some ways, of success. It is inherent to having a lot of people reading your stuff and it is part and parcel of doing business.
- Melanie had negative comments on her article that was picked up on Business Insider. In regards to the Freedom is Groovy article, she didn’t agree with the post, she couldn’t finish it, and she is not going to read anyone’s 8,000 word manifesto. Anyone who is going to write that big of a manifesto should be questioned anyway. She didn’t enjoy it or agree with it, but she doesn’t feel like she needs to say something publicly or have a stance on it. She would rather not spend her energy on things she doesn’t agree with.
- Shannon believes in the freedom of speech. The ultimate privilege is that we live in the USA and we can say these things. Some of the things we say and write can’t be said in other parts of the world and we need to respect everyone’s voice. It is not her purpose on earth to go around and try to change people, and attacking someone isn’t going to change them anyway. Pray that these people get common sense or that you won’t be stuck in an elevator with them. Move about your business and do the right thing.
- Tonya: People always want the last Tweet or comment on Facebook and they have to be right. Just let it go.
- So much of this comes from contexualizing your statements. It depends on how you state your truth.
- Not everybody can be financially independent by 33, because not everybody is 33.
- Anybody can do anything they put their minds to — not defying the laws of physics like flying. That’s not the point.
- Anything is possible. Don’t get fixated on context, focus on making it a reality for yourself, if it is something you want to do.
- You are born into what you are born into and you cannot change the laws of physics or the time-space continuum — you are given what you are given and sometimes that sucks. You might be privileged in the sense of money, but you might be hit by an illness.
- You never know what is going on in someone’s life, so don’t bother trying to figure out someone else’s life, figure out your own life. Figure out what you have and where you are starting from and work with that, because you cannot just will or wish something were different. It sucks if you are given a tough hand, but that is the hand and life you were given and you need to work with it.
- Tonya’s blog was linked in the Alt-FI article and she doesn’t care, because that isn’t her voice. Several bloggers were mad that they were linked.
- Sometimes we are tested to access our empathetic selves and try to understand someone else’s point of view and their right to that point of view.
- Shannon doesn’t follow Freedom is Groovy and she doesn’t really understand where he stands after reading the article, but that is how he feels.
- There are a lot of feelings being felt out there. Daniel Tiger knows all about that.
- Shannon has been on a lot of flights lately and the Fred Rogers documentary is shown on most of them. His whole message is all about kids just feeling their feelings. His job was to help people feel things and express their feelings. That is all this is about at the end of the day — people expressing their feelings. If we all find a better way to do this, we will all be in a better place.
- Listen more!
- Watch Mr. Rogers and Daniel Tiger.
- Feel the feelings in a healthy way and it will get better.
- It is important to recognize where you come from and that maybe there are some things that get you further ahead of other people. It is still your story and you can own that as well.
- Own your truth, own your story. We are living our story and that is our purpose. Don’t let others change your story and don’t try to change other peoples’ stories. Try a little tenderness.
- Whenever you have an instinct to write something negative, take some advice from Daniel Tiger and take a deep breath. Do you need to do that? If you really feel like you need to do that, take a minute and write five nice emails to other people to balance it out. Receiving a nice email is delightful.
- Before you are ready to criticize and pounce on someone for what they wrote and who they are, are you perfect? Do you do nothing wrong? Have you ever wrote something that was controversial? Have you made mistakes? Think about that first.
TAKEAWAY: My biggest takeaway is the importance of empathy in this day and age. I think there are so many intense emotions being felt right now that are compounded by social media, and I truly feel that the antidote to all of this is empathy. We don’t all have to get along and we don’t all have the have the exact same opinions and beliefs. That is not what the human experience is all about, but I do think we should always try to walk in someone else’s shoes, no matter how crazy those shoes look.
If you want to work with my team at the Financial Gym to help you achieve your financial goals this year, remember that Martinis and Your Money Listeners get 15% off Financial Gym services, and my financial trainers have seen it all. No matter where you are starting, we have the tools and resources to get you where you want to go. So head over to, or send friends to, financialgym.com.
If you have any topics you would like for us to talk about during happy hour, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to me at blonde_finance or join the private martinis and your money Facebook group and let us know. Until next time, take care!!