Sunday, 28 November 2010

Helping Friends Spend Less - Don't Do It!

I was having lunch with a friend of mine who I used to work with. His name is Harper. We went to Nando's and while there he started criticizing me for eating out all the time, saying that it is bad for my health. I told him that it is possible to buy food that is healthy, e.g. salads and sandwiches. He then claimed that I should not eat out because it is a waste of money.

When my friend tried to lecture me about how I should spend my money, it made me feel really wrong. I admit I used to do it in the past. I would tell people that they should not spend money on luxury items and that they should spend it instead on necessities so that they can save money. I even went so far as to criticize people for having children since I believed that children are expensive luxury goods. But since then I have learned that it is best to let people spend their own money on whatever they want to spend it on. Other people have different values and different goals in life, and unless you are walking in their shoes, you don't really understand and you are in no position to lecture.

I do admit I eat out whenever I am at work simply because I don't like to prepare food and I don't like to make my own food or have a family member make it for me (because it tastes bad). When you're busy dealing with the stress of work, the last thing you want is to have to deal with bad quality food that stinks up the office. In addition to eating out at work I also drink coffee. On some days I drink one cup and on other days I have two. All this eating out and coffee adds up to maybe $3000 to $4000 per year. It's a lot of money, I admit, but I kept records of how much I have spent for many years now and according to calculations that I did today I found that I only spend about 15 per cent of my gross income from work. Some people may be able to achieve better savings rates than that but this is what I am comfortable with. My friend Harper, on the other hand, had a girlfriend who he spends bucketloads of money on. I also remember him going on about a $1000 wristwatch he purchased. He wears fairly trendy clothing and even wears men's jewellery. Based on his history of spending on luxury goods, I am surprised he is lecturing me on the differences between needs and wants and how eating out and drinking coffee are expensive habits!

The lesson from this story is that in your interactions with people it is, in my opinion, a good idea to have a non-interventionist policy whereby you let other people decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives. This doesn't mean you should not help a friend in need, but there is a fine line between helping a friend and imposing your values on him.

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