Last week, I promoted one of my blog posts on my personal Facebook profile. (I know that’s crazy to anonymous PF bloggers, but I’m completely open about my blog IRL!) It was the review of the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard, and you can see I was pushing it a bit. (We just signed up for our second one last night! Woohoo!) I knew that some of my FB friends would see that and consider signing up for the card (this was my target audience), some would dismiss it because they aren’t looking for another card, and some might be put off because they are anti-credit. For that last group, I immediately commented with a link to my recent post about not promoting but not being defensive either about credit card usage.
One of my cousins challenged my decision to link to this post promoting a credit card.
You can see that at first I mistook her comments for reproach regarding my use of credit, but with her second comment I understood that her concern was for my FB friends who might see my recommendation of this card and be tempted to use it irresponsibly.
Based off just that short exchange, we could have a discussion about personal responsibility, or how FB encourages jealousy and consumerism, or about 1 Corinthians 8:9. But I’d like to go straight at what my cousin’s point was – did I think about my entire audience when I made this post?
In fact, I did not think of the possibility that any of my FB friends would see that post and want to use that or any other credit card irresponsibly. (The secondary audience I was focused on was those who were against credit on principle.) I write about credit cards and preach responsible use so often here on EPF that it didn’t seem like a big difference to speak that way on FB. Yet, my cousin is absolutely right that the people who read EPF are a quite different group than potentially anyone I’m FB friends with. They are at least slightly interested in reading what I have to say on PF, whereas perhaps someone in my FB friends list who avoids credit card offers because they are too tempted to overspend would be blindsided by my status.
Why didn’t I think that any of my FB friends would find my status potentially detrimental? It’s because I think they’re all like me – and I have very little evidence to the contrary, at least about credit card usage. I suspect that some of my family members are Dave Ramsey followers – the same branch of the family that this cousin is from – but I have only talked with a couple of them about their views on PF. It was that group of people that I had in mind when I preemptively put up my post about how I shouldn’t have to be defensive about using credit cards.
Thinking of all my other FB friends, there is only one among them that I know has struggled with credit card debt (and that is secondhand information). So one explanation is that none of them have had credit card debt, and the other is that I don’t talk with people enough about personal finance to know that they have had credit card debt. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.
I actually do talk with people in real life about PF quite a bit. This blog is my main hobby so it tends to come up in conversation, and I’ve become somewhat of a go-to person for my friends with PF questions. And the people who I talk with are to a great extent very similar to me. They want to live within their means. They don’t have consumer debt, except for maybe a car loan. They think saving for retirement while young is a good idea, even if they’re not doing it at the moment. They are open to budgeting and tracking. Why are the people I’m talking with so similar to me? Two explanations again, with the truth between – I have awesome, responsible friends or I tend to only talk at length with people who already agree with me.
The tendency to only talk with people who already agree with us extends to a bunch of subject areas, unless you really love fighting. If you start a conversation on a subject and find that the other person has a different viewpoint, if the subject is touchy at all I think we tend to drop it pretty fast. Add to that normal feeling the probability that there is shame associated with revealing your financial life, particularly if you, for instance, have credit card debt or have made other kinds blunders. I try to be un-intimidating by often leading with the revelation that Kyle and I have a low income (but I have to be careful with that because we actually earn more than the median household income in our city). But still, I seem to only get into PF conversations with people who are looking to start saving for retirement, or have a bunch of savings they want to commit somewhere, or who aren’t overspending but want help with budgeting.
So this is my explanation as to why the possibility of any of my FB friends being tempted into irresponsible credit card usage by my status did not occur to me: I’ve had lots of confirmation that they are like me and little to none that they aren’t! Yet, I’m sure this is not the case. I don’t know what the solution is except for people to come out of the financial closet, so to speak, and talk about what’s going on in their lives more openly. I love talking about this stuff and I want to help, not judge. I’ve learned a lot from my peers that I couldn’t learn on the internet or from books – it’s so useful to have local examples of budgeting and implementations of frugality, and people can teach concepts verbally so much faster than it takes to learn them from reading books or the internet.
I have been pushing my boundaries and gaining exposure to people who aren’t so like me from two sources: the PF blogosphere and FPU. Both of those communities put me in conversations with people who have different opinions about how to manage their money and who are in different places in life, from tons of debt to tons of savings. But I still associate both of those groups with my life on/as EPF, not with my personal friends, so again I didn’t think that my FB friends might be more like my blogger/commenter friends or FPU students than like me.
My conclusion is that I’m not regretful of putting that status on FB, but I am also glad that my cousin pointed out to me that I need to be mindful of my audience. I hope that I can get to know some people in my real life who do struggle with credit card usage so that I can empathize with them and perhaps even help them. But I can’t do that until they “out” themselves!
Have you ever confused one audience for another? Do you think your lifestyle or what you put on FB could cause problems for your friends, even if it doesn’t for you? Do you talk about finances with people who in very different places from you? How do you think we can encourage people to open up about their financial challenges?