Walk the Walk Before You Talk the Talk

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The other day, I was chatting with someone and I told them that I was a personal finance writer. That person’s eyes got big and they said, “You mean like Dave Ramsey?”

I told them that I supposed so. She then proceeded to tell me all about how a great plan for debt repayment had really turned her life around and that everyone should be doing this. I nodded, because I agreed with what she was saying.

At that point, I asked her how much debt she’d paid off. She said, “Oh, not much. We just started.”

The balloon deflated. How can she tell me how great that plan is if she’s not actually done it?

On The Simple Dollar, I try extremely hard to stick with stuff I know about through my own experience.

I write about debt repayment because we have paid off every single debt my wife or I owed at our financial bottom. The only debt we have right now is our mortgage, which we chose to get into well after our financial recovery was in full swing.

I write about side businesses and entrepreneurship because I’ve been earning a living off of what started as a “side business” since 2008. I started a side business in my spare time (you’re reading one significant component of it) and eventually built it into something I could work full time on.

I’ve held multiple 401(k)/403(b)/TSP style retirement plans. I currently have a Roth IRA. I’ve had investing accounts with several investment houses. I’ve had checking and savings accounts with multiple banks.

I’ve faced spending addiction, temptations, and self-doubt. I’ve struggled (and largely succeeded) with getting my life and information and time organized. I’ve set lots of goals, succeeded at some, and failed at others.

Almost everything I write about on The Simple Dollar comes straight from my own life. I’ve done most of this myself, and I’ve seen what actually works for me first hand.

One big thing I’ve learned along the way is this: in terms of day-to-day life, what you have experienced is far more valuable than what you haven’t. The things you’re actually doing mean far more than the things you’re thinking about doing.

Your actual experiences, as mundane as they might seem, are far more worthwhile than the things you want to be doing – or the things you think others should be doing.

Over and over again, I’m impacted when people tell me about the things they’ve actually done and how they achieved them. I’m usually turned away by people who tell me about things they haven’t done – or, even worse, expect me to do what they suggest, even though they’ve never done anything like it or are actually doing the opposite.

I’ll use smoking as an example. I grew up in a household with smokers. A health teacher standing up at the front of a classroom telling me how bad smoking was did not convince me to not smoke. What worked? Watching older people I care about gasping for air and using oxygen tubes did the trick for me. Why? It was their personal experience that made the difference.

Religion is another example. Give me someone who has spent a lot of time studying various religions, quietly goes about conducting themselves in a positive manner in society, and can talk from personal experience if asked about why they found themselves where they are and how it underlined their moral code and I’ll listen to what that person has to say. Give me someone who just reiterates what they heard in church or on the radio the other day and is telling me how to live my life and I’ll quickly ignore them. What led me to my personal set of religious and moral beliefs? It wasn’t the pontificating of a religious or an atheist leader. Rather, it was talking about where our beliefs came from with a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds. I found that there were a lot of things in common and a lot of diverse and rational explanations for those things.

If you want influence in society and with others, walk the walk before you talk the talk about anything. I’m not talking about chatting with your friends here. I’m referring to when you discuss things of importance with people.

You are always far better off sharing your own experience and talking from that than you are telling people what to do with no backing behind it.

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57 thoughts on “Walk the Walk Before You Talk the Talk

  1. First of all, Trent, I can think of a whole bunch of posts you’ve written here in which you “tell people what to do with no backing behind it.” (*cough*swimsuit*cough*)

    Second, it sounds to me like the woman you talked to the other day *is* walking the walk. Even if she hasn’t paid down much debt yet, the fact that she’s paying down debt at all means that she’s being conscious of where her money’s going and she’s spending less than she earns – which is infinitely better than spending more than she earns. Maybe you’re worried that she’s trying to do an unsustainable financial “crash diet,” and she won’t stick with it – but based on what you described, I don’t know why you’d think that.

    Third, lots and lots of people write and speak with authority on things they haven’t personally experienced. Their secret is, they do research.

  2. I am a Mormon women. I’ve gone to church every Sunday, participated in church activities. It wasn’t until I was asked to be a youth leader in an inner city congregaton that I’m finally understanding this ‘walk the walk’ Principal. Although I was raised by parents who had me serve others, it wasn’t until I walked the walk or started working with these kids who truly live in poverty that I never experienced. I thought I was living a life consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ. As I continue to work with these kids, get to know them, and love them, that I understand how much effort it takes for them to rise up out of poverty. I”m doing my best to teach them self-reliance, building better communication skills, and teach them to be moral people. I’m not sure this post makes sense. But I agree there is a deeper level of learning once you begin to take action.

  3. I remember how life-changing it was for me once I began my debt repayment plan. I learned a tremendous amount about finances and about myself. It changed everything, and it didn’t take until my debt was paid off for that to happen. Managing one’s finances (no matter where one is) is a process, not a destination. Please give this woman some credit for understanding her situation and taking steps to change it. She is in a position to speak with GREAT authority about it, because she’s DOING it. She may even falter a few times, but she’s definitely walking the walk and has much to contribute to others.

  4. And another thing — some of the blogs that helped me the most on my journey were (and are) written by people who began the journey at the bottom of the well, and invited me to join them via their blog. They had (have) much to teach me as we learned together. Had they waited until they were totally out of debt before they began their blogs, I may have seen them as beyond me. Instead, they were my peers and I learned from them. They were walking the walk, even though they were in debt.

  5. I love this sentiment. I have been at the bottom of the financial barrel. When I first started in the military I had $24,000 in medical bills, roughly $10,000 in student loans (no degree to show for it), and owed $13,000 on a used SUV. This doesn’t seem like a lot of debt, except I was only making $1,400 a month at the time. By the end of my 7 years in the military, my student loans and medical bills were gone, I had traded the SUV in for a new car and paid that car off, and actually had over $10,000 saved up to put a down payment on a house. The military offered me a $60,000 signing bonus, and at the time I was making almost $40,000 a year after taxes. I turned this down without a second thought, because I had meet the woman who is now my wife. I refused to start a family in the military. I currently don’t make half what I would be making in the military, but am going back to college and have time to spend with my wife. We purchased a foreclosure for just under $100,000 last year. We have paid off $20,000 in the first year. We are slowly doing all of the work on the home ourselves. This experience to me is priceless, because I now know what it takes to turn a negative situation into a positive one and not need to stress about money.

  6. Ah you’re being harsh to the womn you spoke to. She’s probably just fired up with enthusiasm on a subject not many want to discuss with her and unless I’m missing something not setting herself up as an “expert”. While mostly all of us (including yourself I think) fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as far more thoughtful and informed than the next person over, in reality 99.9% of us are working through most of the big things – fitness, relationships, career, whatever – rather than completely successful and sure we’re not going to fall back a bit.

  7. People have different ideas of “a little bit.” The woman may just have been caught off card and threw that reply out there because she isn’t done paying down the debt. Heck, if she owes say 100k she might feel like 10k that she paid off is just “a little bit,” but that’s still a great move. I just put this out there because I get thrown for a loop when people asked me how much I have paid down or paid for anything etc.

  8. Wow. This isn’t at all a holier-than-thou article at all. Trent, people need to start somewhere, and if their excited about a program, who are you to have YOUR balloon deflated because someone is just starting out? What makes you think you’re so much better than this person because you’ve done this or that? Your attitude about frugality sucks. It’s not a competition and you’re not any better than anyone else. Get off your horse.

  9. Just because she ‘just started’ does not diminsh her success. For you to claim your balloon deflated because she hasn’t finished the journey isn’t fair either. It’s all perspective. After all, you have already admitted you are still in debt. Perhaps your debt payoff thus far compared to your total debt was ‘just a little bit’ as well. Congrats to anyone who makes the attempt to get free of their debt hell.

  10. I think this is incredibly harsh, Trent, and it makes you sound very judgmental.

    It’s not like she was presenting herself as an expert on personal finance. You mentioned that you’re in the field, and she was telling you about her own experience. To me, it sounds like she’s excited to have a plan and looking forward to future progress. What’s wrong with that?

    I don’t think this is necessarily true, but many of your articles make you sound as though you spend a lot of time judging other people. Maybe you should think about the attitude you project through your writing.

  11. I agree with Riki. I don’t think Trent means to sound judgemental in his writing, but that’s the tone that’s coming across. I don’t understand why he wrote this post at all.

  12. I applaud this woman for starting her journey. I hope she maintains her enthusiasm – it will help her along the way. She may have a very clear stategy in mind, but we all know it takes time to turn things around.

    It isn’t always necessary to have personal experience in order to share wisdom. I didn’t expect my my obstetrician, for example, to have had personal experience with pregnancy in order to treat me during mine. It would have been a little hard for him. He WAS an excellent obgyn though! :)

  13. i don’t usually join the pile on, but i have to on this one.
    first off, maybe she didn’t want to tell you how much because she had just started and it wouldn’t be too impressive to a guy deep in the world of personal finance.
    second, instead of applauding her for even starting you put her down for being excited about the program she was using-because she had just started.
    this post feels judgmental and harsh. it deflates all my good thoughts and feelings about this blog. like her i am just getting started, but i won’t bore you with the details because i don’t have a great story like yours to share.

  14. Are you just annoyed she hadn’t heard of your blog, or what?

    Good for this woman for starting somewhere.

  15. I think the message of this post is to lead by example.

    What I don’t get is that Trent does that anyways by offering good tips, recipes, advice, etc. Why does he need a post to hit us over the head with that fact?

  16. I think this post is the final straw for me and I am done with this site. Trent, you CONSTANTLY give out advice on subjects you know absolutely nothing about. You are not even close to walking the walk. In every one of your Q/A articles you dish out advice on things you have not experienced, often have not researched and is often flat out wrong. If you aren’t a financial advisor, walk the walk and stop giving out advice better left to the professionals. Keep your posts about subjects you know. Your posts are coming across increasingly critical and holier than thou. You are young and still have a lot to learn.

  17. Wow, somebody’s been wearing their grumpypants all weekend. You say you write about debt repayment because you paid off all your non-mortgage debts – but you’ve been writing for 5 years. Does someone only ever have something worthwhile to contribute after they’ve finished? Is there nothing to be had in sharing the journey? Good grief.

  18. Add vegan cooking to the list – he’s been doing this for a couple months, is offering pretty uninspired recipes, yet is sharing them weekly. I’m almost to Kim’s point here too (#17).

  19. Trent gave us a snapshot of the conversation. That is all.

    I think he made a fair assessment. We have all had these conversations with someone and been able to pull out that the truth was different than the initial impression. In fact, I’d guess most of us had given others the impression we were further along in a process than we really were. I certainly have.

  20. I applaud this woman for starting her journey. I hope she maintains her enthusiasm – it will help her along the way.

    Ditto.

    And Maureen, you made me laugh. I now always choose a female GYN for that very reason! The chance of really knowing what I am experiencing, instead of having “encountered” others.

  21. I do not understand this post as it lacks self-reflection. I have seen blogs here on everything from psychological advice, to advice for women’s dress, to advice for the newly retired, etc. All things the write cannot have experienced first hand. From time to time the answers are not properly researched, and incorrect, with potential associated downside to the inquirer. From time to time they are too authoritative, when referral to a professional is warranted.

  22. I am betting that if the woman he encountered reads this, it is SHE who will be embarrassed and deflated, not exactly the way to treat a person who is traveling the path you tout.

    I am not sure what walk you are “walking” with this post. I actually agree with what you are saying, about speaking from experience and not parroting, but using yourself as a benchmark of perfection in this regard is unpalatable, and unflatteringly reveals the arrogance of your youth. You are a thinking man, yes, but a wiser thinking man usually does not acclaim it publicly, knowing humility is better received.

  23. Kristine and Maureen: Having had both male and female OBGYN’s I have found that men are more caring and understanding than the women. My female OB was like “I did 20 hrs of med free labor, so suck it up.” The men were more understanding.

  24. Rebecca- I’ve had both. A male OB/GYN for my first, and a female midwife for my second. I had a much better experience with my midwife. Both children natural labor about 20 hours too, even though the second ended up with an emergency C-section. Thing is, when a midwife says it’s time for a C-section- I trusted her completely, as she had no time or money motive attached at all. And it only took one creepy comment by a male GYN to switch me over for life.

  25. I thought this was a bit disrespectful to the woman you were speaking with. How is she going to feel when she finds your site and reads this post? Like a big goober, that’s what.

    I feel really uncomfortable when you write about these kinds of situations–something negative about someone else–because really they are probably going to read about themselves here and that stinks.

  26. Kacie,
    You hit it on the head.

    And she will not remember a thing he said, but she will always remember how he made her feel.

  27. She’s walking the walk. She may have just started paying down her debt but she’s paying it down.

    According to this blog post you need to stop writing about being a vegan and posting vegan recipes because you are just starting your journey.

    And you need to get rid of the reader mailbag because you give advice on issues you aren’t knowledgeable about.

    More and more you are coming across with a know it all judgmental attitude.

  28. Really Trent? I shouldn’t be surprised by this post given the high horse you tend to ride on. However, to even try to say that you only write about things you personally have gone through or have experienced is so very far from reality that I am kind of stunned.

  29. Not sure what to make of this post. I don’t believe you meant to embarass this woman, even though you have in the opinion of myself and others.

    Again, it seems to me that you feel on the defensive Trent. Thus this whole tract about only writing about what you’ve actually done.

    Personal experience (been there, done that) clearly helps in addressing most situations, but often people can offer insights, inspiration and strategies and tips without actually being in the same situation.

    A lot of people write about war, for example, and they’ve never been in combat (physically) or served in the military. Yet, they can tell us about what is going on somewhere using various resources and other input.

    People use published research (and scientifically valid data) all the time to help others learn, etc.

    When it comes to money, many folks give others who have already succeeded in turning their financial lives around a lot of credit.

    When it comes to the online world, however, I hate to say it: All we have is someone’s word about what they have and haven’t done. (Not saying I don’t believe you Trent.)

    Readers just assume, with no real proof, that all the folks writing about finance and frugality are “successful” in what they claim.

    That may or may not be the case. However, if the advice works for you and helps you, it’s academic, isn’t it?

    The fact that this woman is more aware and making the effort is what she should have been positively reinforced on.

    It’s every little step that counts. The reason so many people give up is because it is hard and because those small steps don’t seem like much at first and even months into it. THAT is when people really really need someone like a Trent saying the equivalent of : WAY TO GO.

    Not sure what the real point of this article is, but it really ends up belittling the efforts of this woman, when that is the last thing anyone, including Trent should do.

    She is walking, albeit in small steps. Sounds like you put her on the defensive.

    We all make mistakes Trent, and this is one of yours. JUDGING!

  30. Maybe she didn’t tell you because that level of detail is none of your business and not pertinent to sharing enthusiasm for Dave Ramsey’s methods.

  31. The difference between TSD and GetRichSlowly is stunning. The only reason for this post is the 2x/day schedule.

  32. This post is hilarious, and I don’t mean it in a good way. It really takes some sort of cognitive disconnect to be able to write a post like this one.

    It’s so bold, too. Literally.

  33. One imagines:

    Trent: This vegan diet is really great!

    DW: Indeed. And for how long have you been following it?

    Trent: Well, not all that long really – but see, I can cook an artichoke heart in fried rice!

    DW: Looks like a picture of sheep’s vomit. Recipe sounds about as tasty also. You have to be a vegan for thirty years before you can contemplate eating an artichoke, and it is obvious that you will never have any idea how to fry rice.

    One does not teach a child to walk by kicking it to the ground because its first step was not a thousand steps. There is doubtless a Chinese proverb to this effect. If not, there ought to be.

  34. Hehe, looks like you got what was coming to you. I’m not going to pile on, except to remark your comment policy sucks because it goes directly against what you advise bloggers to do–read other blogs, and comment on them. Nobody can share links to sites, and apparently something as innocuous as mentioning another blogger gets your comment blocked. So much for

  35. I have been reading your blog for several years now and have seldom (never?) commented.

    I, too, have seen a ‘holier’ than thou attitude from you over the past few months. Guess what. I am WAAAY holier than you because:
    My mortgage is paid off
    I have cooked vegan/lacto-ovo veg for >20 YEARS

    However, I still read this and other blogs because I KNOW I can always learn more.

  36. David #34, that is a very funny post. Trent, if writing is your passion, please stop ending sentences with prepositions. It’s incorrect grammar. “…something I could work full time on.” Prepositions go before a word (“pre”=before) and not at the end of a sentence.

  37. By your logic Trent, you should not write about parenting because you have not finished the job. You should not write about retirement planning because you are not retired. I believe you have learned the lesson of not writing about women’s clothing as you are not and presumably never will be a woman. You should not write about that dream home in the country or your plans for acquiring it because you have not acquired it yet. The fact is that your feelings about what she has or has not done have nothing to do with her. Criticizing her publicly is in extremely poor taste.

  38. Rebecca, Christine, Maureen – guess we’ve gone a bit off topic here ! But as a differing opinion, I have found that I too, prefer male ob-gyn’s. I chose at a young age NOT to have children, and have never gotten flack from a male ob-gyn. The women ob-gyn’s, who have all been mothers, insist on telling me things along the line of how I’ll “never know love”, etc. Wow. I’m pushing 44 now, so hopefully those remarks will end, but in my 30′s I DREADED going for my annuals because I knew the condescending remarks I’d get.

    I think the comments to Trent are a little harsh, but I kind of understand where he’s coming from. I have maintained a weight loss of over 50lbs for almost 6 years, and when asked about it, I tell my story of alternative low carb eating, and generally get told by someone who’s gone to weight watchers for 2 weeks how unhealthy it is. Conversely, my sister in law is home with 3 young kids, and gets constant advice about parenting from her father in law, who I know has never changed a diaper.

  39. Good post, it’s very true. You wouldn’t take diet advice from a fat person, money advice from a broke person, or marriage advice from a single person. As Henry Ford said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you say you are going to do.” You’ve got to walk the walk.

  40. What a jerk. Trent stop posting anything about your fitness routine as you are just starting and still fat.

  41. I don’t think trent reads the comments or particularly cares about the opinons of his readers…(remember the infamous bathing suit comment thread where he proceeded to argue with the commentors???) But I just wanted to add that agree with the other posters—this post is harsh and judegemental. You owe that woman an apology. I am almost at the same point as Katie (#17)…I’m not sure why I keep coming back other than this website is one of the only ones that isn’t blocked at work…

  42. VickiB – I think those are probably good examples of offering criticism without evidence!

    But a random woman enthusiastic about a savings program, or people who have gotten deathly ill being the only ones able to criticize smoking ….. very poor examples for what may have been a good point buried in the post somewhere. And you can absolutely provide evidence/information without having had the experience yourself – I’ve never been in debt or overweight but you’d better believe I have data and anecdata about both those subjects (mostly because I’m interested in the subjects enough keep myself on the straight and narrow).

    Perhaps you should have written the post ;)

  43. Trent. I agree you should Walk the Walk before Talking the Talk. However, there are lots of people here receiving financial advice from you and they don’t even know what your financial picture really is. How about showing a networth statement once in a while, other bloggers like Flexo do it every month and he has motivated many people to follow his example.
    Walk the Walk…..

  44. Trent–

    Why do you no longer respond to comments? Are you too busy, or too bored, or off making unimpressive vegan dinners? Perhaps you’re spending time telling people you either do or don’t want to be their friend, or seeking esoteric inspiration, or putting down harmless people who aren’t as enlightened as you are–

    In any case, why even bother with a comments section?

  45. @guinness416 — One of the reasons I’ve found that people are more interested in “reformed sinners” than they are in those of us who haven’t yet gone astray. I’ve never had a problem with debt or being overweight, but people want to hear how to solve the problems, not the successful strategies that avoided them in the first place!

  46. Dude,terrible post, but I guess you already caught that drift from the many comments already posted. Personally I don’t know what walked you walked, your a cyber talker without the ability to provide any backing whatsoever. Based on your post above, doesn’t sound like your the guy that actually listens to anyone, but likes to give advice. Alass, nothing in this article was really wormy sharing. Dd you expect someone to learn anything, or is this that side job you are making full-time money with? Not worth a single cent in my opinion. Maybe you should find another line of work? I don’t see any future in this for you with crap articles like this one.

  47. Trent,

    I read the post and the comments (some of which were just plain mean, others quite valid). The takeaways (in case you are too hurt to process them) are these:
    1) Your primary audience is folks interested in your financial advice
    2) a vocal part of your audience is unenthusiatic about or uninterested in the vegan thread
    3) It seems you are straining to come up with 2 finance articles daily; that strain is affecting quality.

    Personally, I like the book reviews, the detailed analyses of specific thrifty strategies, including action plans, and the new Friday articles about creativity/inspiration.

    I don’t like the cooking thread, or the cursory responses in the Q&A feature – I’d like to see fewer questions answered in more depth and less detailing of individual financial memoirs.

    Would you consider using articles from your archives (updating if necessary) as your second article instead of straining so hard to come up with new topics?

    And I’d like a more detailed analysis of 529(?) accounts – the college tax-free ones -including how to set one up for my grandchildren. I’d also like a search feature on the blog, so it’s easier to find specifics in earlier posts.

    I continue to be a faithful reader.

    Peace
    Lou

  48. @Lou – I don’t think people are bothered so much by the the vegan posts as they are by the hypocrisy that Trent is showing in this post.

    He uses as a jumping off point a woman is just starting her financial repayment path and got all judgmental about people talking about things they don’t know enough about.

    Yet, Trent is not following his own proclamation by writing about veganism. He’s too new at it and (according to him) he shouldn’t be writing about it.

    Actually taking Trent’s comments here to an extreme I would say that Trent shouldn’t be writing about cooking at all because he has issues with confusing terms and doesn’t understand certain techniques (like marinating which is done before cooking not after).

    Honestly I think the biggest problem (especially reading about the “special sauce” in his latest blog post) is that Trent doesn’t listen to what his readers want.

    And yet, we are still here reading and writing comments.

    I’m beginning to wonder how many page views and comments there would be if people (like me) who are frustrated by Trent just stop coming by and stop commenting. Maybe then when the revenue streams are down he’ll pay attention.

  49. When I compare this post to one of Get Rich Slowly’s recent one about JD being profoundly affected by his trip to Africa – the difference between these two sites has never been more clear. This post just seems high-handed and kind of superior – and honestly this kind of attitude should be beneath this site.

    Trent, I know you hate the comments for whatever reason – whether they’re boring, or you’re busy, or you just can’t stand the fact that someone (or many someones) is criticizing you, but it would improve the blog 10000% if you at least read them and listened to your readers just a little bit, even if you can’t bring yourself to participate.

  50. I’m a different Tracy from the one above but I agree with my samename. Right now, I honestly visit the blog more for the comments by other people than I do the original posts, which are getting more and more annoying.

  51. Glad to see I haven’t missed anything from Trent since unsubscribing 6 months ago. I cruised by to see if anything had changed, but I guess not.

  52. I am really surprised at the way Trent responded to meeting that girl. I have always learned through weight loss or financial stability that small starts or little things you start with should be credited and looked up upon. She decided to make a change in her life to be debt free and is just took the first small step to acheive it. I don’t think it’s nice to talk down about her or make her feel like she hasn’t done anything productive yet. This is a new side to you that i have not seen. I always like to see/hear how other people live and their frugal ways, their debt repayment commitment but i never thought anyone would judge you for making the first step. I have to say of all the posts i have read, i think this one was a little harsh and i feel sorry for the girl. Hopefully, she will continue to stick to her plan and not let this get her down.

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