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.