What Works For Me Won’t Necessarily Work for You

I’m a married white male in my mid-30s, living in Iowa with my wife and three children. I work from home writing for various sites, primarily The Simple Dollar. I’m a homeowner. I’m a vegetarian (because my doctor suggested trying it for health reasons and I found that I didn’t mind the change once I got used to it). I studied two different areas of science in college and worked in a research environment after that before I decided to change careers. I take a daily maintenance medication (Synthroid) that I’ve taken since I was three days old.

I really enjoy playing board games and reading books. I like hiking and visiting parks. I don’t particularly enjoy watching television, but I will sometimes binge-watch an entire series on a lazy weekend day. I see no reason not to try to be less wasteful and more resourceful with my possessions, time, and energy.

Likely, you’re going to see some things that we have in common and some things that we don’t have in common. Perhaps we have the same race, or the same gender. Perhaps we both studied science in college. Maybe we’re both vegetarians. Maybe we’re both homeowners. Or, maybe not.

What’s the point of all of this? The point is that some things that I do that work well in my life might work really well in your life, but other things might not work well in your life at all.

You can see some examples of that in the things I listed above. I eat a 99% vegetarian diet – I occasionally eat fish, mostly because my father is a fisherman and also because I sometimes find myself in a situation where there really isn’t a vegetarian option and I don’t want to cause a conflict. That means that when I talk about food on The Simple Dollar, I tend to talk about vegetarian dishes. That’s just what we eat at our house. I don’t have much experience these days with meals that involve meat.

black bean stew

Just because I enjoy a vegetarian diet doesn’t mean you will or should. Photo: Stacy

For some people, that’s definitely something we have in common and it makes my food posts extra useful. For some others, a meal without meat sounds absolutely atrocious. For yet others, they’re fine either way – they’ll eat meals with meat and they’ll eat meals without meat.

Those are all great stances to have. Everyone is different and we all do our own things in life.

However, it does mean that someone who is vegetarian is going to find it much easier to pull food advice from one of my articles than someone who is practically carnivorous.

That doesn’t mean that my food advice is useless to meat eaters. Most of the principles I use when it comes to meal preparation work just fine for people who eat meat. You can still use the grocery flyer as the basis for your meal plan and, if anything, it’ll actually be easier for you because you can utilize the meat sales. You can still make a ton of slow cooker meals. You can even modify a lot of the actual recipes I post and incorporate meat into them, as many of them work just fine if you substitute my choice of protein (beans or tofu) for your meat of choice.

It’s about picking and choosing the strategies that work for you.

My primary hobbies involve reading books, playing tabletop games, and making homemade beer. I get a lot of personal enjoyment out of those hobbies, and I can talk at length about specific strategies for saving money at those hobbies. I know how to get the best prices on board games and build a collection for very little money. I know how to maximize the value out of a homebrewing setup. I can write all kinds of specific things about those hobbies.

But what if you’re not into those hobbies?

Regardless of your specific hobby of choice, many of the same principles still apply. You can shop around for hobby supplies and use Amazon as your baseline price comparison. You can focus more on “doing” and the experience of the hobby rather than acquiring stuff. You can find groups with which to share the experience along with tips for reducing the costs.

It’s about picking and choosing the strategies that work for you.

I work from home as a writer. That means I don’t have the expenses related to commuting, but I do have other costs – research materials, computer equipment, and the like. I have to set my own hours, manage my own taxes (those lovely quarterly estimated taxes are the bane of my existence, as I seem incapable of estimating them correctly), and keep motivated by myself, which means fighting off a lot of distractions.

But what if that’s nothing like your own work life?

Regardless of your own career path, there are still strategies to use. Almost everyone has to deal with the issue of distraction in the workplace, whether it comes in the form of talkative coworkers, smartphones, or websites. We all have to deal with things like retirement plans, and all of us would like to get paid a little more, too, so knowing how to talk to our bosses or clients about greater pay is a vital skill.

Improving your skills, taking on projects, polishing your resume, speaking in front of groups, networking with people in the same field, finding mentors, being a mentor, attending conventions and conferences – these are things that many, many professionals do, myself included.

It’s about picking and choosing the strategies that work for you.

As I mentioned earlier, I take Synthroid every single day and I’ve been doing so since birth. I drew the short stick in that particular genetic lottery and my thyroid simply doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. On top of that, it hasn’t exactly been a big secret that my daughter has been through the medical wringer as of late and although talking about it in great detail crosses that personal line I have into violating the privacy of family and friends, it’s reasonable to say that it has been quite expensive.

That probably sounds nothing like your specific medical situation.

However, when you take a step back, we’re probably going through many of the same things. We deal with prescription medicine costs and the challenge of trying generic medications. We’re dealing with the costs of surgeries and hospital bills. We’re dealing with the nuances of insurance. We’re utilizing the value of preventive medicine to keep our medical costs low.

It’s about picking and choosing the strategies that work for you.

That’s the value of a good personal finance website, something that I would like to think that describes The Simple Dollar and the articles I’ve produced for it. My goal isn’t to tell you how to live – it’s to describe how I live so that you can pull out the pieces that are useful and valuable for you.

It’s a principle that you should apply every time you read any sort of personal finance advice from anyone, not just me. You shouldn’t expect that every single piece of advice will perfectly match your life – it won’t. Instead, what you should look for is an understanding of where the author is coming from and what pieces of information you can pull out that are actually useful to you in your life.

Trust me – it’s not all going to be useful. I don’t think I’ve ever read a personal finance book or a personal finance article that perfectly matched me in every regard. I’m always pulling out the pieces that work for me.

Another key tool: If I’m not sure about something, I’ll try it if the relative risk is low. That’s usually my approach when it comes to frugality. The worst case scenario for most frugal tips is that I spent a dollar on some generic product that didn’t pan out or I spent thirty minutes doing something that didn’t really save me any money and wasn’t worth the effort. In the end, no big loss, but sometimes I’ll find that the tactic was really, really worthwhile.

The thing to always keep in mind with any personal finance advice – and this is true for advice in general – is that you have to match it up with your life first. The person giving you the advice is not you – it’s someone different, with different experiences, different income levels, different interests, different personal needs, and so on.

The trick is to always look for the things you have in common with that person, which will give you a strong sense of what you can learn from that person.

Not only is that a smart strategy for reading personal finance articles, it’s also a pretty smart strategy for life in general.

Good luck!

Loading Disqus Comments ...