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Why nobody's listening to your lectures on personal finance

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Photo illustration/Frédéric Cirou/Altopress/Newscom

(Read caption) Do you have a hard time biting your tongue as you watch others spend their money irresponsibly? Lecturing isn't the answer, but there are nice ways you can help others get their finances straight.

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Quite often, in our day to day lives, we interact with people who spend with reckless abandon and don’t think for a moment about the long-term financial implications of what they’re doing – or, when they do think about it, they simply believe that someone or something will take care of it for them in the future.

For those of us who really understand the tremendous value of getting our financial houses in order, this can be incredibly frustrating, particularly when we see someone we care about falling into that trap or, even worse, believing that we will eventually be the ones that bail them out of whatever situation they’re involved with.

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In these situations, the tempting response is to try to directly “set them straight.” If you simply lay out the facts of the situation and point out how their current economic path is unsustainable, they’ll begin to see the light, right?

Wrong.

Very few people really enjoy being told how they’re doing things wrong. Quite often, they’ll reject such statements and, on some level, resent you for the statements you’ve made to them. I have seen this happen far too many times when people have interventions and discussions with people on a bad financial path.

It just doesn’t add up to success.

Instead, I find that a set of completely different tactics tends to work well in these situations. Rather than trying to force the horse to drink, focus instead on leading the horse gently to the water.

Try these six tactics on for size.

Give them chances to show they’re responsible. People often start revealing their best traits when they’re given an opportunity to do so. Let the person with the poor financial history be involved with any major financial choices you may have in common – don’t just decide things for them, because that creates the impression that you’re the boss and they’re the follower, that they don’t really have to worry about it. Tell them that you trust them and that you believe they’re up to the task of carrying their part in whatever you’re working on together.

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Follow failures not with rage, but with quiet disappointment. I find that, over and over again, quiet disappointment is far more effective as a response to someone who has let you down than a pile of rage ever will be. If someone lets you down, do everything you can to avoid exploding at them. Don’t let your emotions overwhelm the situation. Instead, calmly state that they did, in fact, let you down, and divest yourself of as much of the immediate situation as you can.

Offer them occasional tips for good financial living that work well for you that might actually apply in their life. Don’t send them daily emails filled with frugality tips. Instead, wait for the really good ones that might actually click with them, then send that idea along to them. The goal is to help them improve their own life, not to make their life mimic your life.

Have a heart-to-heart, but not about the finances. Tell the person how much they really do matter to you, and also tell them that if they ever need to figure out what the next step is in their life, you will drop what you can to help them figure it out. This type of talk is hard to do, but it can often be a life changer to a person who is wandering and is trying to figure out what does come next in their life.

Decide now whether you’re willing to mop up their mistakes. Some people spend years worrying about having to take care of their parents without really deciding if that’s what they’re going to do or not. Don’t put yourself in that situation. Decide, right now, whether you’re going to take care of them in the long term or not, and then act accordingly. Don’t hedge your bets because you’ll just carry a painful decision out for much longer, making your life miserable and probably adding misery to their life, too.

Wait for their “bottom,” then gently offer help. Although a low point can often be incredibly painful, it can also be an incredibly valuable learning experience for people. It is at that point that a person realizes, for the first time, that they’re following a path that doesn’t work. It’s at that time when they look around them and see who their true friends are, as they are the ones who are willing to help them at this low point. That’s when your help will really matter. That’s when a helping hand won’t cause resentment, but will be appreciated. That’s when it’ll build into something more than just a quick fix.

I’ve applied all of these at various points in my own life when helping others. Over and over again, I found that being much more passive with my help was the right thing to do.

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The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link above.


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