Blogs, newspapers, television, magazines, your spouse’s mother’s college roommate’s second cousin’s husband. There are an abundance of “sources” of news, information, and advice about money, technology, health or any other subject under the sun. Some are just looking for attention by attaching themselves to a hot-button topic. Some are reliable. Some are just hokum. What many lack, however is a sense of reality. The reality that what they say, no matter the intention, is almost certainly not going to be applicable to everyone who reads it. Advice about money issues and any of those other topics has no meaning without context. Without context, you in no way should take any information as being meant for you. But why?
Let’s start with the meaning of context for the benefit of those who may not be familiar with the term. Context is the set of circumstances surrounding the story or information which gives it meaning to a particular person or group. A great example are newspaper article headlines: they are often sensationalized to attract attention, yet most of the time have a distinctly different tone or meaning than the articles themselves. Here’s a perfect example which occurred during the NFL playoffs:
Headline: “Falcons Vs. Giants: Justin Tuck Calls Atlanta Linemen ’Dirtbags”
Source from the article: “We know they have that quote unquote reputation,” Tuck said. “But in a way it kind of is exciting. Most people, you would call them dirt bags. But it is what it is. We got to make sure we do our job and if we are doing our job well, then they will be upset and they will be trying to do things to get us off our game and we got to take that as a compliment. But in the same sense you got to protect yourself and hopefully the referees have 20-20 vision this week.”
At no time did the quoted player, Justin Tuck, call the Atlanta Falcons “dirtbags”. His actual message was that the players had a reputation and that most people would call them dirtbags based on that reputation. The headline purposefully takes a portion of his quote out of context, which grabbed the readers’ attentions, but completely misguided them into thinking the article was about a war of words. Because the context can be the difference between relevance to you and total rubbish and because the writers of most of these “informative” pieces don’t take you as an individual into consideration, you really need to learn to think for yourself instead of following this stuff blindly. So, now that everyone has a better understanding about how context comes into play here, let’s get back to the original point…
It was fun as a kid to play follow the leader, but as grown-ups we have a responsibility to break from that habit and learn to think for ourselves. You need to stop being lazy! Don’t simply follow the advice you see on the internet or hear on talk shows because it comes from some “financial guru”. Don’t take someone’s word at face value just because their blog seems to be popular. Don’t follow the plan that a person lays out just because it worked for them. Don’t assume that anything you see, read , or hear is real until you examine it more closely to determine how it would impact your individual set of circumstances.
Anyone can tell the story of their neighbor, family member, friend, or co-worker. That doesn’t make it 100% true. Facts may be changed, left out or exaggerated along the way. Just think of that game telephone–how as the message gets relayed further away from the source it changes more and more. Or how “eyewitness” testimony is usually the least accurate–everyone sees and interprets things from different vantage points, and has different prejudices and experiences which affect them differently.
Anyone can post a link to the IRS website and tell you to do this or do that–they don’t necessarily know what the heck the meaning behind it is, or how to apply the tax code. They can tell you about this tax deduction or that credit but be inexperienced enough to not know that filing status, income, previous use of certain credits, etc. all may make their advice null and void in your case. Many articles in money magazines are notorious for this–they simply don’t tell the whole story and give incomplete financial advice.
All television, radio, and print advertisements are marketing tricks meant to put products in the most favorable light possible. They often leave out the negatives or at the very least either put disclaimers in microscopic fonts or use a speed talker to make the disclosures. Remember, advertising is meant to attract consumers, not repel them by admitting that the product is not for everyone or revealing the not-so-perfect aspects.
Anyone can rattle off ways that they think you should handle money. They tell you tales of how their life is so great because they do the things they do, but forsake the things they don’t do because they are a waste of money. They don’t live in your shoes, they simply know what works for them. Just because they are able to make it work doesn’t mean that you will be able to as well, or if you will even benefit from their methods.
Anyone can go on and on about a certain diet they used to lose weight quickly. They can tell you all about the benefits of a certain nutritional supplement to improve this function, that function, or turn fat into muscle. They don’t know what your medical history is, what your body needs and what it can’t be exposed to. You may be on medication that can have adverse reactions to certain interactions.
Your situation is most likely very different from anyone else’s, no matter how similar it would appear on the surface. You need to take the time and effort to do what applies and works for you (and your family). Sure, it may be easier to blindly follow someone else’s “advice”, but that would just be a disservice to you and the ones who depend on you. You owe it to them, as well as to yourself, to be diligent and make the right decisions but those decisions have to be right for you.
Do you do your own research before making even the smallest decision that impacts you and/or your family? Have you ever been guilty of instinctively doing something you read or heard without looking into it further?