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Attention annoying hypocrites: Stop being judgmental about your friends’ money habits

Ramit Sethi

When was the last time you judged your friends for their poor spending choices?

I do it. You do it. We all do it, saying “YOUR spending is bad, but mine is good.” And chances are, we’re usually right — since most people are terrible with their spending, they probably can’t afford those shoes, trips, or restaurants they’re always buying.

Yet each time we judge others’ spending, we’re less likely to actually look at our own spending and do something about it. And just as your friends probably overspend on “ridiculous” things, so do you.

Today, I’ll illustrate several examples of how hypocritical we are in judging others’ spending. So come along — but hold on, because we’re going to be looking in the mirror for much of the ride.

* * *

“I can’t believe she spent THAT MUCH on her wedding…”

One of the most popular posts I’ve ever written was called “The $28,000 Question: Why We’re All Hypocrites About Weddings,” where I pointed out how everyone is delusional about their weddings. People say things like, “Oh, I don’t want a big wedding…I just want it to be small and simple, with a few friends and family.” This lasts about 15 seconds until they start looking at wedding options and decide they want a a fancy wedding hall, nice china, huge flowers, and the best food and music, bringing the average cost of around $30,000 per wedding.

Which is fine! Unlike other boring personal-finance pundits, who delusionally lecture you to have a small wedding (when you won’t), I’m a big fan of spending extravagantly on the things you love, if you cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t. (Hint: If you’re 20 years old, you need to be saving $333/month for your wedding. 25 years old? $1,167/month.)

And yet, there are always people who will judge you for your spending choices.

Introducing the most annoying people on the planet

On the wedding post, there was a group of commenters that were some of the most annoying people I’ve ever heard from:

“$28,000 for a wedding is absurd. Most weddings end in divorce, why start your marriage financially cramped by a wedding? Yes, I realize you can plan to save that $28,000 in advance. However, wouldn’t it be more sensible to use that money for a down payment on a home (instant equity!). Or, to buy outright a late model used car? Just a few thoughts.”

“28k for a wedding is utterly ridiculous The key is to NOT invite everyone you know. I spent about $2500 TOTAL on my wedding 4 years ago. Yes, you read that right…What a complete waste of money to spend 28k on one day! What about saving that money for the rest of your life?”

“Wow, I don’t know where morons that spend $28K on weddings buy the stuff to do it, but I’ve got some left over paper plates I can sell you for $100 each.”

You can find these annoying people criticizing others’ spending on virtually every post on weddings.

Each of these people made it their mission to point out how “ridiculous” it is to spend $28,000, or $10,000, or even $2,000 for a wedding. ‘It’s outrageous! I did it for $100! Stop wasting your money,’ they angrily write.

But there’s just one thing…

They’re all hypocrites.

What would they say if I examined their spending? In fact, here’s a new rule:

Give me your budget and 10 minutes on the phone and I could identify 20% of your money being “wasted” on something useless and unnecessary.

Now, an exploration on how hypocritical we all are about money.

* * *

We’re hypocrites for judging our friends’ spending

When you judge others for their spending, you automatically assign YOUR values to them without even recognizing it. You think spending money on clothes, or first-class airfare, or expensive jewelry is wasteful? What about your own spending?

Here’s one of my favorite examples because it’s so nutty:

“That is just stupid. Unless the clothes are broken, there is no need to return it. If it is the wrong size, it can be exchanged for the right size.

PS: I hate the mentality of people buying clothes for “fashion” or whatever. You are buying $100 for something that costs $10 dollars to manufacture in China!

And about fashion trends – it is wasteful and stupid. If last season/year’s clothes are not broken, there is no need to buy new ones. Jeezz. As for “brand name” clothes – wake the fuck up.”

Yes, I’m sure your computers and new XBOX and 30″ LED TV are so important, too.

You think it’s ridiculous to buy $100 clothes? Let’s go beyond the knee-jerk reaction to understand what’s actually going on here.

  • What if your friend who buys expensive clothes makes twice as much as you (say, $120,000)? Is it “wasteful and stupid” then?
  • What if your friends don’t eat out as often as you, but they love buying a new shirt every month because it makes them feel good?
  • What if you live in the midwest, but your friend lives in Manhattan? How does that change things?
  • What if you’re 25 and your friend is 29? How does that change things?

Judging others’ spending is emotional, not rational

Think back to the last time you judged someone else for spending. Maybe you heard how much your friend pays for his apartment, or overheard your co-worker talking about yet another weekend vacation.

When we judge others’ spending, we do it emotionally, not rationally. Let’s say you hear that your friend is going on a trip to Vegas and staying in the Bellagio for $800/night. Do you consciously evaluate his income, age, spending patterns, priorities, and debt levels? Of course not. We simply say, “Wow, I couldn’t imagine spending $800/night on a hotel room. Therefore, his spending is RIDICULOUS!”

When it comes to judging spending, we consistently demonize others’ spending while rationalizing our own.

Ironically, if you went back in time and asked yourself of 5 years ago if he could imagine spending what you spend on food/clothes/travel today, the younger you would scoff and think your modern-day spending would be “ridiculous,” too. What do you think you’ll be doing 5 years from now?

But if someone dared point out your own spending on something — say, a new Macbook because your old one was “slow” — you’d have a multitude of reasons to justify it. “My old one was slow…and this one is important for my productivity…and I need it to run the new software I want, and….”

This pattern repeats itself in virtually every article on others spending money online:

In a terrific New York Times article on redecorating on a budget, a newlywed couple budgets $2,000 to renovate their apartment.


Donna Alberico for The New York Times
They end up spending $5,175 — a modest increase for their joint income — and the commenters go bonkers:

“$2000 is more than I’ve had to spend on decorating my entire house for the past four years. Decorating on a budget? How about $500 or less…”

“I made handsome, one-of-a-kind pillows, by taking embroidered dresses my brother purchased in the Middle East, that our mother never wore, and made covers for pillows I had tired of. (I didn’t even have to buy blank stuffers). ANY fabric store has even high-end design-house remnants that would be suitable and CHEAP.”

“How many newlyweds can afford to spend this kind of money on revamping their apartment?…I would rather put that money in a savings account for a house, or put it away for a nice vacation.”

Notice the presumptuous commenters condemning the couple for spending on their home decorations, and suggesting that their way — making pillows by hand or putting the money away for a vacation — is “better.”

Again, give me these comments’ budgets and 10 minutes on the phone, and I could identify hundreds of dollars per month that they’re “wasting” — according to my tastes. Yet few people — even those who lob financial judgments at others — would ever subject themselves to scrutiny of the same kind.

What is going on here? Are these people simply angry or jealous at hearing about other people spending on items they consider luxuries? Or is there something more going on?

In few other areas of our lives are we so adamant about us being “right” and others being “wrong,” particularly since most of us are terrible at managing our own money. When you dig deeper, you’ll discover the fascinating psychology of self-serving biases and other psychological mechanisms we use to judge others — but protect ourselves.

The psychology of judging others

The first phenomenon in judging others is called a “self-serving bias,” which we use to protect ourselves from judgment:

A self-serving bias occurs when people attribute their successes to internal or personal factors but attribute their failures to situational factors beyond their control…For example, a student who gets a good grade on an exam might say, “I got an A because I am intelligent and I studied hard!” whereas a student who does poorly on an exam might say, “The teacher gave me an F because he does not like me!”

If your friend buys a $500 coat, you might say, “That’s nuts…Jack is really bad at managing his money. He can’t even control his spending!” But when I asked you about the $500 coat in your jacket, you might say, “Oh, that’s because I had to go to a wedding last month.”

Second, we employ the Fundamental Attribution Error to judge others:

In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error…describes the tendency to over-value dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors.

In other words, “She bought those Jimmy Choos because she’s financially irresponsible” instead of “She bought those Jimmy Choos because she recently earned more money or negotiated her salary.” When judging others, we believe people make decisions because of WHO they are, rather than the SITUATION they’re in.

Third, we use the powerful strategy of downward social comparison:

Downward social comparison is a defensive tendency to evaluate oneself with a comparison group whose troubles are more serious than one’s own. This tends to occur when threatened people look to others who are less fortunate than themselves…For example, a breast cancer patient may have had a lumpectomy, but sees herself as better off than another patient who lost her breast

Wondering where you’ve seen this? Turn on any talk show or radio show. Try to monitor your emotions during the episode. You might notice your internal voice saying something like, “Oh yeah, I have $5,000 in credit card debt…but at least I don’t have $45,000 debt like that guy. This actually feels good — one of the chief reasons that talk shows and Money Diaries do so well. Yet the feeling of satisfaction is short-lived.

Fourth, we have the Shrug Effect:

We see a famous CEO and point how “he took 5 companies public and got a Harvard MBA.” We see a successful children’s book author and point out how she already knew 4 publishers, so her book got published immediately. We point to Donald Trump and talk about how he had billions, so of course he could buy half of Manhattan, and we note that we’re already older than Michael Dell was when he was running Dell out of his dorm room.

And then we shrug. “What can we do?” “She has a Harvard MBA.” “They made it big, but they’re different than me.”

You see someone spending a lot of money on something that you consider “crazy.” Instead of trying to figure it out, we often shrug and say, “Well, they have [SOME ADVANTAGE YOU DON’T HAVE] and that’s how they do it. There’s no way I could ever do that.” Since this is psychologically painful and difficult, we demonize their behavior. Easier than understanding it.

A prime example: Demonizing a CEO for her spending experiment

Let’s examine a recent example of this.

Alexa Von Tobel, the CEO of a personal-finance site called Learnvest, wrote an article called, “How I Went 24 Hours Without Spending Any Money…In New York City.”

Now, it may not have been the most tactful article, especially in this economic climate. In fact, the tone was somewhat condescending. But I intentionally chose this extreme example to make a point.

The problem is that Americans hate people who write about how they spend money on anything that’s not directly focused on the bare necessities of living.

The one wedding day of your life? You’re spending too much. Taking a luxurious vacation that you saved up for? You could feed 2,000 foreign children. Buying a couch for your living room? You should invest that in your Roth IRA.

How do you think people responded to Alexa’s article? Did they make thoughtful comments on the economy or different ways to earn money? Of course not. Commenters from around the web were absolutely livid.

On Reddit:

“She spends more money in one day than I do most weeks. Why does she feel walking twenty minutes to work, cooking dinner, and packing a lunch are unsustainable? This broad obviously lives in a completely different class than I do.”

“The part that pissed me off was that she seems completely auaware that some people have no money to spend. I was hoping that she would decide to volunteer at a soup kitchen or donate her extra cash to a charity. In terms of her spending habits…retarded. It’s like she’s never heard of a budget, a kitchen, or a grocery store. What is not sustainable is spending $100 a day on nothing.”

“Who the hell spends $30 on pasta and a salad?”

“What the fuck?!? $80 in one day? That’s food for me, my wife, and my dogs for two weeks.”

Even on the normally reasoned discussion board, Metafilter, the top comment says this: “Please tell me this is joke. If it isn’t, I want to murder this writer in the face.”

(The Metafilter comment that made me laugh out loud: “This person would not have lasted long on the Oregon Trail.”)

What is going on here?

Instead of condemning her, the commenters should have asked another question

Condemning someone for their spending is easy. But it’s not productive.

We’ve already covered the protective mechanisms we use when judging others’ spending: “Their” spending is always out of line (“She can’t control her spending”), while our spending is always easily explainable (“Oh, that ring was for a special occasion…besides, I work hard, so I deserve to reward myself”).

But there’s more.

You may not like to hear this, but I’m going to say it any way. Instead of automatically condemning the author for her spending habits, the angry commenters above should have tried to figure out how she affords such a lofty lifestyle in the first place.

“But Ramit,” you might say, “she went to Harvard. She’s clearly a wasteful trust-fund baby who’s living off mommy and daddy’s money.” Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? But if that’s your first thought, you’re guilty of the Shrug Effect.

A better way to approach the question would be to acknowledge that she probably has a few advantages you don’t, but focus on the things she DOES control — which you can learn from. For example, you could stipulate that yes, she likely has some advantages in life (maybe wealthy parents, some inheritance money, whatever)…but focus on the things you can control. She started her own company. She made friends with XYZ. She got internships at XYZ, which led her to XYZ2.

If you want to live her lifestyle, it pays to ask: How could she be earning SO MUCH that she could afford to take cabs every day? What is she doing that I don’t know about? Who can I talk to to learn more? How can I earn more money?

To many people, this is too much work. It’s easier to throw your hands up, accuse her of being a rich trust-fund kid, and then feel better about yourself since you don’t waste money on cabs every day. Witness virtually every comment accusing the writer of being wasteful and spending outlandish amounts of money on food and other supposedly wasteful items.

It’s much harder to actually consider the details of the situation. For example, one Reddit commenter notes that, “Often very highly paid workers have very little free time so it makes sense to spend some money to buy back some time, such as getting in a cab to get somewhere quicker.” Instead of criticizing her spending, wouldn’t it be more productive to ask, “Damn, this woman obviously makes a lot more money than I do. How did she do it and what can I apply to my situation?”

We’re more than happy to criticize others’ spending. Yet few people ever try to ask themselves what they can learn from someone whose spending outpaces their own — and even fewer open up their own finances to such scrutiny.

A huge caveat: Most people are terrible with their money

There is one upside to judging others’ spending: Since most people are absolutely terrible at managing their own money, when you judge them, you’re probably right.

An excerpt from my personal finance book:

So yes, judging others is surprisingly accurate and you’re probably right in criticizing your friends’ spending. But at the end of the day, you’re probably debating minutiae and wasting your time.

Examples: Annoying critics

Since I’ve written hundred of articles about personal finance, I see a lot of kooky people criticizing others’ spending, including mine.

Yet it’s gone from being annoying to fascinating: You can get true insights into people’s belief systems about money by watching what they say.

  1. When I launched my Earn1k course to help people earn more money, I got many comments about how crazy others would be to spend money on my course — and how dare I charge for an online course.
  2. A while back, Henry Blodget wrote a a semi-satirical article on the Huffington Post called “Easiest Job on Planet: Bank CEO. And in a separate thread, internet commenters took the bait, writing that being a bank CEO is all about luck and secret connections. This is classic Shrug Effect from armchair businesspeople who have never run a company. Even more interestingly, the comments reveal several limiting beliefs about money, such as “money=evil” and “anyone who has money must have done something bad to get it.”
  3. Another personal finance blogger, FMF, wrote a guest post about making 6 figures in 7 years. The result? People hated him. Themes include jealousy, “not everyone can do it,” excuses like “I’m too old,” and “Yeah, but $100k means you hate your job.” Funny, few people say, “Wow, this guy did a lot of hard work to earn six figures and now he’s writing a free blog post to share how he did it. What can I take away from this to improve my life?” Easier to criticize others’ spending — or earning — rather than do something different in our own lives.
  4. Erica Douglass, who sold her company for over $1 million at age 26, writes about outsourcing part of her life. The commenters go nuts, accusing her of being irresponsible with her money, racist, and virtually every other financial criciticism you can imagine.

What can you learn from judging other people’s spending?

First, when you judge other people for poor spending, you’re probably right, since most people are horrible at managing your money. This judgment is profoundly rewarding — and also wasteful — since we employ psychological techniques to distort our judgments in favor of our own spending. Think back to the last time you gossiped about a friend’s new pair of shoes or iPhone: It felt good for a few minutes. But it didn’t produce any positive behavioral change for you to change your spending.

Second, it’s easy to judge others, but hard to honestly evaluate our own spending. When we judge others, we assign “dispositional” reasons like, “He is just really bad at managing his money.” But when it comes to ourselves, we use “situational” explanations like, “It’s my birthday…I deserve it!”

Third, you WILL go up the hedonic treadmill and increase your spending as you earn more money — it’s only natural. When we judge someone else, we rarely take their income, savings, and other largely invisible factors into account.

Fourth, in America, we have a special hatred of people who earn significant amounts of money — especially when they fall from grace. If someone earns $250,000/year and spends $10,000/year on clothes, is it really “ridiculous”? In the above examples, you saw numerous examples of people earning six figures, spending on things that were very much in their reach — but people criticize without context.

Fifth, judging others is toxic. It’s not enough for us to make money — as a University of Texas researcher writes Psychology Today, “What makes me happy is that I make more money than you. It isn’t enough just to make a lot of money, you need to make more than the people to whom you compare yourself.”

But judging others goes even deeper. Have you ever noticed that co-worker who always complains about his boss, job, salary, etc? Think back to the last time you sat next to him — did you start complaining, too? Soon afterward, you feel worse about yourself. This negative emotion is the same thing that happens when you listen to a radio host skilled at evoking your emotions. You get outraged, you get angry….and the short-term emotion retards long-term behavioral change — it literally robs you of energy.

Judging others’ spending is a natural phenomenon. It’s also destructive and wastes time focusing on others, when you could focus on yourself.

About to judge someone’s spending? First, use this 5-step process

Whenever you find yourself about to judge someone else’s spending, ask these simple 5 questions first.

  1. How much do they earn?
  2. How much do they save, on a percentage and absolute basis?
  3. What do they consciously spend on and what do they NOT care about spending on?
  4. How long will they be keeping this purchase? (For example, are they buying a car to keep it for 10+ years? Or are they buying shoes to keep for one season?)
  5. MOST IMPORTANT: Are my own finances automated and optimized? If not, automate your personal finances and implement the STFUDF Technique — against yourself.

Since few people will do this, my hope is that you’ll distract yourself enough to stop the insidious process of judging someone else before looking at yourself.

Personally, I’ve been trying to get better at this recently. To do so, I have to remind myself that personal finance is personal. You don’t know your friends’ financial situations — although they are likely not very good. But each time we judge someone else, we make it less likely of taking action on our own finances.

* * *
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  1. avatar

    Do you have a service where you analyse budgets? I’m a college student and I really need to save.

  2. avatar

    Thanks Ramit, I know people use it to fuel their gossip, but I didn’t think about the extended effects of what that has on their self-righteousness.

  3. avatar

    Great post! I loved it!

    I’ll admit that I’m totally guilty of gossiping about (and judging) other people’s spending habits. I’m definitely going to try to do it less!

    But I also do get judged unfairly. I’m an American teaching English in a small town in Brazil. I work a couple of hours a week at an English school, but the bulk of my income comes from private classes that I give out of my home. It requires a lot more initiative, dedication, creativity, and investment to teach the private classes (I’m my own boss), but I make way more money that I would spending that time at a school.

    The result of working my butt off in a small town with a low cost of living is that I’ve been able to save a lot. My husband and I are pretty thrifty with most things, and it allows us to spend a good amount of money on vacations and eating out. But we have no kids, no debt, and a good chunk of money in savings. So I don’t see it as a waste.

    However, the other teachers that I work with at the school love to make nasty comments about my spending. When I mention that we went on a little vacation over a 3-day weekend, they love to say things like “oh, wow! How’d you guys afford that? It must be because you’re American.” I’ve also been told, “you’re not a good teacher: people just want classes with you because you’re American.” and “Your husband’s family is rich so you don’t see the REAL Brazil.” Come on.

    They assume that I should be in the same boat they’re in because we all work at the school. They assume that I’m made of money because I’m American (my American relatives do not support me in any way). They assume that my husband’s family pays all the bills (they helped him through college here, but they certainly aren’t supporting our fun time spending habits or savings accounts!), None of them have ever asked, “oh, so how’d you become so successful teaching private classes here?” or realized, “wow, you must be working a lot to make that kind of money!”.

    Super frustrating! I should print out this post and put it on the wall at work, but I think they’d know it was me…

  4. avatar

    Looks like someone is justifying their spending….

  5. avatar

    I suppose this concept can be applied to other aspects of life…

    However, after finding your blog last week, I’m too critical of my own spending to really consider anyone elses. =|

    I’m a business major studying abroad, making no money, but it cost me my savings. After finding your blog last week, I talked to my History major friend to find out about his spending, only to find out he has $10,000 saved, and operates on less than $400 per month…

    So, whatever someone might say about your methods, mine obviously aren’t working. Where do I sign up?

  6. avatar

    Yup, I’ve been on both sides of that fence. I definitely have friends where I look at some of their spending and go “what is wrong with them?!?”, then go and spend on something that isn’t a total necessity. Psychology is a tough thing to overcome, huh?

    Thanks for pointing out the reminder that we need to really look at a whole picture of someone else’s financial situation (which we may never get to see) as well as take a step back and see if we aren’t throwing stones in glass houses.

  7. avatar

    This post seems to be confusing what are known in sales as the “too expensive” and “can’t afford it” objections. Not that I’m condoning being judgmental about someone else’s expenses, but spending $800 a night on a hotel room is not the same as spending $1500 on a flat screen LED television.

    Just because someone can afford an $800 room, doesn’t mean that it isn’t too expensive. Again, I’m not saying that it is too expensive, I’m not passing judgment either way, but given that you can get a room at the Luxor for $80 a night, which will be equally functional as a place to sleep, there is an argument to be made for the marginal cost increase not matching the marginal value.

  8. avatar

    I know I judge just like everyone else, but I think the first step is to at least keep the comments to yourself so you don’t look stupid later. 🙂

    When someone talks, for example, about how they don’t travel because they know they aren’t “rich enough,” yet they own a brand new sports car, it makes me laugh. Not because I think buying a new car is stupid, though. It’s not for me, but I don’t care what someone does with their money…we each make our own choices. The point is that they *could* afford travel, if they wanted to, and they are saying it to imply that someone else is living extravagantly, whereas they are more rational somehow.

    RE the Psychology Today quote on making more than the people to whom you compare yourself: I have really gotten out of this habit in the last couple of years. I was always the type A student at the top of my class, and when it became obvious that I hated engineering and switched to journalism, that meant a fairly low starting salary, especially compared to a family member who wasn’t a good student, barely made it out of high school, but went for a degree in a better paying field.

    I’m ashamed to admit that I was jealous that this person was making $15K more than me. A year later, they had some serious problems resurface, and things got very bad. I was worried for them, and I also felt stupid. Here I was being jealous when there was obviously stuff going on that I didn’t even know about. That about cured me of the temptation to compare. I’ll just stick to being grateful for what’s good in my own life.

  9. avatar
    Tyler WebCPA

    It is human nature for people to think that others who are more successful than themselves, at least in certain areas of live, must have made some sort of Faustian bargain to achieve that success. You somewhat address it, but one that I find interesting is that people who claim to be uninterested in success or money (and therefore don’t have either) are so obsessed with the success or money of others, and usually in a negative way. Dude, it’s cool if you’re not motivated by money, but some are and there is nothing evil about that. You’re way may be right for you but it is not the only way.

  10. avatar

    I’m reading through the post thinking to myself, “Okay, so what should I do? How do I put this lens on myself and actually see clearly?” and there in the last of post is a 5-step plan. Thanks, Ramit!

  11. avatar

    Why isn’t my comment showing up? Is there some issue with the system?

  12. avatar
    Ryan Flynn


    Thank you for all of the time and thought you put into this wonderful post. It is very challenging, and I unfortunately see myself in so many of your points.

    It is also interesting how we tend to judge people on areas that are relative strengths for us, while minimizing our own weak spots (i.e. personal finances vs. personal fitness/weight loss).

    I’m finding that a good dose of humility makes for a great starting point when it comes to personal finances, or any of these personal areas, that your opinion is only as valuable as your example, and that there is ALWAYS room for improvement. None of us has, “figured-it-out.”

    Thanks again,

    Ryan Flynn

  13. avatar

    I think one factor that spurs people to make judgmental statements is the belief that it’s noble to be poor and evil to make money. For example, at tax time, it was popular in my circle of friends to brag about *how little* money they made and to congratulate each other for getting by on so little.

    I have a business, and it’s doing pretty well. I’m determined to bring it to over six figures within a year. I have two other self-employed friends, and we’re our only cheerleaders, because no one else in our circle seems to believe that you can increase your income while remaining a decent human being.

  14. avatar

    Not sure why, but the system does not appear to be accepting my comment! Hoping it works this time.

    Ramit — you missed the point, I think, about the wedding post. Most people weren’t writing in comments to exclaim about how wasteful a 28k wedding was simply to feel superior. You forgot to examine the context of your own post. Not only did you claim that almost no one has the discipline to have a simple wedding, but you insinuated that simpler weddings are “less perfect”.

    “But guess what? When it’s your wedding, you’re going to want everything to be perfect. Yes, you. So will I. It’ll be your special day, so why not spend some extra money to get the extra-long roses or the filet mignon?”

    As a result, of COURSE you had people writing in telling you how amazing their 2k weddings were! Why is it that you assume that everyone who did so was just trying to act/feel superior? Plenty of people do not value their wedding day as much as a fantastic honeymoon or a full 401k, but you pretty much implied that this was a worse preference. In writing this post, you’ve forgotten the context of the comments you received.

    I would like to mention also that part of the reason that weddings are so expensive is that the wedding industry is constantly convincing us that we “need” certain things in order for our weddings to be “perfect”. Frankly, I agree with you that a) context matters, and b) financial priorities are (and should be) different for each person. That said, people who actually WANT to have budget weddings are sometimes taken in by the industry, convinced that they must have table runners and centerpieces and gift baskets and party favors for their wedding to be “perfect”, not because they actually WANT these things, but because they are told that it is what is expected of them by their guests and by society. Then they are fed that bogus $28k number (it’s a MEAN, not a MEDIAN… 4/5 couples spend less than that, and 50% spend less than $14k according to the figures: and encouraged to think that it’s okay if they go over budget because they’re still spending less than “average”.

    Your underlying points are good: save more than you think you’ll need because weddings are expensive, don’t condemn others for spending without taking context into account, etc. Unfortunately, you missed the underlying issue that people were upset about when it comes to expensive weddings and your post about them.

  15. avatar

    Ok I’ve tried to submit a lengthy comment several times now, and it won’t show up. My short comment, however, showed up right away. What gives?

  16. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    Amy, we’re looking into this now.

  17. avatar

    Thanks Ramit 🙂 Hopefully when my comment does appear, you and your readers will forgive the multiple posts!

  18. avatar
    What is the most annoying habit of your significant other?

    […] Attention annoying hypocrites: Stop being judgmental about your … […]

  19. avatar

    I think you just hit the exact point of this article…

    “but given that you can get a room at the Luxor for $80 a night, which will be equally functional as a place to sleep”

    It’s not about functionality for someone spending $800 as the Bellagio (which, to be fair, I’ve done before…though I think my suite was only $400/night). It’s about luxury and relaxation and the experience. But you’re placing your values (a hotel room being about functionality as a place to sleep) over the values of the person spending that money (in my case it was a nice weekend retreat of luxury).

  20. avatar

    Long post but well worth the read.

    I max out my retirement, have a healhty savings account, have the right insurance in place and my mortgage is about 15% of my income. I eat out daily and shop at Nordstrom.

    I heard all kinds of crazy comments. How can I go on vacation when I have a house to take of? How can I AFFORD to eat lunch out everyday? Little do they know, I have more saved than they make in 2 years.

    Increase your income or shut up

    I hate winers~

  21. avatar

    Hi Ramit,

    Thanks for this post! I spent a lot of time justifying my cable bill to my parents and judging how much they spend on travel, until I realized that everyone makes their own choices on spending priorities. Now I do my best not to judge, as long as the person has the money! (earn, save, automate and optimize)


  22. avatar


    To quote you, “…I’m not passing judgment either way, but given that you can get a room at the Luxor for $80 a night, which will be equally functional as a place to sleep…”.

    I do believe that you are in fact judging, when you are making this observation. Remember that the fact that someone may decide they want to pay $800 for a room at a swanky hotel, is not because they want a “functional place to sleep”. There is obviously a much higher value that it holds to them, which totally warrants the $800 price tag.

    I believe in this post, you are doing exactly what you are saying that you are not 🙂

  23. avatar

    great post! I laughed, remembering a post on GRS about high-end handbag rental. OMG the lengths people would go to defending their xboxes while insulting people who value handbags! and vice versa! it was beyond ridiculous!

    you da man Ramit. 🙂

  24. avatar
    Stacy McKenna Seip

    Sometimes people spend money for the psychological rush of being able to say “I spent $X on this luxury item/experience” – they spend the money for the joy of being able to remember/recount spending exorbitantly. My BF wrote about the phenomenon recently and asked his friends if anyone knew of or had suggestions for a word describing this phenomenon – the best one offered was “schtuppengeld”

  25. avatar
    Stacy McKenna Seip

    Exactly. I tend to mock people’s spending choices only when they spend lots of time complaining about being too poor for X and then spending wildly on Y, while simultaneously professing that X is more important to them than Y.

  26. avatar
    Linette Banks

    I think you make some really good points here. It really is a matter of priorities and context.

  27. avatar

    Yes, it’s called 🙂

  28. avatar

    This is mostly off-topic, but we actually did spend less than $5000 on our wedding; and then we bought our first house later that week. I wanted to put my two cents in so people know it is possible.

  29. avatar
    Eric S. Mueller

    My wife and I did a wedding for less than $4000 total, including my family flying up from Texas.It is possible. But that’s not the point of this comment.

    I mentioned this post to my wife, and she claims I’m one of the worst offenders. Not sure I agree with her, but we do know several people who constantly seem to be on vacation, have larger houses than us, nicer cars, and eat out all the time. I don’t think I judge or condemn them. I’m happy for them. I just keep wondering how they do it. Do they really make that much more money than me? Smart investments? Extra income? I don’t think I’m jealous of them. I want to know what I’m doing wrong.

  30. avatar
    Joshua Dunaway

    Hey Ramit,

    Just wanted to stop by and say I really enjoyed the newsletter you sent out. More please!

  31. avatar

    @Ely–Exactly! That was actually *my* GRS post! 😉

    What’s funny is that the topic of the article was whether it was worth it to rent a high-end handbag from these new rental services versus saving up and buying one, and many people slammed women who would pay $300+ for a bag, and then in the next sentence defended their toys, cars, sports equipment, etc.! Wants are wants.

    @Eric–You never know. Maybe they have money in the family, maybe they do make that much more than you, maybe they are putting it all on a credit card, maybe their savings goals aren’t as high as yours…I have a coworker who goes on a cruise every year that her parents pay for (it’s a family vacation). You probably can’t ask for the details without sounding rude, but I do ask travel-savvy people for tips and then I figure out how to make a trip happen for me, calculating the cost and how many months it’ll take to save it. It’s a priority, though. I think if it’s important enough, most people find a way. If it’s not, put your money elsewhere.

  32. avatar

    Great post!!

  33. avatar
    Ken Siew

    A very awesome and detailed article! I’m definitely guilty of this myself, judging others based on how much they spend without looking at the context. I’d been trying to beat that thinking lately, and this article just did the job of organizing my thoughts and any underlying fallacies. Love Ramit’s stuff!

  34. avatar

    “Condemning someone for their spending is easy. But it’s not productive.”

    …writing a 10-page post about how it is not productive is definitely not productive. It just sounds like people judge YOUR spending habits and you feel the need to rant.

    A 5-step process for judging someone’s spending??

  35. avatar
    London student

    This article does raise some interesting issues. I have to say though that I know I’m not wasteful and have practised good personal finance since I was 16.

    I try not to judge others who spend extravagantly but rather ensure that I’m not encouraged to do so in their presence. What usually causes me to judge is that people say to me, ‘Ah can you help me with my money. I’m broke.’ I give some basic advice to ease them into the transition of good money management but when they don’t see instant results (like £300 waiting in their savings account) they only see the £10 a day saved they usually give up. They end up spending a lot of money when I said it would have been better to consider your purchases a bit more to avoid impulse buying. They then again complain to me when they’re broke, again.

    I know that people’s circumstances are different but it irritates me that others judge my spending habits (for being strict and determined to reach my goals) after they’ve had the cheek to say they need my help. That’s where I feel I can rightly judge. Of course I’ve ensured that more time is spent on my personal finance and I’m glad to say that despite my judging I have a 12 month emergency fund, a wedding fund, a house fund and a holiday fund. The first two are maxed out. I think I have a little time to judge those who deliberately go against my advice and still complain that they’re broke.

  36. avatar

    Followed a friend’s link to this website for the first time and I love this post. I can see myself on both sides of this equation, and I think you’ve provided some great tools for critically examining my initial instinct to judge my high-earning friends! I also am in the midst of planning a wedding and I thank you for calling out the hypocrites – their ugliness in the face of something sweet is just astounding to me.

    I will definitely be back to your site!

  37. avatar

    Hey Ramit, any luck with the missing comment(s)? Still not seeing it show up.

  38. avatar

    But does this mean that when you have a friend who is spending on their particular luxury and living beyond their means, we should still keep our mouth shut, or are we allowed to judge them for being reckless with their money? 😛

  39. avatar

    people criticize us for buying higher priced organic and/or vegan food and supplements. the way i look at it, i don’t mind spending more if it’s going to keep me in good health. i know ppl that spend a lot on booze or cable tv. those things don’t improve your mental or physical states so don’t see what the fuss is about. oh well that’s america, it’s deeply ingrained to buy stuff you don’t need and that you’ll get tired of after the newer thing comes along

  40. avatar
    Erica Douglass

    Okay, but have you *stayed* at the Luxor? The beds are terrible.

    Since you’re focusing on Vegas, let me give you an example. I decided once to stay in a Vegas hotel that was less than $40/night. But I spent over 90 minutes waiting in the long line to check in. When I finally got up to the check-in counter, I asked the person there why they didn’t hire more people, and she said “Management won’t let us.”

    So, because the rates were so cheap, they attracted a ton of people, but those people valued saving a few bucks over saving time.

    I would ultimately choose a night at a nearby hotel for $60-$70/night (nearly double the price!) because a) it saves my time and b) I’d rather support a hotel that supports its staff and doesn’t slave drive them.

    And I won’t stay at the Luxor again for similar reasons to the above–although it isn’t the hotel I referenced in the story, it has similar check-in lines and the rooms are terrible.


  41. avatar

    I guess the old is saying “to each is own” is the best term for other people’s spending. Its funny because as I’m reading this post, I seen myself doing the same critical judgement of another person’s wallet. I learned that I can’t live beyond my means and my finances are according to me.

  42. avatar

    Excellent article. It sums up pretty well why I’ve given up on the “hair shirt frugalista” blogs. Life is about what’s valuable to you, and that’s all relative.

  43. avatar

    I can’t help but think the author feels secretly guilty about his own spending and addiction to luxury, devoting so much energy to defending the expenditures of the rich.

    This “everything’s relative” concept is the root of the whole problem. We need to look at the larger picture, see that we’re victims of consumerism and reevaluate our conception of “value” and “work.” I just found a 7 ct. sapphire plus 2 ct. diamond ring on (of all places) for about 50,000. Think about that and then read this article: and ask if the people in Africa risking their lives to dig up diamonds if they’re being hypocritical by criticizing others’ spending. Is the cost of producing a $1,000 bottle of wine 100 times the cost of producing a $10 bottle? Wealthy Americans (and those of other nationalities as well of course) like to think that they’re creating jobs an opportunities with this sort of spending. And they are, to a certain extent. But just as their wealth trickles down a bit, an even stronger surge comes “upwards” from the poor, who work longer hours, get less sleep, and live shorter lives maintaining basic infrastructure.

    We need to find a balance between keeping the distribution of wealth uneven enough to ensure the continuation of strong competition while providing for necessities for everyone. People who work full time should not have to continually struggle only to fall short of being able to live a minimally comfortable, safe and healthy existence.

    Reading the comments on this and other postings, I realize my comments will be lost on most people reading them. But please just think about whether a CEO works harder than someone in a diamond mine, or a coal mine, or building offices for a corporation. Should qualities such as talent, intelligence, learned specialized skills, etc. command amounts of money thousands of times the amount of that generated by simple, hard physical work? Or would perhaps a few hundred more times be ok?

    And as far as the finance industry is concerned, don’t even get me started….

  44. avatar

    9/10 times in life we should keep our mouths shut and simply move on. here in lies the 1/10 when we speak our mind.

    now this can have a positive or negative effect. positively you friend can trust you, take your advice and learn something. negatively your friend can totally put up a guard and it might actually have a very very negative effect on the relationship.

  45. avatar

    Wonderful article, Ramit. Thank you!

    However, the one issue that I believe is missing is the situational context of DEBT. “London Student” discusses this briefly in his/her post, and I want to give it a second thought. “London” and I are not talking about “good” debt (i.e. student loans) or even credit card debt; we are talking about personal loans made with families and friends. When someone asks you for a loan, is it acceptable to judge their finances? If they were to go to a bank, the loan officers would require full disclosure. In this case, are we as the loan originator, have the same right? What if your friends/families money (mis)management becomes a source of strife and conflict in your relationships? How can you mend?

    Thanks in advance!

  46. avatar
    margaret payton

    a little irrelevant comment: I’m really surprised to see that people of my age aren’t mentioned here too often as “examples”. seems like 23-year-old women aren’t the destination group. happy to hear that – it means I still have time to make my finances work and start my own business.

  47. avatar

    Wow. That’s the first thought that comes to mind. What an awesome post.

    And I have to admit I’m guilty as sin of judging other peoples’ spending, well mostly my significant other and step-kids, but you know I really do need to look at my OWN spending first.

    Eye-opening post. Thanks!


  48. avatar

    We’re on the other side of things. We have sought counsel from different “experts” on how to manage our finances better, and with minor modifications, have been told we’re doing the best we can with what we have.

    What is irritating is the criticism we get for not having something. As if we’re somehow holding back and are overly miserly. It starts out with comments like, “There’s this great show on cable you should watch… “followed by, “oh you don’t have cable? such and such is having a really great deal right now”, what’s your cell phone number?, you could get a tracphone you know… well I guess Mom will be driving her son to work, blah blah….you really should dress more like, blah blah…where are you going for vacation?, blah blah….the way I figure it you make the same as us, blah blah.”

    We don’t have cable, we don’t have a cell phone, we don’t have a second car (and my husband needs one for work), we have a very tight clothing budget, we can’t afford a yearly vacation, and though I really don’t know what ‘they’ make, I doubt we make the same. We also don’t have a huge amount in savings, though we consistanly work at it. The assumption goes, that if we associate with certain people, we’re obviously in the same financial sphere. Or subliminally, if we don’t have much, we’re doing something stupid or wrong with our finances and people have to “fix” us. It would be fine, we can manage, but being the object of criticism or condescension is a pain. And actually, I think I could teach people in our sphere how to save a buck in ways they never considered before. But there’s no great incentive for them to change. So no one wants to know.

    What is needed in either scenario (money envy or money pity) is less judgement, less gossip, more communication, and a healtly dose of sensitivity towards people you don’t understand. As Ramit pointed out we can learn from others. (To that end I read voraciously and ask questions judiciously.) But one on one communication involves vulnerability, it’s much easier to remain aloof.

  49. avatar

    I second Zane. is amazing.

  50. avatar

    I honestly want to say thank you for this article. Definitely, an eye opening article. I’ve definitely done my share of judging of others spending habits without really taking the time to really analyze my own financial situation.

    I really appreciate you taking the time and energy to write this article. I can honestly say I learned a lot and have something to build on in my own personal life. Thanks Ramit.

  51. avatar
    Dave C.

    The only time I think I criticize the spending habits of others is when they complain about never having any money at the end of the month. I worked in the convention services industry for about five years and worked with union labor and these are the people that could use a personal finance class or two. Quite a few of them would get paid on Friday afternoon and they would be broke on Monday morning and complaining about it. But, they always had enough money to buy a couple of cases of beer or a carton or two of cigarettes.

    Don’t get me wrong. I know that union workers aren’t the only ones that live paycheck to paycheck and most union workers can make ends meet. This is just where I saw it played out in graphic detail. I know it goes way beyond that.

    How many people are there that are struggling to make their next house payment and complain about it, but drive a car with a $400 a month payment? How many of them can’t make ends meet, but have a $20,000 boat sitting in the driveway, or even worse, docked at the marina for a monthly fee?

    I don’t care how much a person spends on unnecessary items in their lives What I do care about is listening to them complain that they don’t have enough money to pay for the things that are necessary, as if there is no correlation between the two.

  52. avatar

    I personally believe that independent of judgement bias or not, the truth is that most of us can not get down to spend on each and everything. Ok, I admit it, like everyone else I often tend to ask myself:How did he managed to afford that?” But given the same choice, I most probably would not go to do so myself and thats why:

    I have noticed that people are usually obssessed about one of those things:
    Food – eg:I mean the pleasure of eating gourmet food, often, both in and out of the kitchen
    Entertainment and luxuries- eg:books, festivals and the likes
    Technology and gadgets – Eg:touchscreen phones, the new IMac series…
    The key is that you have to admit that you have a soft spot for one of them, prioritise them. And indulge your addiction while cutting on those things you like but could very well live without, or enjoy second grade.

  53. avatar

    Great article. I’m totally guilty of this, to a certain extent. I think that people should be allowed to spend their money on whatever they want. We all have different priorites and that’s okay. The times that I usually judge other people’s spending habits is when they spend on “luxury” items (new vehicles, vacations, booze/smokes, toys, clothes etc) and then complain that they can’t afford to put groceries on the table, or buy their kid new shoes. That’s when I start to evaluate/judge how they could set a better budget and actually be able to pay down debt as well as make ends meet. People who complain about their money drive me nuts.

  54. avatar
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  55. avatar

    Am I forgiven a little for resenting my coworker, who’s on food stamps and subsidized housing & child care (which I always paid full freight for), spending money every week at the tanning salon, nail salon, hair salon, etc? It seems like I’m paying taxes to subsidize her full cable, while I limit myself to basic cable.

  56. avatar

    Ah, would that be America’s greatest coupon clipper? Just how common are coupons OUTSIDE the United States? Does being able to get stuff at a reduced price because of a coupon actually teach you to have different attitudes to what you need and don’t need in order to achieve objectives? Seems that lots of American sites feature bigtime on coupons rather than considering what we buy and why we buy it. Is the American economy really so bad that people need coupons to save money?

  57. avatar
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  59. avatar

    I do this a lot with my husband about this other couple we know… So yeah, I’m openly guilty. It does serve a bit of a purpose though — It gets my husband talking to me about how we spend our money and lets me make sure we’re on the same page. (Otherwise it’s damn near impossible to get him to talk money.)

    Kinda irked me when they went out and bought the slightly bigger LED TV than ours after seeing it and liking it. Ours was an extravagant gift that we love and wouldn’t have ever sprung for ourselves. We’re car people. 😉

    Which leads me to say being on the *other* side, being judged, is crap. I don’t care if you judge me, just keep it to yourself…. I quit writing about PF because I started to spend more on my hobbies. We got rid of our debt and started managing our money better. We can afford to. I’m tired of people acting like we’re rich for it… It’s just our priority. (After reading one of Ramit’s other articles about spending on priorities and cutting everything else, I really kicked this up… Made me feel a lot better. Thanks Ramit for that! :))

    For me, judging other people is a way to make sure I know MY priorities. I know it’s all about me and not about them. 🙂

    Probably gonna use this for another article on my own blog…. I like the topic. A lot.

  60. avatar
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  61. avatar
    A Wedding of Judgment and Hypocrisy?

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  62. avatar
    Sophia Williams

    This is an interesting article. It is kinda scary how oblivious we are to our own spending issues, and yet soo quick to pick up on others!!

    I think generally we need more advice and ideas around spending more wisely in order to invest on the more important things in life – our future.

    I am working for a company that has helped me to management my time amazing, and get on top of both my work and social life – now I just need the same for my financial life 🙂

  63. avatar
    Joe M

    Awesome post!

    “The problem is that Americans hate people who write about how they spend money on anything that’s not directly focused on the bare necessities of living.”

    Could not agree more. I think all the frugal hints in PF blogs are great when you are trying to get your house in order. However, once you get things in order, it’s actually OK to spend money on things that bring you pleasure.

    I find the tendency for us to compare against one another very uncomfortable, though I know we all do it. A number of times we’ve had family make snide comments about “how lucky” we have been. I always came away feeling insulted that no one recognized how hard we worked, so we don’t really discuss our finances with others any longer.

  64. avatar
    Financial Samurai

    Damn that was a long post!

    Do as I say, not as I do!



  65. avatar
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  68. avatar
    Azam Zaki

    everybody has their own weakness when it comes to spend money. I like to eat and i spent lots of money to eat good food. there is no need to judge others because they spend on thing they love.

  69. avatar

    I know, personally, reading that someone spends more on clothes than I do on rent in a year makes me feel…well poor. (See the key word there…’feel’) I rarely worry about it much, except when it’s clearly a case in which the spender could have saved a lot of money and received the SAME product or service.

    I think it all comes down to “I wish I could get 1/10 of that to put away.” My boss (I am currently the only remaining employee) occasionally mentions how he, at one time or another, made or lost $10k on a particular stock swing, or how much his Apple shares are up. I don’t think he realizes how callous that sounds when he pays a low hourly wage with no benefits at all. I’m only there until I find something better.

    I spent a total of about $250 on my wedding and maybe $1000 on my honeymoon, because no one was interested in coming, we have few friends and our families suck. But it saved us money for starting on our own! (The best wedding present was a Wal-Mart card 🙁 )

  70. avatar
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  72. avatar

    You are so right on.
    When I first started reading your blog I was pleasantly surprised how different it was from the other “personal finance” blogs which do nothing but wag their fingers in my face on how dare I spend on more than the bare necessities and how my desire to have a life of better quality than “bare minimum” clearly means I am an incurable morally corrupt spendthrift. This post hits the nail on the head – 1) consider the circumstance of someone’s life before blasting them on their spending habits, 2) look in the mirror first and 3) judging people is just plain unhealthy and spreads bad energy. Moreover, I always had that response naturally when I met someone who had nicer lifestyle/spent more/earned more, I thought “what did you do to get here” and “how can I get there too”. I never understood people’s jealousy of someone’s wedding or Mercedes or shoes when it would clearly feel much nicer if they figured out ways on how to get what THEY want out of life instead of hating others for having more. I think its great that we have rich people who spend on things they want and need and use their skills to increase their success. Jealousy and hatred for others is simply pointless. My aim has always been learning to be more successful so I can benefit myself and others, have the life that I want, spend as much as i want on things I care about, and make a positive difference in whatever areas I can. Kudos to you for excellent writing 🙂

  73. avatar

    Nothing like oversimplifying.

    The New York Times article was written December 2, 2009. Some things to consider (1) the impact of the recession at the time (3) the annual income of the readership ,and (3) the holiday season might have played a roll. As of 2012 26% of the NYT readership makes under 30K per year, 51% make under 70k. 32% of their readers are between 18 and 29 years old.

    Given that ‘on a budget’ is commonly understood as ‘inexpensive’, $2000 dollars may not seem to be ‘on a budget’, particularly at what may be the hardest economic time of the reader’s life. Are they interpreting it through the lens of their own experience? Of course, as are the authors and the people spending the money. One would hope that the authors might be aware of the demographics of their reader base and aim some content towards that 26% that is less affluent. Nothing like continuous streams of content showing you what you can’t afford to inspire you.

    Regarding the ‘shrug affect’, trust fund babies are a figment of our imagination. Being born into a well connected family with lots of money is no advantage. /facepalm.

  74. avatar

    Wow, I cannot believe we go through the same Shit!!! Like seriously.. But you’re in Brazil I’m in Beijing lol!

  75. avatar

    A MACU home loan expert could even more damage down the benefits
    and drawbacks of each home mortgage price choice.

  76. avatar
    Instead of Judging Someone's Else's Spending Habits, Try Learning From Them |

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  77. avatar
    Kelli Zafer

    This article seems to be talking only about people who really CAN afford what they are spending money on. What about those who think they are poor, are not paying their basic bills, can’t afford to take their children to the dentist, but somehow manage to eat out several times a week and buy frivolous things? Then they act like you are supposed to bail them out. You want to help, but at the same time, how do you say in a non-judgmental way that they wouldn’t need the help if they spent within their means?