Why are the stop feeling guilty and relax posts so popular?

Our most popular posts so far have been gentle reminders not to take work and savings etc. too far.  To be good solid people but not crazy with the optimizing.  Satisfice.  To remember to sit back, relax, and enjoy life from time to time… be good 80% and relax 20%.  Be 5-10lb overweight… that sort of thing.

These posts seem to strike a chord in ways that our other posts (except the ones on how cool octopodes are) don’t.

Are people just looking for justification for their own laziness?  I tend to doubt it.  Was everyone raised Catholic and needing absolution for never achieving perfection?  Possibly.

Maybe The Daily Show is right and we’ve become too polarized as a country.  You’re either with us or against us.  You watch Fox News or you read the Huffington Post.  You’re one of the saved frugalists making laundry detergent or you’re a profligate spender.  It’s so easy to tell a narrative where someone is right or someone is wrong.

A book called Culture Wars and Enduring American Dilemmas talks about how (in surveys) as Americans, we believe in individual freedom.  We’re religious but strongly believe that people have the right to choose their own religion (even non-Christian religions!).  We don’t favor abortion but think women should have that option in some cases… “it depends.”  We’re individualistic but value community.  We’re anti-elitist but respect achievement.  These aren’t contradictions, but evidence of the great moderation in being American.  We see things in their true shades of gray.

Of course, that’s not what the media narrative is selling.  The media seem to think that the world needs to be divided into stark blacks and whites.  Or at least that we have to sell things as black and white.  Pro-life, pro-choice, rich vs. poor, Christian vs. Muslim.  It doesn’t have to be that way, and in reality, it isn’t.  Life is a lot more complicated than the binary options we’re given in newscasts outside of NPR or Comedy Central.  It’s the same way with personal finance.  We feel uncomfortable with people at either extreme– the spenders (or folks who enjoy life to its fullest, in another view of the world) and the freegan.

Recently there’s even been a backlash– calls for a return to rationality in politics and the media.    “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.

Similarly, we admire the super-frugal (or, if we’re not pf readers, the Joneses) and maybe think we ought to be them on some level, but in reality we really crave balance.  There’s a place in the middle we want to be.  We want fun and security.  We want secure retirements and we want to enjoy life before then too.  Deep down we realize that there’s a number of ways to get where we want to be and a number of choices on where we want to be is anyway… even if the surface is telling us that there’s only one right way to financial security.  We support extreme choices, but do not want them as our own.  It’s not just black and white or even shades of gray.  There’s a rainbow of lives to live out there, and who is to say that blue is better than green or purple better than red?

So I think that’s why these kinds of posts are so popular.  There’s so much call to be perfect– to cut spending to nothing, raise income, spend time maximizing money (or on another personal finance extreme, to get rid of stuff and travel the world, since the non-externally-valid research says you’ll be happier that way).  People like being given permission to feel how they really feel, to be given a moderate voice in the face of extremism.   It’s American… and possibly human.

What do you think?  Why do you like these kinds of posts?

24 Responses to “Why are the stop feeling guilty and relax posts so popular?”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    Although I was raised catholic and have plenty of residual catholic guilt, I think balance is important.

    Life’s not about working all day and night until one day you body fails and you drop dead. On the flip side you don’t want to live it up to the point of financial turmoil either. There is a balance. Even my gorilla article today eluded to it. By the way, did you decide to do a monkey post? If so, I’ll link to it.

    It’s funny but my most popular articles are about Babci’s extreme frugal undertakings.

  2. Everyday Tips Says:

    I totally think that people appreciate the ‘balance’ posts because people really want balance. They want to know that it is ok to spend on some fun or take a day off to goof around. Affirmation is always good, so getting ‘permission’ to spend a day at an amusement park or whatever is a good thing.

  3. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    At the same time, I’ve read rants from working mothers who dislike the tyranny of being expected to find balance where there is none. It’s like, gee, another thing we have to worry about, are we balanced enough.

    At grumpy rumblings we do not endorse that type of self-recrimination. We just have a strong belief in satisficing over optimization, and moderation in all things including moderation.

    No, no monkey post. We couldn’t come up with anything. (Other than the monkey on back thing, but we figured someone more knowledgeable would cover that, and someone did.) It’s a bad time of the semester for creativity… all the monkeys in our respective zoos are going crazy. We also wanted to somehow involve ninjas and pirates and possibly bears or robots… but then got swamped at work.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Perhaps we should have had a post explaining how “we wouldn’t eat Kraft dinners” and “we would, we’d just eat more” is an excellent example of the substitution effect vs. income effect from a wealth shock such as a million dollars. That is, sometimes when you get higher quality stuff (substitution effect), and sometimes you get the same stuff, but you get more of it (income effect).

      The the post title would have been, “Haven’t you always wanted a Monkey?” And a then a youtube link.

  4. SonyaAnn Says:

    This seems to be the hot topic lately. Everyone loved my dead raccoon post!
    Have a great week!

  5. Roshawn @ Watson Inc Says:

    I do like posts that I feel are rooted in my reality. Most people are not extreme, so it makes sense that balance is popular.

  6. Suba @ Wealth Informatics Says:

    I don’t like the super frugal posts. It is their own choice to be frugal, but what gets me most is the blogger’s assumption that if you are not as frugal as he/she is then you must be a spendthrift. And you are in debt to buy all those things… I don’t understand why some people can’t think that there could be a balance. I almost feel like writing a post just to defend my spending… Most personal finance blog readers are not extremes I suppose (or may be I am naive). So they would like to see more balanced posts…

  7. Donna Freedman Says:

    I think we just want permission to be human. Also permission not to make our own laundry soap unless we really want to do that.

  8. Molly On Money Says:

    You did a monkey post without doing a monkey post! I’m linking you!
    I’m not catholic but I was raised in a catholic state so I have many friends that suffer from the catholic guilt. They influence me….somewhat…..OK, tremendously.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Catholicism makes for either better people (in terms of giving to the poor, being nice on Sundays etc.) or just guiltier people. (It probably depends on the Catholicism and the person.)

  9. Monkey Cards | Molly On Money Says:

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  10. Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom Says:

    I have a triple whammy – raised Catholic with a German parent raised during the Great Depression. Yowza!

    I like the balanced posts because although there are areas where I think I’m probably veering from frugal to tightwad, there are also areas where I spend very freely – and foolishly to others (the RV comes to mind as well as a brand new vehicle – and travel too). I like to see people enjoy their lives and their money and not think all the time about how much this or that costs. Or maybe think about it – but make it happen. It’s the mindlessly spending (and mindlessly saving) people that I don’t get, but 99.9% of PF bloggers are much more conscious in their spending than the average bear… or monkey.

  11. LindyMint Says:

    Even though we’re all really good at kicking ourselves, I think deep down we know that guilt is bad, balance is good, and it’s just money after all.

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