We’ve got to stop ignoring politics in personal finance
When everything is about money, everything has a place in a conversation about money.
As we head into a major election year, politics is looming large for me. It has me asking where, exactly, the conversations we’re having at Healthy Rich fit into the larger conversations in our society — and which bits of those larger conversations we should dig into here.
Said plainly: I’m constantly wondering how political this newsletter is allowed to be.
I’m the treasurer of our county’s Democratic Party, my partner is the campaign manager for two candidates in Wisconsin, and our business actively recruits progressive candidates and organizations for design and printing work. That’s in addition to being a woman and a queer person in the midst of *gestures wildly* all of this, where our very existence is a bit of activism in a society that wants us to be nothing.
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Generally, personal finance media isn’t interested in politics. Personal finance bloggers span the ideological spectrum but feign neutrality in their content, assuming there’s no place in financial education for a political stance.
Of course, not addressing the ways “politics” interacts with personal finance is a stance itself. It’s a stance that looks only at an individual’s impact on their finances and willfully ignores the impact of the systems and policies laid in place by politicians and impacted by political opinions and goals.
The personal (finance) is political
The women’s lib movement of the 1960s and 70s challenged the notion that some experiences are too personal to bring into the public arena, spreading the popular mantra “the personal is political.”
We need a similar reckoning in financial education and media with the reality that personal finance is political.
Everything about your financial situation is the result of a policy decision, whether recent or ancient. From the way you show up to work to how much you earn to which benefits you can access to the way you save for retirement to how your mental health impacts your day-to-day decision making to the accessibility of local banks to how much of your paycheck goes toward housing, health care, education, child care or food — every personal financial move you make is influenced by the options some policy has put in place for you.
By and large, personal finance media ignores this reality. In most spaces, readers prefer that we do.
I’m hoping this isn’t one of those spaces.
I can’t maintain that level of neutrality — and it’s not (just) because I’m a passionate leftist nut who can’t keep her opinions to herself. It’s because that neutrality isn’t real.
Personal finance media defies reality when it tells you how to save money on groceries without encouraging you to sign up for SNAP or visit a local food pantry. Financial education defies reality when it teaches you how to make a budget without including thousands of dollars in debt resources that could help you avoid restriction. They defy reality when they help you make a plan for repaying student loans without revealing exactly who wants to cancel your debt and who doesn’t. They defy reality when they tell you property is the wisest investment without acknowledging the people whose land was stolen to make some of us feel rich.
This is why we need a new way to think about money
I’ve been struggling so much in the past three years to find my lane for Healthy Rich, in part because I’m weighed down by everything I learned as a personal finance journalist.
This work is as much a process of unlearning for me as I want it to be for everyone who reads it.
I’m constantly drawn to the expectation that I’ll have the right answers. If not budgeting, then what do you call your alternative plan? If you don’t have to pay off debt, then how do you keep creditors happy? If investing is unethical, then how do you build wealth?
But my work is not about giving you a new set of answers. Budget culture has been pumping out answers for decades, and they’re not working.
My work is about asking new questions.
Why do we need individual money management plans? Why are we so worried about what creditors think of us? Why is anyone interested in becoming wealthy?
Healthy Rich isn’t a new kind of financial plan. It’s a new kind of conversation about money.
We need to understand, question and change the way we think about money, because the way we think about money is the way we think about people and work and family and ownership and the environment and care and value and usefulness.
The way we think about money is woven into every decision we make for ourselves or for others. It infects how we perceive, judge and love people. Whether we talk about it or not, it affects how we vote.
So we better talk about it.
The political is personal (finance)
I can’t write about personal finance without acknowledging the systems that impact it — or the ways we can act to influence the people in positions to change those systems. I don’t know how anyone can, and I’m guessing you’re here because you can’t draw that line anymore, either.
Over the next 11 months, you’ll see a lot of politics everywhere you look. It’s going to be exhausting, so take breaks and protect yourself from the cattiness and the horse-raciness of it as much as you can. But don’t ignore it.
I’ll probably write about elections, policies and political messages here, even when they don’t seem like they’re about money, because everything is about money. I’m not interested in doom and gloom, though. True to my financial blogger training, I’m always looking for an action step.
When you see a political ad or watch a debate or hear a new slogan, ask how this is about money. This curiosity is how you give shape to capitalism and budget culture around you. This is how you change the way you think about money.
This is how we lead a new kind of conversation about money.
🤔 Want to learn more about how our culture influences your relationship with money?
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