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Financial Privilege

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Financial privilege is spoken of in hushed voices in the personal financial world.  You see if people admit that they have it they somehow lose credibility for their voice or message.  However it is important to acknowledge that you have had a leg up and it’s helped get you to where you are now.  I have a huge win in terms of financial privilege and I’m still reaping the benefits from it.  I dislike when others don’t admit that they have or have previously had some type of financial privilege.  Financial privilege changes your life and it is something that needs to be acknowledged.   It should not be brushed to the side out of lack of understanding of what you have been given.

Ways I have had financial privilege:

  • I live very close to Toronto and I lived at home during school which allowed me to commute to university
  • After I got a full time job I lived at home until I got married not paying rent and able to save a ton of money

Things I did on my “own”:

  • Paid for my University tuition
  • Paid for my own wedding
  • Saved up for our down payment

And So On:

I could not have done on my “own” in the timeline I did if I was saddled with student debt or had extremely high expenses because I was living on my own.  If we didn’t buy our house when we did then we would have had a massive mortgage or bought further away from the city.  Then our net worth wouldn’t be where it is because of increase in real estate prices and spare money to invest. And so on.

I worked hard to save money, not go into debt and take advantage of what I had been given.  But I had a considerable advantage going into it that not everyone has.  The biggest problem that I see with people talking about what they “did on their own” is that they don’t acknowledge that they had privilege that afforded them the luxury of accomplishing those things.  It’s a snowball.  One act of privilege leads to another opportunity or door being open.   Yes, you work hard and made sacrifices but you don’t get there by yourself.  No one does, everyone has help in some way.   I would like to point out that even if no money is given, it could be knowledge, advice or just support which is part of financial privilege.  Financial privilege is more than a trust fund.

Blinded by the Financial Privilege:

Some in the personal finance community are missing the mark.  They have a blind spot to their own privilege.  They frame their story like an “everyman” story without acknowledging that they had significant advantages to getting to where they are.  It’s great that people share their stores and you can see what they did to re-apply however it does not take into account advantages that they have had along the way.

You Can Do It:

I dislike reading posts that have an overall theme of “if I can do it you can”.  That is a flat out lie and sets people up for failure or disappointment.  Most people can’t just cut out lattes if they are making minimum wage, can’t find a job or are drowning in student loans.  Giving up coffee house coffee isn’t the key to changing their life.  Most people can’t just “work harder” to get ahead.  Most people can’t experiment with their budgets the way those with safety nets can.  There are systemic barriers in place that prevent people from just jumping ahead with basic strategies.  It usually takes years for people who lacked major financial privilege to get caught up to those that had it.  By the time they get caught up, their peers with privilege are likely already lapping them.

Calling It Out:

As a personal finance blogger it’s my job to call this out.  I acknowledge that while I might know stuff about money and I can help people out with advice and support I had a huge leg up to getting to where I am.  Other than Scott’s debt that he had to pay off we have never experienced large amounts of debt (outside of the current mortgage) like student loans.  Scott had a student loan but it was so insignificant to his life that he couldn’t remember the amount at all.  That is privilege at its finest!   We both were able to live at home while we completed school.  This alone was a huge leg up that we had over other people. It continues to help keep us ahead just by doing the right things now.

Don’t Get Down:

Financial privilege is a key contributor to the success that people have.  Our house, net worth and lack of debt can all be traced back to the single act of our parents letting us live at home during university.  The next time you read a sensational story of people having it all and you feel frustrated remember they might not be explaining the whole story.  Don’t let hidden financial privilege impact your confidence levels.  Trust that you are doing the best you can with the tools that you have.

Have you had/have financial privilege? Has it helped get you to where you are now?

Sarah

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8 comments

  1. This is a tough one. Financial privilege is real and does have an impact. But just as big an impact are your actions. To change your actions you must believe they have an impact beyond privilege. Thus in some ways you have to present it as on the person to drive motivation. The difference between blame and critique I guess.

    • Couple of Sense says:

      Actions do make an impact but 2 people making the same actions that didn’t have the same start point will finish at different times. It’s like starting a marathon at the start or at the 25 mile mark. 2 people can run the same speed but 1 person will finish faster being so close to the finish line.

      Sarah

  2. Amanda Page says:

    Such an incredibly important topic and I’m so glad you published this post. It makes me think that I need to be more clear about my own financial privilege…and other types of privilege that contribute to it, too. I know the word pushes some buttons nowadays, but I also think it’s important not to hear it as an accusation. In some ways, acknowledging privilege forces you to count your blessings/practice gratitude. It also, of course, let’s us see more of the picture. Those gurus who don’t talk about the advantages they had or privilege they have…nah. Don’t wanna waste my time. Acknowledging privilege is an act of authenticity.

    • Couple of Sense says:

      Thank you Amanda! That word does get on people’s nerves these days. But I think it is mostly from people who don’t understand the concept as well as those who feel that it takes away from their work ethic. Which is doesn’t!!
      We are so grateful for the decisions that our parents made to allow us to live at home. And we hope that for our daughter we can help give her advantages that we passed down to us and hope she will be just as grateful and use those advantages to the fullest potential.

      I dislike that people hide it for fear of their message is changed. I dislike the “if I can do it, you can too!” Nope. Not always.

      Sarah

  3. Very interesting post and perspective. Thanks for sharing it!

    I have had the benefit of financial privilege, which has helped us get within four years (hopefully) of financial independence. Thanks to my parents, I was able to graduate from college with relatively little student debt, and thanks to their guidance and education over the years, I focused on paying off that debt as soon as possible, and living within my means to avoid taking on unnecessary additional debts. The good start I got off to certainly helped me get to where I am today.

    That said, there are many people who have received financial privilege far beyond what most of us could dream of, and have still squandered everything they have received. Financial privilege can set you up for success, but there are certainly a lot of individual choices that we all make that strongly influence the ultimate outcomes we achieve.

    • Couple of Sense says:

      Awesome on 4 more years to financial independence! That is a huge accomplishment.

      I agree that people can waste opportunities that they have been given. Privilege can open doors for you but you can slam them shut just as quickly with poor choices. But those with privilege can either accelerate their advantage to be far and away more successful or be on par with someone making amazing financial decisions with no clear advantage from the start.
      Sarah

  4. Talking privilege always seems to be a controversial subject but it really shouldn’t be, and I think this goes both ways. Admitting the ways you are privilege gives your audience a more truthful look at where you came from and make your advice more valid. What I don’t like is that there is seems to be an attitude that overcoming a huge financial obstacle (ie. lots of debt) gives you an extra degree of credibility.
    I grew up comfortably middle-class and had parents who taught me the importance of being responsible with money. They’re a big reason I was able to avoid making poor financial decisions that would impact me long-term.

    • Couple of Sense says:

      I feel the same way as well about the huge debt thing. I think it’s the concept of the prodigal son. If you make a huge mistake and then fix it it is somehow better than just not making a mistake in the first place. Everyone likes a comeback story or an underdog.

      For the most part our financial story is boring but we are okay with that. Making good choices because you were taught to make good choices is amazing and that is good in and of itself.

      Sarah

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