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Why We Resent People Who Try to Offer Us Sound Financial Advice

Twitter is constantly working itself up about something. But it’s rare that something is the unsexy world of personal finance. That’s is precisely what transpired last week when personal finance personality Jean Chatzky tweeted the following:

The tweet garnered an inordinate response. Typically, Chatzky’s tweets receive a few dozen likes, retweets and responses. This one had generated nearly 7,000 engagements as of late yesterday afternoon.

The general consensus was that Chatzky’s advice was laughably unattainable, and it was mocked accordingly. One respondent wrote that the real key to retirement was to win the genetic lottery and be born to wealthy parents.

Others said we were better off assuming the end of the world and thus spending freely.

Some turned Chatzky’s “30 … 40 … 50 …” construction on its ear…

…or made self-deprecating admissions about the woeful state of their own bank accounts.

Some even used the tweet to mount calls for political revolution.

But amid the humor was a surprising amount of earnest vitriol. Many people seemed personally offended by Chatzky’s statement, which is odd (not to mention unfair) considering all she did was lay out the financial benchmarks one should strive to hit if they hope to retire comfortably.

The ire Chatzky received illuminated two salient points, however:

  1. There are an alarming number of people who have saved nowhere near enough to consider retiring.
  2. They get very defensive when you remind them of this fact.

Talks of a so-called “retirement crisis” have circulated for years now, with some saying the concerns are overblown and others maintaining that the current generation of working adults is headed for a financial cataclysm.

Members of the latter camp point to a confluence of factors — e.g., longer lifespans, low interest rates, the disappearance of pensions from the modern workforce and the 50 percent of workers who don’t participate in an employee-sponsored retirement plan — as proof that there’s a troubling number of people who aren’t saving enough to reasonably expect to retire on time. In fact, about half of today’s households won’t be able to maintain their current standard of living in retirement, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve’s Study of Consumer Finances. That’s twice as many as in 1989.

But Chatzy’s advice wasn’t all that extreme — many personal finance experts advocate for having the equivalent of one year’s salary saved by the time you’re 30. And high earners should’ve saved more than one year’s salary by that time.

Still, many people said Chatzky’s goals are unrealistic for most Americans.

Perhaps they’re right. It’s increasingly difficult to thrive in the modern economy without a college degree; meanwhile, the cost of attending college continues to skyrocket. Combine that with the fact that most people are never taught how to handle money, and you have legitimate grounds for indignation.

At the same time, their frustration proves how emotional a topic money is for most people. In a society as superficial and capitalistic as America’s, where status and social worth are often measured by wealth, hearing you haven’t saved enough money for retirement can be a major blow to a person’s psyche. It can also make you want to give up on it altogether.

That’s a bit of a cop-out, though. Chatzky offered tangible advice on retirement goals; to dismiss it as unrealistic doesn’t help. What does help is to actually work toward saving for retirement—even if you can’t save that much.

One of Chatzky’s haters sent the following, for instance.

But scaling back your dining-out budget and putting that money in your IRA is actually an effective retirement strategy.

So laugh all you want at Chatzky…

… but it won’t do anything for your 401(k).