Dispensing advice about the Latte Factor to those who live one medical emergency away from complete financial ruin sounds a helluva lot like poor shaming.

The Latte Factor, Poor Shaming, and Economic Compassion

There’s a piece of conventional financial wisdom that goes like this: if you’re looking to save money or pay off debt, start by skipping small luxuries like lattes and instead put that money toward your financial goals. The single digit savings will add up to a significant amount over time, all because you had the fortitude to practice a little self-control. It’s a simple, effective way to find some wiggle room in your budget and a great first step toward living a frugal lifestyle.

The Latte Factor, as it’s known, is both virtuous and practical. It gives its frugal practitioner a sense of self-righteous superiority over those who continue to waste their money on overpriced, over-sweetened, caffeinated beverages every day. And because it’s such a simple solution, those preaching the gospel of frugality peddle it like a magic elixir. Can’t seem to save money? Just skip the latte! It works miracles.

Yet to those who truly struggle with systemic poverty, getting advice about the Latte Factor feels horribly condescending. In fact, being told that skipping a small luxury here and there will raise you up out of your low-income status feels downright cruel and deliberately ignorant. Because in cases of economic disenfranchisement, a lack of frugality is not the root of the problem.

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Do you know what Cinderella did to get ahead? She planted a tree. And watered it daily with her tears. The point is that class mobility has literally been a fairy tale for most of human history.

“Poor People Are Poor Because They Are _____. Rich People Are Rich Because They Are _____.”

When Piggy and I first talked about starting a finance blog for Millennials, we spent a lot of time talking about how traditional financial advice had failed us. Some advice failed simply for being too old. It relied on outdated growth models, or it ignored a rapidly changing globalized economy, or discounted the possibilities of living in a world transformed by technology.

These failures were innocent. Others were not.
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