Shortly before we were married, Clancy and I were talking to some acquaintances of hers and some friends of acquaintances and one young woman said “You should elope and put down the money on a house. Weddings are a waste of money.”

I didn’t know her very well and that really did not get us off on the right foot. First, when someone is excitedly talking about their coming wedding, it’s pretty bad form to pooh-pooh weddings. Secondly, she did not have sufficient information to render a judgment (her folks were footing the bill, it wasn’t a particularly extravagant wedding, we wouldn’t be buying a house for years anyway, and so on). Thirdly, her logical priorities were not ours. Clancy and I had no dreams of white horses and carriages, but having a fair number of people there was pretty important to us and allowing them to join us in celebration of our union was as good a use for that money (ours or not) as any. The memories from that weekend will last a lifetime.

So my general thought towards her was, well “Who the flip are you?” Or perhaps with more colorful language and more in reference to her self-image than her actual identity. Now, over the short time I got to know her I came to like her a great deal and the kind of person that I wish I knew more of. But that was definitely in spite of and not because of the advice that she gave.

Last week Web took issue with some internet personal finance guru who said that a great way to save money is to relocate to a less expensive area. Web and I locked horns for a bit, but ultimately I don’t think that we’re all that far apart. Underlying the problem of the original piece that Web took on was that the author didn’t say that relocating to a less expensive area may be a good idea to save money nor did he say that it’s something some people should consider. Rather, he said that it is something you should do to save money. Therein lies a pretty crucial difference.

First, as Phi pointed out, for some people living in an expensive area (as represented by San Diego) is worth the price premium compared to living in a less expensive area (represented by Valdosta). Further, already having a job in Los Angeles will often be a lot better for your finances than moving to Reno and trying to find a job. Suggesting that moving to less expensive area is something “people” (broadly spoken) should do ignores individual circumstances that can carry a lot of weight. I still maintain that it’s really good advice for a whole lot of people, but it’s also bad advice for a lot of people to.

To take another example from the original article, not having pets was something else that he recommended. Sure enough, having pets can be a pretty expensive proposition. But pets provide their own reward for a lot of people. In fact, I’m pretty sure pets correlate with happiness more than children do. The author was wise enough not to suggest that everyone go childless to save a few (okay, a lot) bucks, but pets are another area that he might should have thought twice. Yeah, if you don’t have the money to support a pet, you shouldn’t get one. But implicit in the author’s calculations is that the value of a pet is outstripped by the expense. For some people this is true, for others this is very, very untrue.

A number of items on the list fall under the category of “This is what money is for.” Some people want to make the big bucks precisely so that they can live in New York City or Los Angeles. Some people will take a huge quality-0f-life hit in order to live in Portland or Boca Raton. Some people would take the money saved on not having a dog and would spend it on something that would bring them less happiness than a dog would. Even discounting the housing crash, some people know that they won’t be buying a house and believe that the memories attached to a big wedding would actually bring them more happiness.

Sharing one’s experiences and perspective is a good thing. And pushing back against what one perceives to be the ill-considered actions of others is not necessarily a bad idea. Pointing out to someone that talks about how nobody can afford to live a middle class life anymore that they it’s possible they could live a more middle class life in another city ought to be fair game. But lecturing them on the fact that they chose their current predicament and that a middle class life is as simple as moving to a more affordable city is, among other things, tactless. So am I being tactless when I say that Half Sigma should have stayed in Arizona? Perhaps, though in my defense Sigma brings it on himself by doing the exact same with regards to law school and college in general.

It is Half Sigma’s position that if you’re not going to one of the Top 14 law schools, that you’re wasting your time and money. I think that tucked in there is a very good assessment of the perils of law school. I wish people would have been saying that back when I was taking the LSAT and I may not have bothered. And his advice may well be 100% correct if you live and want to continue to live on the upper east coast, but his universal advice does not necessarily apply to people that live in Delosa. Sigma is right that going to the University of Delosa School of Law doesn’t guarantee anything and may be a whole lot more risky than going into engineering, medicine, or 50 other areas of study, but for a lot of people – even people that are capable of taking the classes to become an engineer – if they have a passion for or interest in law, are particularly motivated and smart, and don’t have aspirations of going to NYC or DC and being a hotshot, they will often be better advised to take the risk of law school. I know that among my friends that have gotten law degrees, none seem to have expressed any regret for having done so and none went to Top 14 schools. Again, I’m not saying that it’s not a risk and that people should not be apprised of the risk that it can be, but advice like “Don’t go to law school if you can’t get into the T14” may be good for a lot of people but is bad for a lot of others.

Of course, in Half Sigma’s defense (and perhaps my own), blogging is perhaps the sort of place where one should be able to just let things fly. Of course, that only works if you listen to what people tell you in return. That’s something that bloggers don’t do a particularly good job of. In fact, the more inclined someone is to give everyone advice the less inclined they are to listen to anyone else, in my experience. I know that I have previously made some pretty broad comments that, in retrospect, should have been more narrow insofar as they applied only to some people and not quite as universally as I had imagined. But, after years of listening and even spending some time defending their point of view*, I have come to understand the good counterarguments that a lot of people have.

* – I’ve found that one of the best ways to understand an argument is to get into a debate and try to advocate it. There are a number of positions I’ve taken on Hit Coffee and elsewhere that I don’t entirely agree with (one such example is obesity). Sometimes I actually come around to believe what I’m saying and other times I don’t, but even in the latter case I get a lot better idea of where they’re coming from.


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8 Responses to Unsolicited Advice

  1. Peter says:

    Siggy’s admitted that going to a state flagship university’s law school is a decent-ish alternative so long as you’re planning to stay in that state. Even so, and given the fact that he does tend to overdramatize, it’s nonetheless pretty clear that school selection is very important in law. This is especially clear in contrast to medicine and engineering, fields in which school choice is relatively unimportant as simply having the degree is what counts.

    Business school seems to be somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between law on one end and medicine/engineering on the other. Going to a top-rated MBA program is important, but not a do-or-die sort of deal. It might be because many MBA students are somewhat older with work experience. Interesting, although Siggy has written ad nauseum about going to law school at Arizona State, I believe he also has an MBA from the same university (not to mention an undergraduate degree from Wharton) yet has said very little about it.

  2. Kirk says:

    Back in school, I noticed that the best way to get along with everyone else was to just keep my opinions to myself. I still think it’s rather telling, how in all those clases I took, no one ever asked what I thought about anything. You can imagine how many opinions I had to listen to, though.

  3. web says:

    Kirk,

    oddly enough, I wish people would speak up. At SoTech, it was readily apparent from the (relatively anonymous) emails we columnists got, that SoTech was actually split roughly evenly conservative/liberal across the spectrum. Despite this, the “debate” on campus (and sadly, the newspaper today) is naught but a drumbeat of left-wing talking points. Anyone who contradicts them, it seems, had better be prepared for a shouting match or worse.

  4. Linus says:

    Amen, brotha. Real, high-quality listening is becoming a lost art. While I enjoy your blog posts, it’s the substance and overall tone of most discussions that take place in the comments that interests me the most. So many perspectives to understand!

  5. rob says:

    I actually find it easier to make arguments for positions I don’t agree with. The two possibilities are that everything I believe is wrong, or that I make assumptions I don’t really think about for positions I agree with. I hope it’s the second one.

  6. Kirk says:

    3.Kirk,

    oddly enough, I wish people would speak up. At SoTech, it was readily apparent from the (relatively anonymous) emails we columnists got, that SoTech was actually split roughly evenly conservative/liberal across the spectrum. Despite this, the “debate” on campus (and sadly, the newspaper today) is naught but a drumbeat of left-wing talking points. Anyone who contradicts them, it seems, had better be prepared for a shouting match or worse.

    It has a lot to do with the professors. One of mine flunked everyone’s first paper, then would shoot off at the mouth about her opinions. Of course, most everyone kept their own mouths shut, for fear of getting a second F. (Apparently MS Word, regardless of manual settings, puts a tiny amount of extra space between paragraphs. She would knock off points for that.) Another professor was okay, but let it slip that she thought “Democrats should be in charge.”

    Being in my forties, I pretty much let it all slide. I was far more worried that the one building I was in didn’t have fire sprinklers!

    Blast from the past… The second post concerns one of the above professors.
    http://collegegeezer.blogspot.com/2008_09_01_archive.html

  7. Kevin says:

    “I know that among my friends who have law degrees, none have expressed any regret for doing so and none went to top 14 schools.”

    Will,

    I went to the University of Texas School of Law, which was in the top 12 when I went there. Are you saying I’m not your friend?????

  8. trumwill says:

    Kevin,

    Different list. According to Half Sigma, the Top 14 are: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, NYU, Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, Duke, Northwestern, Cornell, UC Berkeley, and Georgetown.

    If you don’t go to one of those schools, he believes that you shouldn’t go to law school. He doesn’t even carve out exceptions for top-flight flagship schools in other states like Texas or Minnesota. It’s my position that in a lot of states, getting a degree from the best law school in that state can (though will not necessarily) land you pretty well.

    If he’s going off of this list, it looks like Texas and UCLA just barely miss the cut, tied at 15.

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