How to gracefully deflect unsolicited (and bad) financial advice

What should I say when someone gives me ‘helpful’ money advice?

Stop me if any of this sounds familiar: You tell your coworker you’re shopping for a car, and you get a spiel about how smart it is to lease instead of buy. You’re at a family Fourth of July picnic, and Uncle George regales you with his latest surefire scheme to make a gazillion dollars by investing in an obscure medical stock. Your best friend just bought into a timeshare and won’t shut up about how you should do the same. What do you say, besides, “Um…thanks?” Here’s how to deal with all that (bad) advice you never asked for.

Consider the source

How you handle unwanted advice depends on who’s giving it to you. “The closer the relationship, the more direct you’ll want to be in pushing back,” said Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do and the just-released 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do. “If an acquaintance offers you advice, you might just nod and smile, and then walk away. But if someone you have a close relationship with repeatedly offers you unsolicited advice, it could damage the relationship if you don’t speak up.”

Why? You may come to resent this person’s interference, taking it as an implicit criticism of your choices—or find yourself agreeing to something you know is a bad idea.

Beware of mixed motives

People’s motives for offering unsolicited advice are numerous. Sometimes they genuinely care about you and think what they’re advising is for the best. Sometimes getting you to join in whatever they’ve done makes them feel better about their own decision. (Warning: That friend with the timeshare may be experiencing buyer’s remorse about spending the next 15 summer vacations at the same hokey resort in Miami.) And yes, sometimes they even stand to make money by roping you in (say, a commission for referring you to a website that makes short-term business loans with sky-high interest rates).

Shrug it off

If you’ve been reading my advice, you know I think it sometimes can be smart to let stuff roll off your back, especially when there is less at stake in the relationship.

“If someone offers you bad advice, ignoring it can be the politest response,” Morin said. “You don’t have to get into an argument over why you think their ideas are bad or why you don’t plan to follow through. Instead, you can say, ‘I’ll think about that,’ or ‘Thank you for sharing your experience.’”

Then, just go ahead and do things your (better-informed) way.

Don’t clue them in

If someone jumps in with advice without knowing your full financial circumstances, you may feel an overwhelming urge to correct them. Let’s say you’re looking to sell your house and downsize because you can’t afford the mortgage and property taxes any longer, but your friend in real estate says you’re crazy to sell because of the way homes in your neighborhood are appreciating. (Yeah, you know that—because it’s driving up your taxes like crazy.) You don’t have to lay out your tax bind to your friend to “prove” you’re making the right decision. It’s enough that you know it for yourself.

Deflect (gracefully)

If a simple brushoff doesn’t work, be direct. Try saying something like, “Thanks, but I’m not looking for advice right now.” Don’t be defensive, just be matter-of-fact. You can even try a little humor. (“I don’t have the money to afford a financial consultant!”) The important thing is to send the message that you’re not seeking their two cents’ worth.

Just say “no”

If the person persists—and some do—you will have to be firmer. Say your coworker checks back in with you to see if you’re going to follow his recommendation to lease a car. Try, “I hear what you’re saying, but I’m going to buy a used Subaru because that’s what seems right to me.” If you want, you can explain your reasoning. (Leasing a car means you’re left with no asset when the lease term is up, and you sometimes get hit with mileage overages and other fees.) But the key here is to let the person know you’ve made your decision on your own.

Avoid mixed signals

If you find that you’re getting frequent unsolicited advice, think about how you’re coming off. If you do a lot of complaining, or tend to weigh the pros and cons of an issue aloud, you may be inviting friends and family to think you need their help. If you don’t want others sticking their oar in, row your own boat!

This doesn’t mean you can’t ever talk about financial decisions with others, but let it be known that you’re going to tailor your decision to your own circumstances. “If your car is having issues and you know your parents will want to weigh in on what you should do next, try a pre-emptive strike,” Morin advises. “Say something like, ‘I need more reliable transportation. I’ll need to think about which option makes the most sense for my particular situation.’”

Don’t throw out the good with the bad

Not all unsolicited advice is necessarily bad. You’ll have to evaluate the source, and maybe do a little research on your own if something sounds good. That next-door neighbor who’s crowing about the sweet mortgage refinance deal her bank gave her may be worth listening to if doing so will shrink your house payment (and doesn’t cost you in fees).

Get the 411

Sometimes you really may need advice—such as when you’re facing a tricky financial situation like a divorce, an inheritance, or retirement planning. Time to consult a real expert, not the water cooler crowd. (Leave them to what they do best: deconstructing the season finale to Game of Thrones.)

Find a fee-only financial advisor who charges a flat fee (hourly or a percent of assets) instead of taking commissions on any products he/she advises you to buy. Check out the lists compiled by the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors at NAPFA.org.

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