How to Think Critically About Personal Finance Gurus

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Whole academic disciplines are based on evidence, testing, and methodology, yet somehow, we're still much quicker to accept anecdotes and stories as hard proof of what we want to hear. Personal finance is particularly prone to this, with endless stories about how one enterprising millennial climbed out of debt or lived frugally and retired early. As it happens, one writer's own troubles make for a telling example of why it's important to do more than simply follow tips and tricks to fix your money woes.

Brianna Bell was once a viral darling for her decision to move her family from a hip townhouse to a garden apartment (read: someone's basement). Bell and her husband did cut down on expenses and create good savings habits on a small income, but as she relates in an essay for Narratively, not everything was as it seemed on paper. "My own sage advice from the early writing days didn't help me find financial security," she writes, after disclosing a series of events and tragedies that sent her spiraling into debt. "What helped was finding ways to cope with a collection of mental health issues I had gathered like heavy rocks."

On Twitter, many skeptics share links about thrifty and thriving millennials by asking how much the writers' families pitched in. It does pay to maintain a conscientious and clear-eyed approach to what works in different anecdotes and why. That doesn't mean casting off any and all personal finance writing — it just means doing your own research into the processes and systems that could work for you.