Penny On Fame And Shame — A Response To Critics Of Her Notorious Guest Post

So easy to comment, so difficult to be civil.

Dear Rich (and our readers),

As you know, I had a guest post on the Making Sense of Cents blog and it was met with quite a few mean-spirited comments.

Now I know how it feels to be publicly shamed, I guess.

I can’t say I wasn’t anticipating a bit of pushback from the article, that was to be expected. But the amount of vitriol behind some of the comments was kind of hurtful and surprising. A got a personal note from Michelle from the blog and she said: Thank you for responding to comments on the article. Some of them are not the kindest – which is not the norm for Making Sense of Cents readers. Sorry that you are experiencing that.

But alas, what can you do? Such is the nature of the internet.

The comments bothered me at first, but then the next day, I continued on with my technology fast, and got over it pretty quickly. When I checked back in on the comments several days later, there were several more hurtful comments, but by that time, it didn’t bother me that much. It was like, once I’d read one, I’d read them all, because they were all saying pretty much the same thing.

Thank you for all your help with the comments, by the way. You do a good job of addressing people fairly and kindly. I liked what you had to write.

Related Post: Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Makes Sense Of Internet Commentary, His Cousin’s Controversy, And The Good Life –July 2017

So, anyway, because of all this, I want to break protocol for a moment and instead of addressing this post just to you, Rich, I would like to break through the fourth wall and directly address our readers and comment some of the issues that the Making Sense commenters had with me and the choices I’ve made. Because, if I’m making these choices, I might as well be able to stand behind them and defend them, right?

That’s kind of the point of this whole blog, isn’t it?

Let’s start here.

Here is are two actual comments that pretty much sum up what a dozen other commenters were saying:

WOW! JUST WOW! It’s one thing to do all of this but totally another to BRAG ABOUT STEALING FROM THE GOVT. I guess there is a first for everything and this is the first time I have seen someone with balls big enough to brag about ripping the govt. off in writing. THIS is why people do without because people like Penny “steal” and there isn’t enough for others who NEED IT.


I am very liberal and support the existence of social programs for people in need. But this is disgraceful – you don’t have “need.” Read what I am writing: you don’t have need, you have “want” and are gaming the system so that other people are paying for it. Other people’s tax dollars are funding your food stamps and earned income credit, while you deliberately under-earn and use the earnings of others to pay loans you voluntarily incurred, rightfully owe, and will reap the rewards of as your husband’s practice grows. Shame on you.

First of all, I think a lot of the commenters were mistaking my unbridled honesty for pride. Nobody is proud to be on food support. If anything, it is the opposite. It takes a bit of humility to accept that is offered.

I don’t think I’m stealing from anybody or lying about anything. As you’ve seen here, I’m honest almost to a fault. I mean, I’m laying out my monthly expenditures for everyone to see and critique, line by line.

Note: This page has affiliate links to products we endorse. Full disclaimer. 

As far as taking money from other people who really need it… here’s the thing: If my family, at our income level, is getting this kind of support, this means that other families are getting support too! Isn’t that a good thing? Just because we’re getting support doesn’t mean that we’re taking it from others who need it. We’re ALL getting help! Yeah!

Secondly, I don’t find anything ethically wrong with accepting benefits that I legally qualify for. As Rich pointed out in his response to one of the comments:

This idea that Penny should voluntarily give up assistance that she qualifies for, because some people think it’s unfair, is misleading. How many people out there qualify for tax breaks, refunds, mortgage interest deductions? Is anyone sending that money back to the Treasury because they don’t really need it? Should we all reject our standard deduction, because, well, we can afford a computer, so it would be immoral to accept the tax system the way it is? I don’t think so. The tax benefits that one qualifies for and how one spends their money are two quite different matters.

If food support helps families like mine, and we have money to go on modest vacations or to put toward student loans, I think that is fine. But here’s the thing: I also think that it’s fine if people who get food support choose to spend their money on things like alcohol and cigarettes. We should be wary about entering into a totalitarian state where individuals no longer have the freedom to decide how to spend their money. To be free is to be human. Let’s not take that away from people.

Thirdly, and to address the argument that I should just work more so we don’t have to collect food support: I like what you had to say about this in the comments as well, Rich:

Would she be wise to just turn down assistance that she qualifies for? Probably not. Would it be better if she worked night shifts and became an irritable wife and tired mom? Probably not.


I’m not sure what I’d do in Penny’s situation, but we’re different people and I’m an ambitious guy, so maybe I’d be working 3 jobs and missing my family in the process. Maybe that would lead to greater stress and to divorce and child support and so on. If there’s one thing I know about Penny, it’s that her family is strong and her kids will be in a good position to contribute to society. That is a social good that lasts generations.

(You really did have good things to say, Rich.)

I think there is a bit of a glorification of work and business in this culture, and a devaluation of being a homemaker. I value being a stay-at-home mom and a homemaker more than anything. (I want to revitalize the term “homemaker” and make people okay with to using it again!) Even you, Rich… when we were doing our Cost of Raising a Child posts, you suggested that I account for the missing income I would have had if I didn’t put off my career. 

Related Post: Rich Will Spend $1 Million On His Kids. Easily.

Related Post: Penny Can Raise A Kid For Less Than $40,000 Over 18 Years. That’s Waaayyyy Below The National Average.

I told you I didn’t want to do that because that would be operating on the pretense that mothers having an outside “career” is the norm. For me and my family, motherhood as a career IS our norm. I should not account for it otherwise.

So, I make no apologies for choosing not to work and therefore earning less money for the family and being eligible for food support because of that.

Here’s something that’s wrong with technology and why I am enjoying my time away from it: blog conversations like this one. People would never say to my face what they write in the comment section of a blog. It’s so easy to dehumanize a person on the internet. We are all forgetting how to relate to one another. I’m a real person, you guys! You don’t have to be mean to me. I can hear you.

Ultimately, people don’t have to agree with my choices. Heck, they don’t even have to understand them. But what I think remains important is to treat one another as human beings who deserve love and respect. We can have discussions like this and try to make sense of our differences, but it is all secondary to that.



P.S. Have you ever read the book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson? It’s a good one. I read it awhile ago, but now I understand it on a whole new level.

15 Replies to “Penny On Fame And Shame — A Response To Critics Of Her Notorious Guest Post”

  1. Thank you for your honesty.

    I expect in time, your husband’s practice and income will grow. Then not only will you stop receiving SNAP benefits, but your increased taxes will provide support for future families. That is the way the social safety net ideally works.

    If citizens wish to be upset about others benefiting unfairly from their taxes, they might wish to take a look at multinational corporations!!

  2. I missed all this, sorry to hear that you were publicly shamed (your words).

    It is easier to judge (not saying that it’s right but we are not perfect) when we do not have any personal experience with the situation.

    If you had asked me what I would have done if I’d gotten pregnant with triplets, I would have told you “I would reduce, the risk is not fair to the other children”. And then it happened and I did not reduce. If you had asked me what I would do if my child was on life support, I would have said “Let them go in peace, no one wants to live on a life support machine”. And then it happened and we did not pull the plug (my son eventually passed away even on the machine).

    I see these life challenges to be the same as a person needing support to meet the basic necessities of life or how they choose to raise their kids or the lifestyle they choose, the list goes on. Their issues are important to them and until you’re in the situation, you never know what you will do.

    Less judgement and more kindness (doesn’t have to be the same as acceptance) would go a long way to making the world “better”.

    P.S. When people ask me what I do, I proudly say “Homemaker”. I have the best job in the entire world (for me) and I am thankful every single day that I am able to spend my days employed in it. Some people think that I eat bonbons all day and they are entitled to their opinion. My husband, kids and I know what value I bring to my family and that’s more than enough for me.


  3. Penny — What I’ve loved about our correspondence is that we can talk about life and money and all the rest in an open and honest way. Some of these topics are even taboo within families.

    As readers of this blog know, we disagree on a lot of topics. We’re open to contrary opinions. That is the whole point of a blog like this. It’s a conversation.

    In the current environment, there’s a lot of mistrust between rich and poor and some people think it’s getting worse. Maybe it is. That’s why this conversation is important. We need to be able to have it without dehumanizing someone based on their income or their financial choices.

    Just for fun, I’ll link to some of my favorite disagreements with you here. And look, we’re still friends. Amazing, eh?
    Rich @ recently posted…Are The Rich Hoarding The American Dream? An Examination Of Penny And Rich’s Path To Income Inequality.My Profile

  4. I came to this post from the Retirement Draw Down Chain. I need to read your original post on Michelle’s site. I can empathize, however, because Mr. Groovy had a post about “stealing from the govt” last week. He got several critical comments, although they were fairly civilized.

    I personally feel when it comes to government programs, if you qualify and want to use them, go for it.

    I’m perfectly willing to pay what used to be a fair market price for high deductible health insurance. Not many years ago Mr. Groovy looked at one that was $100+ a month. But now, since the government itself took away my freedom of choice, dang straight I’m going to manipulate my income for Obamacare purposes.
    Mrs. Groovy recently posted…If You Want To Be Happier, Create SomethingMy Profile

    1. Mrs. G — thanks for chiming in, great point. In my view there’s no doubt we would all change certain government policies that impact our money. It’s not always fair. That said, it’s silly to blame individuals for following current law. When Turbotax calculates what I owe, I don’t really question it and come up with my own number — I pay what I owe. Overall the system isn’t perfect but it’s not terrible either …
      Rich @ recently posted…Rich’s Retirement Plan: Playing BINGO Will Not Be A Source Of IncomeMy Profile

  5. I have a brother, net worth of over $2 million. He is retired early and was getting most of his Affordable Health Care insurance paid by the government because it only checks for “income” and he wasn’t technically making any at the time. I’m also early retired but like to work some and was making over six figures part time so I was way over any threshold to get government subsidies and was paying about $15,000 per year for the same insurance he got for free. At first that bugged me because he’s basically rich but getting free insurance and I’m paying a ton for mine. But actually I eventually saw it as he’s just taking legal money, no a bit of dishonesty there. As were you. I could quit my fun side gigs and maybe qualify but I choose not to. Why should I judge anyone else. I have way too much trouble keeping myself in line! BTW my bro got disqualified over some income he accidentally earned, I have to say I enjoyed that a little! But I don’t see a thing wrong with you and I think you’ll pay a ton of taxes eventually and the government will be way ahead for having a smart and successful citizen like you.

    1. Interesting story — I’ve noticed with early retirees that one strategy is to build wealth quickly, retire, and then tax optimize through Roth conversion ladders and so on. I don’t think it’s common but it does take advantage of the system — in a smart way, most would argue. One could say it’s not fair, perhaps, but we are all playing by the same rules.
      Rich @ recently posted…Monthly Money Check: Rich’s Low Risk Ride To $1 Million — June 2017My Profile

  6. Penny, it’s awful that you had to go through all that. For something more positive, look up Brene Brown’s TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability for a research-based spin on the courage you used to make that blog post.

    You don’t qualify for SNAP unless you need it, and not enough people who do qualify take advantage of it. Every one of us gets government help in some way, be it tax breaks, mortgage deductions, etc. Personally, I’m really impressed by your decisions and your intentionality. Thanks for sharing your story on this blog.

  7. Penny, I read your original post…and this one, too.

    I am not sure what I think.

    On one hand, I don’t have a problem with people getting help who truly need it. On the other, I see food stamps and such as TEMPORARY help for people who are needing it…for a while, until they get back on their feet. If you’re seeing this as short-term, until debts get paid, I’d feel a lot better about it.

    I am sure about one thing — you should be treated with respect, regardless. It takes courage to write about your finances; I admire that about you and your cousin. And I learn from what you share.

    But you’re finding one of the things a longer-term blogger has to learn — and I know this, writing a blog since 1997.
    You have to develop a VERY thick skin.
    Because regardless of whichever approach you take, whatever you decide, whatever you do, there will always be someone on the other side who disagrees with you. And some of them are downright mean about expressing that disagreement.
    Hang in there and keep writing. Please.

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