Is it ok for personal finance bloggers to be balanced?

Or should they be held to a higher standard?  If they’re preaching, do they have to be angels?

Do you HAVE to make your own laundry detergent and rinse out ziploc bags.

Do you HAVE to call all of your spending “sinful” and admit guilt and swear to do better any time you stray?

Do you HAVE to save up your money for travel just because the research says you’ll enjoy travel more than Stuff?

Do you HAVE to be constantly decluttering and keep your personal possessions to a minimum?

Must you set challenges and report your progress on achievement?

Can you just be a normal happy person who has found balance and doesn’t feel the need to be constantly improving one aspect or another of financial life?  Or if you are, do you have no business proselytizing?


48 Responses to “Is it ok for personal finance bloggers to be balanced?”

  1. Tara Says:

    I’d say that personal finance bloggers start posting about these things because they have a business to maintain. It’s honestly at that point that I will unsubscribe from a blog though because I don’t think I should feel guilty about spending money on stuff that makes me happy when I have no debt and I have plans.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a really good point. They can go that direction or they can do like the Motley Fool and start giving individual stock tips, even though their main philosophy is to just do index funds.

  2. First Gen American Says:

    I find some of those blogs interesting and some completely annoying, especially since many of those bloggers are born again frugal. I’ve always spent less than I matter what the $ amount, so I sometimes can’t relate to the reformed shopping addicts.

    I know I can be super frugal again if I needed to be, but I made a conscious choice to have a career that pays well so I can take vacations with out guilt and so I don’t have to wash out ziplocs anymore.

    And when PF’s preach that I’ve sold my soul to do that, it’s annoying. Even Babci, the frugalest of frugalistas didn’t live that way out of choice and worked all the overtime she could get. Life’s much better now that she can heat her house and not worry about the bill and go grocery shopping without running a tally.

    And to your last question, I don’t think there is ever a perfect balance. I think with every raise and every new life change offers an opportunity for lifestyle inflation. I think I’m pretty good in general, but as soon as I ignored it, I spent a ton more cuz it was there.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s also a really good point. The born-again frugals tend to be more zealous. Maybe they need the rules.

      Those of us first-gen kids who grew up with super-frugality knew that our parents were working for the day when their kids didn’t have to think quite so much about pennies. Whenever my father asks why I don’t do frugal X, Y, or Z, he is perfectly happy with my explanation of better quality or saved time (so long as I have a good reason).

      We actually seem to do ok ignoring our spending, but I think that’s only because we live in a town where there is nothing to buy. When you’re sick of local restaurants, there’s no whole foods, good local help is a pain to find, and you get too much travel through work… spending opportunities are more limited. One can only fit so much Amish furniture in a house.

  3. First Gen American Says:

    Oh and PF Pet Peeve # 571, I hate it when someone thinks washing out a ziploc or making laundry detergent saving $5-$10 for every hour spent is somehow more noble than going to a job and earning 5-10 times that amount per hour.

    Staying home for personal or flexibility reasons is one thing and I’m cool with that, but being judgmental to the people who don’t make that same choice is lame.

    I guess I have a lot of thoughts on this topic.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We have a list of pet peeves coming up in the next month. :) Only 10 though.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I totally agree with FGA. I don’t make a huge amount of money but I make enough that my time is really worth something; many times I would rather throw money at convenience. It’s not frugal with money but it saves me energy and aggravation. Let’s not forget those.

  4. Money Reasons Says:

    I’m very balanced… Even my gravatar is about balance (it’s from the movie Equalibrium).

    The stuff that I like, I buy (ex lattes). The stuff I don’t perceive as having much value I don’t buy.

    Now if I said that I’m a Extremely Frugal blogsite, then buying a latte world be a no-no…

    Well, I’m off to breakfast at the local restaurant (supporting the local community in my own way) with the Fam.


    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I wonder how we categorize these kinds of blogsites. I guess a good example is how JD at GRS is very flexible and tries things out and has gone through journeys that make sense– extremely frugal while paying down debt, then loosening up as his debt disappears and his income increases. Contrast that to Trent at TSD who regularly gets called a hypocrite for preaching one thing (and condemning people who don’t do the exact same) and doing another.

      If JD had bought a new car with a zero percent or low interest rate loan but had emergency money in the bank to pay it off, some of his readership would have thought it was stupid, some would have thought it a savvy money move, but nobody would be calling him a hypocrite. But his site is not an Extremely Frugal blogsite. He’s allowed to enjoy local lattes.

      (We had dinner out at a local German restaurant last night. We’ve been getting some fun new places to eat in town this past year… I might have to worry about lifestyle inflation yet!)

      • Money Reasons Says:

        J.D. in my opinion is perfectly balanced via using money that provides him with the most value!

        If I could do as well as J. D. with my money… I’d be happy.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      He sometimes lets the nay sayers (or yay sayers?) get to him too though. Usually he bounces back with a post on balance though. I guess most of us are insecure about one thing or another.

  5. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I should have also added: Do you have to spend every additional minute earning money? That’s another guilt-inducing extreme I see on some of these sites.

    • Tara Says:

      I agree! I hate that as well. I make plenty of money working Monday to Friday, so I see the rest of my time as my “me” time and I don’t need to spend additional time earning money. I need to decompress and not worry about money at some point in the week!

  6. Meg Says:

    I am feeling a little guilty. I post my goals and my progress throughout the month to help me stay on budget.

    In the past few months, I have stopped reading a couple of finance blogs because they just got old. I was sick of reading their opinions.

    You asked if you can just be a normal happy person who has found a balance. Hubby and I have not found that balance yet. :-( I still feel guilty for spending money knowing I have a goal to pay off hubby’s vehicle within the next month. I hope that once all of our debts are paid off next year, that this guilt will go away. BUT…we still have fun. Just on a budget (of $100/month.)

    You can call me fuddy – and hubby, duddy.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      No no, there’s nothing wrong with posting your goals and progress! Especially if you’ve got well-defined goals, like paying off debt or saving up for a downpayment or to stay at home with a new baby, etc. etc. That’s a good thing!

      It’s more, should we hold personal finance bloggers to a higher standard than we hold regular folks?

      And then implicit, there’s some question about what really is a higher standard, who defines what a personal finance blog is, and so on. (Really there’s a secret condemnation between the lines of people who allow for only one right answer to any question.)

  7. Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom Says:

    N&M, I just read a book on values called The Normal Personality – here’s a quote from the book:

    “When people learn that a particular lifestyle makes them happy, they think they have learned something about human nature, when in reality they have only learned something about themselves.”

    In the PF blogging world (and any other world for that matter), I think it’s important to drown out the noise and listen to yourself every once in awhile. For a long time, my personal focus was on early retirement, so I lurked on the ER forum, devoured ER books (YMOYL was my lighthouse beacon), read ER blogs, etc. etc. It was kind of hard to admit to myself after years of that focus that I actually really loved working – at the right place. So for me, financial independence really is something I probably “should” all over on people to do. Not go all hog wild like I did maybe – just a year of expenses put aside as a gift to yourself.

    But I don’t think anybody else is stupid for not doing that – I have a friend that’s a super-spender in debt up to her eyeballs. We’ll both be in the ground with dirt on our faces eventually and from that perspective this stuff doesn’t really matter. Different values = different choices. And with all the studies on neuroeconomics and MRI brain imaging showing activity, maybe we can’t really help ourselves and what we do anyway.

    I think what it comes down to is values. One of Reiss’ values is saving, there’s also independence and order. If you get someone with an abnormally high value for saving, independence and order – you’ll get a zealot for minimalist, super-frugal early retirement. Almost like a recipe. Fortunately the world is made up of all kinds.

    I find that anywhere that my values don’t mesh with what I’m reading, I’ll often feel guilty and somehow “bad” (or think they’re crazy). It’s like how I used to read fitness magazines and feel a compulsion to scarf down chips. :-)

    Someone like JD Roth probably has a fairly nice, average level on all his values – therefore probably appeals to that audience. I know I’d sure like to have a beer with him!

    Part of the difference between TSD and GRS seems to be that JD has journeyed through phases and encourages others to do so – find what works for them, where TSD is kind of stuck in frugal mode.

    Sorry for the overly long comment, I was actually gearing up to write a post on this!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I look forward to the post! And enjoy long comments. :)

      I do encourage everybody to read Your Money or Your Life, but I’ve noticed that everyone who reads it get something different out of it. That’s what makes it such a fabulous book. I love talking to people about what they got out of it, even when it’s completely different than what I got.

      Total Money Makevover is also great and serves an important segment of the population (and brings hope and an action plan), but YMoYL has greater applicability precisely because it doesn’t tell you exactly what to do. For me, YMoYL didn’t tell me to retire early, but to have enough financial wherewithal to dictate what I do and where and how I work without worrying about being unemployed. It appeals to my risk-averse nature– if you have enough savings, big risks become calculated risks. I’m not ever going to be trapped. But other folks do get different things out of it, like figuring out how much stuff is worth in terms of the time they work and so on.

      Re: physical tendencies toward/against delayed gratification– all is not lost… commitment devices and nudges can help people who want everything in time t but even though they know they’ll regret it in time t+1. (If they don’t regret in t+1, then they don’t need the commitment device, more power to them.)

      • Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom Says:

        Agreed that YMOYL can be all things to all people and should be handed out in high school – they did make me feel guilty for not wanting to run out and volunteer though! (Just don’t have a high value on idealism I guess – and I’m ok with that.)

        I appear to be the commitment device for my friend. ;-) I talked her down from a $3500 trip (on a maxed CC) just yesterday. Any suggestions for more portable devices? I’m kind of tired of being the Dr. Phil “what were you thinking?” bad guy. :-)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I tell everybody I recommend the book to, “Ignore the preaching about environmentalism in the introduction. It gets much better after that.”

        Well… Dave Ramsey seems to be a genius on the commitment device thing. I’ve seen so many people completely turned around by TMM. But I try not to meddle in people’s finances who I know IRL… they have to WANT to change first and I’d rather not be the catalyst. I also hate being the bad guy. With DH’s family, time and life experience has helped some of them, but not others. Personally I’m in favor of things like, “Save more later,” defaulting to contributing to a retirement plan rather than defaulting to not contributing, that sort of thing. (From the Harvard/Chicago/Princeton groups looking at these issues rather than the CMU/Wharton group.)

  8. frugalscholar Says:

    The sinner to saint model is very appealing to people–especially to those in trouble. Readers also like to hear about backsliding. No fun to be lectured to by a know-it-all.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ha! Yes, everybody loves Roxie Hart from the musical Chicago.

      I dunno, my really favorite people for my own personal finance choices are columnists like Liz Pulliam Weston or Walter Updegrave, or the early Motley Fool stuff before they went all stock-picking. I have no clue what their back-stories are, but I would guess they’re not born-again frugalites. But I don’t really have any money issues (to my knowledge… I *think* I have a pretty healthy relationship with money), so I may be in a minority there. I do LOVE watching people climb out of debt and I’m not crazy about major setbacks (Dog’s emotionally-caused new car purchase, for example… even if she can probably afford it, it doesn’t seem like she bought it for the right reasons).

  9. Donna Freedman Says:

    When I wrote “Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year,” I was watching every penny because I had to in order to survive. That entire first back-to-school year I never spent a single dollar at the college. Not so much as a soft drink between classes, even on the two days a week when I left my house at 8:15 a.m. and didn’t get home until 9:15 p.m. (I carried two bag lunches on those days.) Money really WAS that tight, and my divorce-lawyer debt was mounting. (Now-ex made good on his promise to drag it out as long as possible. Two years. Thanks.)
    Fast-forward to now: In the past few days I’ve plunked down approximately $1,300 for airfare for three upcoming trips, and committed to 20 days’ worth of lodging in the United Kingdom.
    In the past 10 months I’ve quit one of my part-time gigs (apartment house manager), paid for my niece and her boys to come down to visit from Alaska, and made five airline trips of my own.
    Unthinkable a couple of years ago. But things change. I am earning money these days and I can travel because I finally finished my degree and have opted not to seek full-time work.
    But my core values are the same. Being frugal is what makes all these things possible. I save where I can so I can spend where I want. Right now, where I want is…to be somewhere else. Most of my trips have been due to family medical issues or to see relatives and friends, but I am also starting to travel because I *want* to travel.
    Frugality is at the heart of all these trips, though. One of those five airline flights was a frequent-flier ticket and one was on a 90%-off “buddy pass” that a friend gave me (I’m using the other buddy pass for a December trip). One of the tickets for my niece and her boys was a $50 “companion fare” that I get with my airline miles credit card each year.
    I house-sat for two different people during one of those trips, and stayed with relatives or friends for all the others. I’ll be house-sitting for another trip to Los Angeles in early January; the money I’ll earn just about covers the ticket, so I look at it as five days in Los Angeles for about $30.
    I go to Chicago next month for a conference; someone else is paying for the flight and two days’ worth of hotel but I’m extending the trip to visit friends and sightsee. I’ll be staying at a hostel for about $29 a night (vs. the “special rate” of $209 that the conference hotel offered to extend). I’ll be staying at a hostel in London, too.
    Am I enjoying these trips? Oh, hell, yes. Some people won’t travel unless they can stay in five-star hotels. I don’t mind the spare room at my dad’s, and I don’t mind helping him on his Christmas-tree farm.
    And that’s the point: It’s MY choice and MY life. I can’t tell other people how to live their lives. I can only tell them what works for me. I can suggest some frugal hacks and lifestyle approaches, but it’s up to them how much they take away.
    Yep, I reuse bags, soak dried beans, pick up Coke bottle caps and trade them for VALUABLE PRIZES! (including items to give away on my blog), buy from thrift stores, walk or take the bus, don’t have a television or a car, etc. etc.
    I also donate regularly to charities and causes, have zero debt and sleep really well at night. And I’m going to London. :-)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think that’s something a lot of people lose sight of.

      In fact, a really good parallel is Attachment Parenting (AP). At its heart, AP means “do what is best for your child and your family” and don’t be afraid to listen to your instincts no matter what people tell you (it’s reacting to more proscriptive forms of parenting and trying to make new parents not feel guilty for doing what seems right to them). But I know folks (usually type-A people who start parenting groups) who think AP is some sort of list you have to check off and if you’re not cosleeping or baby-wearing or whatever you’re the anti-christ. Which isn’t the point at all… AP says it is OK to cosleep or baby wear etc. if it’s good for the family, but if it isn’t good for the family, then AP says not to do it.

      Frugality is the same way. You do what works for your situation and circumstances, maximizing your lifetime happiness.

  10. Roshawn @ Watson Inc Says:

    I strive for being as transparent as practical. I am not an advocate for extreme frugality in most cases; however, if someone wants to live extremely frugal for a goal, I’m for it. I did this. It would have been barely feasible for me to eliminate the kind of debt I had otherwise. Things are different now, and I’m more happy and balanced. Should PF blogger be held to a higher standard. I say no. Be authentic, and hopefully that will resonate with an audience. There’s someone looking for your voice too.

  11. Grace Says:

    I’m a big fan of “warts and all” blogging–but I prefer that the bloggers recognize their warts! I also like the emotional posts–the what we dids when we don’t know the exactly whys.

    I also think we have our own kinks when it comes to frugality–I don’t bother to turn on the heat quite a bit of the time, but then again, I’m a big gal and I’ve got one of those god-awful but warm blanket/robe/snugglie things on my couch. OTOH, I spend a lot of money on my adult kids’ families, which fries a number of my readers. I reuse teabags but draw the line a reusing baggies. Go figure.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We here at grumpy rumblings are completely unblemished! ;)

      I reuse teabags too, but mainly because I’m lazy. The diminished taste of the second cup is not as large as the annoyance of having to get a new bag. Many of my “frugal” decisions are actually laziness… Sometimes I lose weight because I’m too lazy to get the ice cream out of the freezer and forget about it until after I’ve brushed my teeth. (If only I were always so forgetful!)

  12. Crystal @ BFS Says:

    “Do you HAVE to make your own laundry detergent and rinse out ziploc bags.” I hope not since I don’t…

    “Do you HAVE to call all of your spending “sinful” and admit guilt and swear to do better any time you stray?” Again I hope not since I spend on fun stuff and write about it frequently…

    “Do you HAVE to save up your money for travel just because the research says you’ll enjoy travel more than Stuff?” I’d suggest saving money for any big expense but it shouldn’t matter if it’s stuff or travel – I personally like both as my iPod Nano and vacation account can attest, lol.

    “Do you HAVE to be constantly decluttering and keep your personal possessions to a minimum?” I really hope not since decluttering makes me feel good but I’m not minimizing…I like my DVD collection…

    “Must you set challenges and report your progress on achievement?” No. That is obviously a personal choice. I like giving updates but wouldn’t expect everyone else to want to do it too, lol.

    “Can you just be a normal happy person who has found balance and doesn’t feel the need to be constantly improving one aspect or another of financial life? Or if you are, do you have no business proselytizing?” I really hope so since I don’t seem to mesh with all the stuff above. :-)

  13. Debbie M Says:

    I think all personal finance bloggers should be balanced. The whole point of learning more about personal finance is to be better able to direct your finances so that they help you be happier. With the typical American being up to their eyeballs in debt, it makes sense that the typical American personal finance blog focuses on such alien concepts (to typical Americans) as frugality, simplicity, and making progress towards goals.

    If you’re atypical and doing fine, you still have the problem of finding topics to write about. But so long as you can’t yet afford everything you could ever imagine wanting, you can blog about choices, priorities, etc.

    I like the uber-frugality blogs because they’re more likely to talk about things I’ve never heard of that are within my means to try. I love frugality tricks because they are sort of like tax-free money, but, for my favorite ones, just ways to permanently need less money to be happy.

    If I were writing a personal finance blog this week, I would be talking about issues like how I just learned that cinnamon graham crackers are just as satisfying to me as pop-tarts at half the price for the size serving I use as a snack and how even though the organic 365 chocolate chips at Whole Foods are cheaper than the bulk organic chocolate chips at my local coop (previously the lowest-price version I could find), they are not always available.

    I do make my own laundry detergent (but not the liquid kind, ugh), and I don’t rinse baggies because I don’t use baggies (usually)–I use those plastic containers and old glass jars instead.

    I’m able to feel guilty both about spending and not spending, but mostly I’m getting it right these days. Love that.

    I save for travel because I like travel. I think that the research should be interpreted as showing that experiences are more rewarding than things, not just travel. (And again, mostly for people who have been stockpiling things for so long that they already have more than what they know what to do with.) So experiences could include going to plays, being in plays, doing various sports and hobbies, etc.

    I’m still at the place where simplifying and decluttering would improve my life.

    I do better with goals if I don’t tell people about them ahead of time–planning for the time when I can mention the accomplishment is much more motivating than having my friends keep me in line or something.

    Does anyone have a right to “proselytize”? I think most people don’t like to be preached to. That’s why blogs are so great–sometimes people preach, but at least they also give you the details on how and why what they’re preaching works for them. With all that extra information, it’s easier to tell if it’s something you’d like to try, too.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I like cinnamon graham crackers with milk.

      This post was inspired by an earlier post from a blogger asking forgiveness for his sins. He was beating himself up for choosing time over money, vowing to do better, and asking others to do the same. He really didn’t need to be (IMO, YMMV).

      I think the experience/stuff research shows that the average person in the US has too much stuff and not enough experiences. They’re at the wrong point on the stuff/experiences curve. It’s like saying you have too much pizza and not enough ice cream. Both pizza and ice cream are great things, but after your third piece/scoop of either you’d kind of prefer some of the other.

      If you don’t have much stuff and you’re sick of experiences, you don’t need more experiences and less stuff, even if the average person does. Most people have hit diminishing marginal utility on stuff, but not on experiences… or the marginal rate of substitution on experiences is higher than that of stuff. It doesn’t say anything about an experience being better or worse than stuff, just that we have too many of one and not enough of the other at the average point of consumption.

      There’s definitely a lot of good stuff out there on blogs!

  14. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    #2 says: I enjoy the experiences I have with my stuff. For example, I listen to my iPod every day. Reading books is a fantastic (in every sense of the word) experience.

  15. Molly On Money Says:

    I’m unbalanced…..recently I decided not to buy clothes for a year and that coupled with decluttering my closets has left me without any CLOTHES!
    Yes, I make my own laundry detergent and clean out my ziploc bags. I’m a project-holic, it’s the only reason I can think I get joy from making doing things like this (I also make my own liquid soap and facial cleaning products). My friend came by the other day and said the only reason she reads my blogs is because she doesn’t know anyone that would actually choose to live the way we do.

    This is the most fascinating post and conversation I have read all month!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Nah, that sounds balanced for you. If you enjoy it, more power to you.

      But, I think you just may have super-frugal cred. You can probably leverage that!

      I’m really enjoying the conversation too. I meant this post in one way (Do you have to be perfect to preach), but it’s really sparked a lot of very interesting discussion and different viewpoints. Tomorrow’s post may seem disappointing by contrast.

      And I think this is an all time high for us for comments on a single post! Not even the blue children post beats this one.

  16. Valerie Says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who is dismayed by Motley Fool these days and picking individual stocks. I mean seriously… doesn’t virtually ALL research show that investing in index funds beat picking individual stocks? Alas.

  17. Invest It Wisely Says:

    Just do whatever you want to do. This doesn’t have to be a popularity contest, and you have the right to be judged as wrong by others. Who’s to say who is really right or wrong?

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  19. Broke by Choice Says:

    I am curious to know what you consider “balanced” to be?

    I believe there is no standard for personal finance bloggers, because each person is different in their approach, experience, willingness to try new things, personality, age, gender, location, etc. This is what makes the PF community so dyanmic.

    I admit that there are some blogs that I choose not to read, but at the same time they have many followers. I imagine that this is the case for most readers.

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