Who Are You to Give Personal Finance Advice?
After three months of blogging, I have been asking myself the following question. Who are you to give personal finance advice? My negative inner voice likes to whisper these sweet nothings into my ear. The more I think about it, my inner voice is asking a good question. Besides living below my means and saving some money in retirement funds, I haven’t done anything special.
On the flip side, my inner voice occasionally asks rational questions such as the following. Who is the primary audience for this personal finance blog?
Well, I’m glad my inner voice asked this one. For years my inner voice has been encouraging me to find an outlet to discuss personal finance topics. Let’s face it, talking about money is taboo in our culture right along side politics and religion. Opportunities to discuss money in the real world are limited, so why not take it to the digital world? When you’ve found the secret to financial prosperity that so many others are blind to, how can I not want to share it? Live below your means, pay off debt, and invest. Simple, right?
Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. As recently as 2015 we spent more than $30,000 in vehicles in one year. We even took out loans to finance the vehicles. After the feeling of guilt washed over us, we then started paying the cars off aggressively.
One year later we nearly used all of the equity in our personal residence to finance a rental property.
See related blog post: Backing Out of a $70,000 Profit House Flip
That property ended up making someone a lot of money. However, if one or two things would have went wrong it could have brought down the whole house of cards for my family.
I Do Have a Story to Tell
People need to hear more often that paying off debt is REALLY hard. At least for me it is. Too often we see articles where some millennial paid off $80,000 in debt in two years. For most people doing the same is unrealistic so they don’t even try. These headlines make it seem so easy, when it’s not.
So here is what I have to say to my negative inner voice when it asks if I should be giving personal finance advice. I do have a story to tell. That’s why I’ve chosen to blog about personal finance and financial freedom. People need to hear real stories of the struggles related to paying off debt, saving, and investing. We’ve been paying down debt for almost seven years now. The path has not been straight and many unexpected expenses have come up along the way.
We were at a crossroads back in 2011. Already nearly $200,000 in debt we had just agreed to go in on a lake house (condo) purchase with my family. My mom had always dreamed of owning a condo on a lake. We still have the condo today and I don’t necessarily regret going in on the purchase. However, shortly thereafter the pressure of debt continued to mount.
Our personal residence then started to have issues. We had to go to the bank to take out a home equity loan since both of our bathrooms were leaking.
The speed on the financial treadmill continued to go up. If it was dialed up much higher we’d be in an all out sprint. Who knows if we’d be able to turn back.
We could have continued to follow the path of typical above average income American families. This would include buying nicer cars and a bigger house as our salaries increased.
Thankfully, when we hit the crossroad we had an awakening and started taking steps in the opposite direction. Since 2011 we have paid off all of our consumer and student loan debt, built an emergency fund, continued saving for retirement, and are now close to paying off our mortgage.
Is it Happening Again?
When I look around it feels like 2007/2008 all over again. The economy is hot and savings rates are back to all-time lows. People are starting to take out the big mortgages and are becoming more careless with consumer debt.
People need to know there is another way. Through discipline and delayed gratification you can find great freedom. I want to help people think differently about money through my story. Families who make above average incomes have no reason to live a life of debt. Some debt is fine, but too much can be catastrophic.
The best part of our story is hopefully yet to come. I’m excited to share it and hope that many of you continue to join me along the way.
Back on topic. After blogging for three months I’ve found myself asking, who is my audience for this blog? Even though I may not be fully qualified to give personal finance advice, I feel this deep desire to get my story out there. So to answer this question, I’m writing for many different people or groups, and even myself.
Who is My Audience for this Blog?
Myself and My Family
At this point I’m wouldn’t suggest taking personal finance advice from me. I am a believer that you should take advice from people who have achieved the goals you want to achieve. How can I tell people how to achieve financial freedom when I’m not there yet? I’m not going to take real estate advice from someone who has never bought a property, no matter how smart they are. However, what I can do is share my story on the journey to get there.
The good news is we have done a few things right so far. By paying down all non-mortgage debt and minimizing lifestyle inflation we’ve been able to make quadruple mortgage payments every month for the past year and a half.
You see, when we started this journey back in 2011, we were hardly able to save any money. My wife had gone back to school for her teaching certificate and wasn’t making hardly any income. Additionally, we were financing her education through more student loans. Nevertheless, we made sacrifices and still found a way to save a few hundred dollars a month.
When my wife was hired on as a public school teacher, instead of stepping up our lifestyle we instead put most of her modest teaching salary towards pay down student loans. The student loans totaled $48,000 when she graduated.
We’ve been doing this debt pay down thing for a long time now. You have to understand, I AM TIRED OF PAYING OFF DEBT.
This is why we have had moments of weakness such as going back into debt to buy cars. Even as recently as last year we had a brief period where we were looking at new, expensive homes.
So who am I writing this blog for? Right now mostly for me and my family. It helps us stay accountable. If we screw up again I will put it out there for all to see or stop writing. Our story is still in the early chapters, and I know the best is yet to come!
Upper Middle Class
I started working at my current organization back in 2007 fresh out of graduate school. Bright-eyed and bushy tailed, I was so grateful for being able to work for a great organization. It was (and still is) challenging, rewarding, and interesting. A lot of my colleagues are equally as grateful and passionate about their work.
I was however surprised when I learned that some individuals didn’t share the same excitement and passion. I then started looking around at friends and family outside of work. Mind you, these were people who made good money and appeared to have great jobs. Why were so many of them miserable?
Then you start paying closer attention to the stories of couples divorcing over money issues. People who maybe lost their homes during the financial crisis since they weren’t prepared for the storm.
I came across several individuals who lost a job late career. Without sufficient savings or retirement funds, they couldn’t find a new job paying anywhere close to what they made before. What a hopeless feeling after working so hard for so many years with little to show for it. These were people in the upper middle class who made good money throughout most of their career.
So much brokenness, stress, and despair. Much of it because of DEBT.
Becoming debt free and hopefully financially independent isn’t about quitting a job for me. I love my job. Becoming financially independent is about being able to weather the storm, because it’s coming at some point. I have experienced a tremendous amount of freedom when getting hit with a $5,000 bill for a new roof and not batting an eye because we had savings to cover the expense. I would hope to feel the same level of freedom if a time ever came where I lost my job. Yes, I’d miss the work. Though I hopefully will not lose the roof over my head or even worse my marriage.
So who am I writing for? Today I’m writing for myself and my family. Tomorrow I hope to write for the upper middle class to help show them the path out of debt to financial freedom.
The Personal Finance Community
The personal finance and blogging communities that I follow are nothing short of amazing. Sites such as BiggerPockets, DebtFreeFanatics, and Rockstar Finance are all filled with incredible, supportive individuals.
What I’m finding after blogging for a few months is it can be tempting to focus my writing too much on the individuals in these communities. The Twitter likes and forum kudos can be addicting. No matter how supportive these communities are, I have to remind myself these communities are not my primary audience. The people in these communities are already financially savvy for the most part. In fact, most of these individuals know way more than I do about personal finance topics.
Even if the personal finance community isn’t my primary audience, I hope to continue propping up other personal finance blogs, and they do the same for me. By propping each other up we can get our voice out there together. Collectively our community can increase awareness of the dangers of debt and benefits of financial freedom.
Bloggers generally make money by selling ads, making referrals, or selling a product. It takes a lot of time and effort to produce a blog, and bloggers should be compensated for their hard work, time, and effort. While I have not started trying to monetize my blog, and some point I likely will.
At this point what’s most important to me is helping others through my story. Even if I never make a dime from this blog, if I can help a few people change the way they think about money this will be a success.
I hope to always stay true to my values without making compromises to make money. I’ll give one example in what may be an unpopular opinion. I hope to never use my blog to intentionally promote credit cards. Promoting credit cards can be a great way to make extra money on a blog. Even though credit cards are a tool and not inherently bad, they are the number one tool for accumulating bad debt. And for me, knowing something I’ve promoted could influence someone to go into debt is completely against the purpose of this blog.
I’m sure there are plenty of ways to monetize this blog without compromising my values. That time may come at some point, though for now I’m just happy to get my story out there for others to see.
Low to Moderate Income Population
I’m not going to spend too much time on this one. The low to moderate income population is desperately in need of financial literacy. Schools are getting better at promoting financial literacy, though there is still a long way to go. I would love nothing more than to inspire low to moderate income families get out of debt and pursue financial freedom. However, the reality is these things are really hard to do when making a below average income.
I have a personal goal outside of this blog to volunteer to help spread financial literacy, especially in low to moderate income communities. However, the purpose of this blog will be more focused on above average income earners who struggle with debt.
Who Am I to Give Personal Finance Advice?
At this point I’m mostly giving personal finance advice to myself as a way to stay focused and motivated. Writing this blog has been a tremendous help in our debt payoff journey. Once I’m out of debt and begin investing aggressively, hopefully my story can be inspirational to others. My mission is to get people to think differently about money through my story. People need to realize that money can buy peace of mind and freedom, not just stuff.
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