The dark side of personal finance

There’s a dark side of personal finance that’s killing our society. And it’s everywhere, from Snapchat, Facebook and LinkedIn to anywhere we consume content online. Worst of all, the offenders are often high-profile personal finance blogs like The Penny Hoarder, Clark.com and Save the Student.

What am I talking about? Plain old bad advice. Horrible advice, for that matter. And there’s a reason this bad advice is being spread – it’s lucrative for publishers in the personal finance world. Think affiliate links, sponsored posts, and hard sells. It seems as though everyone’s out to just make money, rather than help people. And in the personal finance world, and that’s a huge problem.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a ton of shady and suspicious ads popping up in Snapchat. These are ads that have been clearly approved by Snapchat, and the ads are selling get rich quick schemes, extreme fat loss schemes, and social media marketing schemes – to name a few. In Snapchat’s case, it’s clear that the company values the ad revenue versus curating and allowing only high-quality legitimate ads to appear on their platform. And that’s too bad.

One of the ads I kept seeing on Snapchat linked out to an article on The Penny Hoarder. I’ve heard of this site for years, but never quite realized how awful it is. For a full-fledged rant on The Penny Hoarder, read this article. In short, it seems as though every other word in The Penny Hoarder’s articles are affiliate links. I don’t mind an affiliate link thrown in on occasion, but when every article is laced with them and it’s obvious the author couldn’t care less about teaching you (and instead shoves bogus products and offers down your throat) it starts to really annoy me.

If you do a Google search for ‘make money’ or any similar phrase, you’ll immediately see what I’m talking about. The advice is all the same… Take online surveys. Search the web and let a company track your history. Trade stocks. Review websites. Use cash back apps. None of these are worthwhile, and none of these will give Average Joe anything more than a couple bucks in exchange for lots of time or personal information.

There are good personal finance blogs and websites out there. I run across tons of small blogs that are doing things right. But for the most part, once a blog gains a significant following, the owner sacrifices quality and integrity in exchange for an income (or a lump sum, if they get bought out).

Long story short, don’t get sidetracked by get rich quick schemes, don’t waste your time on money making strategies you don’t understand, and understand what it looks like to be “conned” online. I want to read personal finance articles that really have my best interests at heart, and I imagine you want the same thing.

Someone else is already doing it

This post’s title has been weighing on my heart a lot recently. “Someone else is already doing it.” That’s a phrase that’s been holding me back in a number of different areas of my life.

What do I mean? As an example, I’ve been searching for whatever it is that really motivates me – and also sets me apart from everyone else. I’ve been trying to really figure out what I love. My passion. Is it photography? Marketing? Web development? Coding? Blogging? I’m super interested in all of those things, but what holds me back from really digging in to one of them is that someone else is already doing it really well.

I know that just because someone else beat me to it doesn’t meant I shouldn’t do it. I know I could work harder than that person, and do it better. But I tend to stop there. I might get pumped up temporarily, but soon that excitement fades, and more time goes by without action.

What happens when we tell ourselves that someone else is already doing it is that it gives us an excuse to quit. It’s a cop out. It’s usually tied to laziness, and perhaps a little bit of a lack of confidence, too. When we see someone else doing what we want to do, and see them doing it really well, we often think “good for them, it must be nice.”

My favorite photographer, Peter McKinnon, talked about the danger of thinking “it must be nice” in a recent vlog post on his YouTube channel. He boils that way of thinking down as something toxic – an excuse that leads to nothing but a negative attitude. And he’s so right. If we want something, we need to go after it full force, and keep chipping away until we have it. We also need to do it in our own way, and stop trying to copy other people.

I look around at all the personal finance blogs out there, and it’s so easy to think that everything has already been written about. That all of the tried and true ways to handle your finances are already known. That there’s nothing new to teach. But that’s such a negative way of thinking.

Look around at everyone you envy, everyone that already has what you think you want. Most of them got there after a lot of hard work – years of pouring themselves into their craft. And most of them got to where they are today by being themselves. Not by trying to copy other people.

I’m still trying hard to figure out what I want to dig my heels into. Is it my corporate career? Turning my side projects into something bigger and quitting my day job? Continuing to grow my photography skills? I’m not quite sure, and that’s okay. Getting to where we want to be is a process, and oftentimes we don’t know where we want to be until we actually get there.

Staying focused on getting out of debt

I can’t believe it’s been well over a year since my last post. I’ve been horrible at posting new content! And I sincerely plan to change that starting now. So let’s get into the topic today: Staying focused on getting out of debt.

Even though I haven’t been active with the blog, I have been killing it in terms of tackling my debt. My wife and I have paid off about $10,000 in debt since March, and that’s just from my income and a little bit of wedding gift money. But sadly, our overall debt is only down a few thousand bucks since my last debt update (and my wife brought zero debt into the family). Like most normal newlyweds, we tacked on a lot of expenses between our wedding, honeymoon, expensive gifts, and other things we probably shouldn’t have spent money on.

Nevertheless, we’re paying down debt aggressively, my wife is completely on board, and we have less than $20,000 in debt to go. We are doing our best to avoid eating out, we have barely bought any new clothes since we got married, and our getaways are very few and far between. When we do get away, it’s somewhere within driving distance and I’m using rewards points to book our hotel.

All that said, I know I’m not a great example of a hardcore get-out-of-debt fanatic, but I’m still chipping away. Still moving in the right direction. Never as quickly as I want to be, of course, but I’m still hanging in there.

How are you doing with your own personal finances? Are you living paycheck to paycheck? Racking up credit card debt? Or are you financially free and living life comfortably within your means?

Moral of today’s post? We’ve got to stay focused if we want to win with our finances. Idling along won’t cut it.

Stop Bashing Millennials

I’ve had conversations about millennials with a handful of people over the past few weeks, most recently when it comes to politics. To be sure you and I on the same page, a millennial is the generational name given to individuals entering young adulthood around the year 2000. Another name for the Millennial Generation is Generation Y. As such, it sits in between Generation X and Generation Z.

Nearly every day you hear the term millennial on talkshows, news stations and in politics. Stereotypes say millennials are the social media generation, the lazy generation, the entitled generation, and the generation that can’t put their phones down and are addicted to technology, video games and the internet.

All of this is garbage. I’m a millennial. I love technology, yes, but my favorite toy growing up was my mother’s old typewriter. My first recollection of the internet was dial-up at 56k per second, I had a walkman, and I called my friends using both corded and wireless landline phones. I didn’t get a wireless flip phone until sophomore year of high school, and I was one of the first people on Facebook when it was opened up to the general public. Clearly your typical late 80s / early 90s kid.

But really, I’m not much different than the generations before me when they were my age. Generations are just an awfully simple way to segregate folks into different categories. In fact, nobody can even agree on the specific starts and ends to each generation. It’s a convenient way to group people, but in today’s politically correct world where everyone’s offended at everything, I’m surprised generations still exist in the fashions they do today.

How does this all relate to money, you may ask? I just read an article that quoted some expert claiming that millennials don’t understand money, they aren’t setting aside money for retirement, and on and on. There’s a talk by Adam Conover of truTV’s Adam Ruins Everything titled Millennials Don’t Exist. I suggest you watch it, he’s saying a lot of the same things I am. In short, young people are much more open to change, and the older you are, the more set in your ways and bitter you become. It’s as simple as that.

“Kids these days” has been a saying for many generations. The 18-25 year old hippies of the 70s were just as reckless and careless as millennials are. And we’re not necessarily any more glued to technology than the Baby Boomers. Nearly everyone consumes social media, watches YouTube, can navigate the web and spends their work day on a computer. Our generation just came of age while everything exploded. Our generation’s children will be more receptive to change and adapt quicker than our generation will by that point, and the cycle will just continue.

If you’re a millennial, or even Gen Z, and you’re frustrated and roll your eyes whenever someone stereotypes your generation, just show them they’re wrong, rather than fit into the stereotype. We’re all living on this planet at the same time. We’re all presented with the same technology, the same politics, the same economy, and on and on. We’re just experiencing them at different times in our lives.

Winning at Personal Finance is an Invisible Accomplishment

There’s a problem with personal finance… It’s not sexy. Most people find the topic of personal finance to be either boring, too complex or too depressing. In one of my first posts, I described how it felt to pay off a credit card in full. I had somehow piled up a few thousand dollars on the card, and the feeling of having it completely paid off felt pretty amazing. But there were no fireworks when I paid it off, no congratulations from the credit card issuer, and no tangible benefits other than not having to ever worry about that debt again.

If you’re not in the top 1% or didn’t receive a financial windfall, winning at personal finance often seems like an invisible accomplishment. Again, once you pay off a debt, that’s it. It’s just gone. Those around you won’t be able to visually tell you’re any better off, and if you’re normal you probably have many more debts left to pay.

Just like learning a new language, reaching your fitness goals, or advancing in your career, winning with your finances takes time. If you’re average, you probably have some lingering student loan debt, credit card debt, an auto loan and likely a home mortgage, too. Those debts won’t go away quickly, even if you’re “gazelle intense” (as Dave Ramsey likes to say). And as you probably agree, there’s nothing sexy about cleaning up your finances.

Unless your income is vastly greater than your expenses, winning at personal finance takes a long time. There always seems to be a tipping point throughout the course of each person or family’s journey towards financial freedom, but for the majority of the ride it’s slow and steady. And that’s a tough pill to swallow for a culture that thrives on instant gratification. The world doesn’t care about our individual financial situations, how much debt we have, or how much of a burden the debt is putting us in. Yet if we can manage to delay gratification, put aside that vacation, and focus until we’re out of our financial messes, the reward at the end of the tunnel will be huge.

One of my favorite financial sayings of all time is this: Don’t use money you don’t have, to buy things you really don’t need, to impress people you really don’t like. That line has so much truth in it – and so many of our decisions are based on how we think people will perceive us. But none of that matters! Fix your mess and ignore the crowd.

Who’s to Blame for Your Student Debt?

As I write this, former President Bill Clinton just concluded a speech endorsing his wife at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The United States is in the heat of an exhausting political season. Hillary’s presidential campaign recently announced new proposals on higher education, one involving eliminating college tuition for families with annual incomes under $125,000 per year, and others involving lowering federal student loan interest rates, making tuition free at all community colleges, and instituting a three-month moratorium on all federal student loan payments.

Let’s take a minute to reel in the rest of Hillary’s plan. Her plan would cost some $350 billion over ten years and would be paid for, as the Hillary campaign claims, by limiting “certain tax expenditures for high-income taxpayers.” I’ve dug for more details on what certain tax expenditures are in this case, with no luck. Yes, it’s election season and lots of claims are made with zero sound financial basis, but come on. I have $20,000 in loan debt I still owe to Uncle Sam, but I signed my name on the dotted line seven years ago and made a commitment to pay that money back when I got out of school.

Under Hillary’s proposal, students in college simply have to work ten hours per week to do their part in making their tuition free. Just ten hours per week? And hardworking taxpayers take care of the rest? What a dream! If you can’t detect my sarcasm, I apologize. As someone who received two bachelor’s degrees in four years, spent most semesters loaded with 18 credit hours, spent around 20 hours or more each week at a part-time job, served two internships, served as news editor for my college paper, and had quite the normal social life at college, mind you, I find the ten-hour requirement laughably low.Continue reading “Who’s to Blame for Your Student Debt?”

Minimum Wage Does Not Equal Living Wage

I get frustrated when someone claims that people earning minimum wage should be paid a “living wage” and that minimum wage was designed for folks to get by on. I may be wrong, but to my knowledge minimum wage was only established to serve as a “wage floor,” reduce poverty and ensure economic growth is shared across the workforce. But before I dig any deeper, let’s pause and take a look at history.

Supposedly medieval England was the first to adopt a sort of minimum wage, one which was fixed to the price of food through a set of ordinances originally created to enforce a maximum wage. But we don’t live in medieval England, it’s the 21st century and I’m writing this from Atlanta, Georgia. So let’s look at the history of the US minimum wage.

On Saturday, June 25, 1938, President Roosevelt signed 121 bills, and among them was the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. This act banished oppressive child labor, set the maximum workweek for non-exempt employees at 44 hours per week, and set the federal minimum wage at $0.25 per hour (about $4.25 in today’s dollars). Today, we can define minimum wage as the lowest wage that an employee can pay its employers. States can set higher minimum wages than the federal minimum wage, but the federal minimum wage is currently set at $7.25, and has been at that amount since July 24, 2009.

Someone working full-time at the federal minimum wage makes about $15,000 per year. This is clearly below the poverty line (and I’m not here to argue that). I acknowledge that $15,000 per year in today’s dollars is essentially nothing. But why would someone settle with a job paying minimum wage? If you can speak English (or any language for that matter), read and write, you should be able to pick up a job paying well over $7.25 per hour.Continue reading “Minimum Wage Does Not Equal Living Wage”

The 3 Prerequisites to Make Money Blogging

After digging through some blog posts of mine from years ago, on a blog that no longer exists, I wanted to share a short post I wrote about what it takes to make money blogging. So without further ado, here’s the original post:

It’s easy to set up a blog. You can do it in less than five minutes. What you can’t do so quickly is earn money with your blog. That takes three things: dedication, value, and time. Don’t try to take a shortcut – there’s no guaranteed fast track to blogging success.

Dedication. Dedication means committing to a task or purpose. In other words, KEEP BLOGGING. No ordinary person has become successful overnight through blogging. Those that became or will become successful spend hours, days, weeks, months, and years writing content for their blog.

“In other words, KEEP BLOGGING.”

It’s important to stay dedicated because if you aren’t dedicated to your blog and your topic(s), neither will your audience. Sitting down and writing a blog post every week (or even every day) proves that you’ve got plenty to say and will greatly improve the odds that people will keep coming back.Continue reading “The 3 Prerequisites to Make Money Blogging”