The thin green line: Why you should be skeptical of financial blogs

Why you should be skeptical of financial blogsI've been blogging since before “blog” was even a word. (I wrote my first blog post twenty-one years ago last Thursday!) I've had a financial blog for a dozen years now. In that time, things have changed in a variety of ways. For instance:

  • Blogging has become more business-like and less personal. A decade ago, most blogs — even money blogs — were rooted in the author's individual experience. Nowadays, most big financial blogs have a minimal editorial voice. They're much like money magazines used to be.
  • Audience interaction is limited. In the mid-2000s, it wasn't unusual for blog articles to get dozens (or hundreds) of comments. This site has old articles with over 1000 comments. Nowadays, many blogs have removed reader comments…because they receive so few reader comments. And when blogs do allow comments (as here at GRS), they're scarcer than they used to be.
  • Today, most bloggers want to make money. In fact, that's their primary goal. When I started blogging in 1997, there was no way to make money from it. When I launched this site in 2006, my primary goal was to get out of debt. My secondary goal was to help others get out of debt. Yes, I wanted to make money — but that was only my third aim. It was almost an after-thought. (This was, in part, because it was more difficult to make money blogging in 2006.)

Most of the changes in the world of blogging are neutral. They're neither good nor bad. They just are. But I think the move to a more money-centric approach often does a disservice to readers — to people like you.

How I Became a Blogging Cynic

Twelve years ago, if I read something on a financial blog, I generally accepted it at face value. If somebody recommended a book, I trusted their sincerity. If they wrote about the best bank accounts, I believed they were telling me about the best bank accounts. If they raved about a company or service they liked, I had no reason to doubt them.

Today, I'm much more skeptical. Why? Because most of my friends are bloggers, and I know what they think and say in private.

Now, these folks are not bad people — I love them! — but, like most of us, they'll sometimes put profit ahead of, well, truth. Honesty. Objectivity.

  • Today, for instance, I saw an article from a colleague I respect. He was raving about a financial service. The problem? I'm damn sure he's never used the service himself and the only reason he's recommending it is he gets a commission on it. With his huge audience, he can make big bucks by promoting this company.
  • Or there was the time I overheard another colleague talking with her partner about an advertiser who had just cancelled their affiliate program. (An affiliate program is, essentially, a commission program. You provide a sale or a lead to a company, and you get a kickback.) “If they're not going to offer an affiliate program,” my colleague told her partner, “we're not going to promote them. We need to go back and change articles to feature a company that does offer an affiliate program.”

I wanted to call out my colleague on that last one but I didn't. I bit my tongue. I think her actions were shady, but I realize that not everyone shares the same values. What isn't right for me and my business might be perfectly fine for her. What's perfectly fine for me and my business might seem shady to somebody else.

I'm not willing to criticize other financial bloggers for what they do. I'm not in their shoes. Their business is not my business. They're free to make choices that adhere to their personal ethics. (My hope is that they're at least considering ethics when they make these choices.)

But I have to say: The stuff I hear and see behind the scenes has made me cynical. I've become skeptical of the stuff I read on other money blogs. (Not on all money blogs — I'll recommend some I trust later — but on many of them.)

The Thin Green Line

Here's a prime example of how what's right for one person (and business) may not be right for another: credit cards.

In the world of personal finance, credit card companies pay big bucks for sign-ups. Why do you get pitches for credit cards in the middle of cross-country airline flights? I guarantee you the flight attendants (or at least the airline) get a kickback. Why do services like Mint promote the hell out of credit cards? Because they make their money when users get new cards!

And why do financial bloggers write credit-card reviews? Because they're earning $100 or $200 or $500 per sign-up.

Does that mean promoting credit cards is evil? No, of course not. But while some people feel okay promoting credit cards, others don't.

I have never made a penny on credit cards. Not a cent. The opportunity has always been there, but I've never taken it. Having wallowed through twenty years of credit-card debt myself, I don't want to play a part in trapping other people in the pit. (True story: Ten years ago, I turned down $20,000 for a single blog post about a credit card. That's right: I could have earned several months' worth of income for a day's worth of work, but I said no.)

Now, having said that, I've made peace with the world of credit cards. I've come to understand that credit cards are not evil. They're a tool. And like any tool, they can be used constructively or destructively. I now believe I can promote credit cards — and earn commissions — in a responsible manner, doing my best to steer readers clear of debt. As a result, I'll soon be writing more about the subject, and I'll include affiliate links when I do. (This might happen as soon as next week!)

So, you see, what's right for one business may not be right for another. There's a thin green line that each of us is unwilling to cross — but that thin green line is in a different place for each person and each business. And that line can shift with time.

Actually, this is true for all sorts of businesses, right? One restaurant may not offer alcohol because the owner has religious objections to the stuff. Another restaurant might be vegan-only. Another might source only products from within a hundred-mile radius. And so on. This thin green line isn't unique to bloggers or to financial bloggers.

The thin green line

Your Mission: Be a Skeptic!

The trouble with the rise of blogging as a business is that the business has become the focus for most financial blogs. Financial bloggers aren't making decisions based on what's best for their audience. They're making decisions based on what's likely to bring them the most income.

And truthfully? They're generally looking at short-term profit rather than long-term profit. I've seen so many people make choices that earn them a big payout today at the expense of audience trust; as a result, their audience shrinks and they're less able to earn profit tomorrow.

This problem is even worse with corporate-owned financial blogs. As more and more businesses acquire small, personal blogs, these businesses make decisions based solely on short-term profit. They miss the fact that what's profitable in the short-term may actually kill the golden goose in the long-term.

So far, it probably sounds like I'm writing this article to call out my colleagues. That's not the case. They can do whatever the hell they want with their businesses. I wish them all the best. (No, really. I do.)

My purpose in writing this article is to encourage you, the blog reader, to approach financial blogs with skepticism. Do the same with any website nowadays, especially if it's about personal finance. My goal is to get you to think critically about the financial advice you read on the internet.

When a popular money blog recommends a specific mortgage company, ask yourself: Why did they write this glowing review? Did the author use the company themselves? Did anyone in their family use the company? No? Then what other motive could they have? And could their review be colored by the fact they're getting paid?

That list of “best bank accounts” on Financial Blog X? It's probably actually a list of “best bank accounts that pay me a commission”. And it's not just blogs. Find a list of best bank accounts on a nationally-known money site and odds are it's exactly the same thing. (Another common trick with lists of best bank accounts? Link to the ones that pay commissions, but don't link to the other ones — even if the other ones are better.)

Based on what I know of the space, it's especially important to be skeptical of reviews for credit cards, bank accounts, and so-called robo-advisors. Financial bloggers with big audiences (or strong search-engine presence) can make a ton of dough pitching these products, even if they wouldn't ever choose them personally.

Here are two specific examples:

  • A lot of folks promote Bluehost, a company that provides hosting for websites and blogs. Why do they pitch Bluehost? Do bloggers actually use Bluehost? No. I don't know a single one who does. Yet, people promote the company because they earn $100 per sign-up…maybe more. When asked why they push Bluehost if they don't use the company themselves, they'll say, “Well, my blog is too big. Bluehost is good for beginners.” Fair enough. But in private, I've never heard a single blogger say they'd use Bluehost even if they were starting out. Regardless, they're perfectly fine running “How to Blog” articles that promote the company. (I have nothing against Bluehost, by the way.)
  • In the personal finance space, you see ads for Personal Capital everywhere. I have them here on Get Rich Slowly. (I even have a Personal Capital review.) In this case, many folks do use (and like) Personal Capital. I like the service — primarily because I think they have one of the best retirement planning tools on the market. But many of the people promoting Personal Capital do not use the app for various reasons. In fact, some have strong objections to the company yet still push it on their financial blogs because they earn thousands of dollars per month doing so.

Every so often, you get to see a public example of a blogger having second thoughts, changing their mind about what they're willing to do for money. Last week, Early Retirement Dude wrote an article entitled “I Won't Be Advertising for Personal Capital Anymore, and I Apologize for Doing So”. (I love that piece for its honesty!)

Again, I'm not writing this article to call anybody out. And I'm not trying to hold myself up as “holier than thou”. No, my aim is to make sure that you, as a consumer of financial information, view recommendations with a critical eye.

Actually, skepticism is a handy skill in all walks of life. When you hear something, verify it before you believe it. And don't just verify it from a similar source. Seek out opposing viewpoints.

Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Critical Thinking

This is especially important in the realm of politics. If you hear something from a liberal commentator, seek out a conservative rebuttal — and vice versa. Don't live in an echo chamber.

One of my favorite ways to check the accuracy of a review? When somebody recommends a product or service to me, I use Google to search for “[product/service] sucks“. Or, if I'm on Amazon, I read the one-star reviews. You can learn a lot from the complaints about a company or product.

Readers First

Other personal financial blogs with traffic similar to Get Rich Slowly (about 10,000 visits per day) earn anywhere from $500 to $2000 per day. (Yes, really.) Get Rich Slowly earns only $50 per day. Crazy, right?

Part of this is because I'm lazy. Part of this is due to fear (no joke). But another part is because I've been wrestling with how to make money without compromising my personal values, without crossing that thin green line.

How do I advertise credit cards when I know credit cards cause problems for so many people? How do I promote banks in a way that I'm providing honest, objective info yet still earning commissions?

So far, I've been treading water using Google Adsense and Amazon links. I'm earning more than minimum wage with this blog — but not much more.

Get Rich Slowly is a business. It's a money-making venture. It doesn't make much money right now — about $2000 per month — but I'm hopeful that it can eventually earn as much as it did in the olden days: over $20,000 per month. That said, I'm not willing to compromise the editorial side of things to make a quick buck.

Here's my number-one guiding principle at Get Rich Slowly: Readers first.

In everything I do, from design to advertising to content creation, I try to put myself in your shoes. Does this article help my readers? Does this ad interfere with the reader experience? How does the layout of the site help or hinder the folks who come here?

You know why I don't have pop-ups or splash screens at Get Rich Slowly? Because I think they're actively reader-hostile. My colleagues tell me they vastly increase the number of subscribers and affiliate conversions, but I don't care. I personally hate pop-ups, so why would I subject my readers to them? That sounds like hypocrisy to me.

It's important to note that “readers first” doesn't mean “readers only”. A “readers only” policy would mean no ads. I'm not willing to run Get Rich Slowly for free. This is work, dammit, and I want to get paid for my work. (This notion is lost on a lot of folks at places like Reddit, where they think any blogger who tries to make money is somehow shady.)

“Readers first” means that before I decide whether to run an ad, before I decide whether to write a review of Personal Capital, I do my best to minimize the negative impact on my audience.

The best-case scenario is promoting something like a bank account. Helping readers sign up for good bank accounts is a win-win-win: a win for the reader, a win for the bank, and a win for me (because I get a commission). Amazon affiliate links are another no-brainer.

A middling scenario is something like banner ads at the beginning and end of my articles. Or my Personal Capital review. Or the upcoming credit-card articles.

Less-than-ideal scenarios include those two stupid ads I have embedded in the middle of articles right now, which seem to be causing headaches for certain readers. (Those are on the chopping block for when the redesign goes live. Eventually.) Or the promotion I did for Credit Sesame back in January. (My solution there? I did the promotion — because I was contractually obligated to do so — but I declined to take money for it.)

Last year at Fincon — the financial bloggers conference — I participated in a panel discussion called “What Will You Do for Money?” We talked about scenarios like this as we explored financial journalism and ethics. If you're interested in this subject, you can watch this video recording of the entire panel (which the Fincon organizers have graciously made available specifically for this article).

Four Financial Blogs Worth Reading

It's perfectly possible to run a blog — even a financial blog — in a way that serves the readers and provides an income for the author. That's how I made money before with Get Rich Slowly, and that's how I intend to make money in the future.

There are lots of other financial bloggers whose view of the thin green line is similar to mine. Some are big. You've probably read Mr. Money Mustache, for instance. Pete and I have remarkably similar views on monetization and serving the audience. It's easy, though, for MMM to play it safe. His audience is so large that even minimal monetization produces huge income.

I'm more impressed with new, small financial blogs who have made a commitment to serve their readers. When you're just starting out, you want to make money now now now. It's tough to wait. Most new bloggers bury their sites in ads. (I saw one a couple of months ago that was almost entirely ads — the editorial content didn't start until “below the fold”. Ugh.) Most new bloggers want to run advertorials and/or promote products and services with big payouts.

Here are four newer financial blogs that I think do a great job of making money while remembering to serve their readers:

Please note that these are by no means the only financial blogs worth reading. There are tons of folks producing quality content and putting readers first. These are just four blogs that I personally have found to be filled with useful, entertaining articles without the marketing that mars the experience for me on other sites. Simply put, these newer bloggers have earned my trust.

Honestly, if I were starting out, I'd be tempted to focus on the money too. I'm fortunate that I've earned a wad of cash already, so I can sit back and take a more measured approach. I'm not in a hurry to make lightning strike twice.

Instead, I'm going to stick to my Readers First pledge. Yes, I want to make money from Get Rich Slowly, but my primary aim is to help the folks who find this site to make and keep more money for themselves. If there are ways that I can do this while also earning a little scrilla, I'm going to do it.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to be skeptical of the information I find on other financial blogs. I encourage you to do the same. In fact, you should be skeptical of what you read here too. I know I'm staying on my side of the thin green line, but you don't know that. I want you to be skeptical of me and my motives until I've earned your trust.

Several GRS readers have written to let me know they love the “Spare Change” section that resides after the first post on this site's home page. I use the “Spare Change” to share worthwhile articles from financial sites around the web. It's my attempt to sift the wheat from the chaff so that you don't have to. You can find an archive of all past Spare Change links via my Pinboard account.

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Jim @ Route To Retire
Jim @ Route To Retire
1 year ago

So dead on, J.D. – things have definitely changed and it’s smart to be a skeptic. I’ve only been blogging on a more serious level for the past 3 and half years. When I started, I had two intentions: 1) To build up an audience over a few years to give me something to do when I FIRE at the end of this year (woo-hoo!) 2) To make some additional money That second bullet was something people didn’t really do years ago, but that’s a common intention now. I did, however, set some ground rules for myself at the very… Read more »

Ige Lewis
Ige Lewis
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I respect people with integrity and strong values. Integrity makes one deny himself some seeming-good stuffs for the good of others. Personally, going back to my college days. I absolutely resonate with that. There was this potential to make some money – and be yes, comfortable. But, if it’s going to be at the expense of ripping off someone? Oh no… not in a way. I went through the hard way but I’m glad I did. What more? I was refined just like a gold through fire. Good to read more on your values Roth! But, let me chip in… Read more »

Syn
Syn
1 year ago
Reply to  Ige Lewis

If I sold my site for multi-millions of dollars and got mine already, of course I’d go the holier than though route and say that people trying to make money online aren’t as good as me. Wouldn’t you?

Steveark
Steveark
1 year ago

I didn’t realize I was in such a minority group! I say nice things about Personal Capital and Vanguard because they both manage seven figure accounts for my wife and me. I don’t get a penny, have no ads and generate no revenue. I fund my site just for the fun of it. I think it is great that others have monetized their sites but I don’t need the money and never want it to feel like a job. I have noticed the change you point out, blogs are getting more mercenary every day. I’ve never seen a hint of… Read more »

Robert
Robert
1 year ago

Wow, very honest post. I completely agree that most lists of best credit cards, mortgage rates, etc all have the highest referral bonuses for the authors. I have written on some of these things, but I’ve made exactly $2 from blogging, and not in it for the money. I can’t see how any FIRE bloggers wouldn’t like Personal Capital though, its made my life so much easier – as of yesterday I have 39 synced accounts!

Raven_144
Raven_144
1 year ago

Thanks for posting this JD. I can say that I’ve never wondered if you were only in it for the money and were pushing companies towards us. You don’t write gushing reviews for a product every day/week/month, and so when you do write a post with a recommendation of a product/company I take it a bit more seriously than I would other bloggers. I’m glad there are still ethical people in the world and that you’re one of them!

Chris
Chris
1 year ago

J.D., thank you for this article. I have followed the world of blogging (including GRS) for over 10 years now, and I have noticed the change in content that you write about. I have quit following a lot of the blogs I used to read b/c it does seem the tone has changed more to make money vs connecting with readers. I have no problems with ethical commissions, if someone tells me about a product/service of something I need, I do go through the links to buy, I think that is fair. I have always considered you one of the… Read more »

Doug Nordman
Doug Nordman
1 year ago

I like your “readers first” standard, J.D.

Please call me out (or have your readers do it first) if you ever see me wandering off the path!

Joe
Joe
1 year ago

That’s the problem with money. It corrupts. It’s not an easy task to balance money and the readers’ interest. I wrestle with the Blue Host conundrum too. I could have made much more income with Blue Host, but I don’t recommend them. I’m with Siteground and I tell my readers to use that. It’s better for beginners too. Can you write about blogging now vs when you started? Is it more difficult to build an audience? The traffic seems more diluted now because there are so many blogs. I think readers should be a little skeptical too. Not everyone can… Read more »

The Debt Shrink
The Debt Shrink
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe

Hi Joe! When I read JD’s mention of Blue Host, I thought of your article on How to Start a Blog. I appreciate that you were honest about what you use vs. what had the biggest referral fee. Thanks to you and JD both!

Tim
Tim
1 year ago

Hey JD glad you are back and writing good content. Daily internet browsing was not the same without you.

Also should call out the endless guest blogging / trade interview and the echo chamber it creates.

Tim
Tim
1 year ago
Reply to  Tim

oh and also include a sidebar with your favorite blogs. Sometimes it can be hard to find them

Mike in NH
Mike in NH
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I probably drive up your Money Boss traffic because I still go over there for your blogroll. You probably look at the lonely visitor who clicks over a few times a week and wonder how it is that he hasn’t figured out there isn’t any new content being published anymore haha.

Ron Cameron
Ron Cameron
1 year ago

Thank you J.D. Your blog has always stood out to me as it’s always reliably good. It’s clear you’re more interested in providing quality content (and a lot of it!) than making a boatload of money. And I appreciate that.

You said:
“This is especially important in the realm of politics. If you hear something from a liberal commentator, seek out a conservative rebuttal — and vice versa. Don’t live in an echo chamber.”
If everyone did that, we’d all be in a much happier place!

Seonwoo
Seonwoo
1 year ago

I’ve recently breathed new life into my blog (5 posts in the past week – though I’m definitely not going to sustain that going forward) and I’ve struggled with this too – how can I monetize my blog without compromising my integrity? Today I put up my first post with an affiliate link. It’s for a product that while I don’t use it today, I did use and still recommend to my friends. But something like Personal Capital? I don’t personally believe in it because I have some pretty strong views about preserving my privacy. At the same time though,… Read more »

Zambian Lady
Zambian Lady
1 year ago

I think this is the best post you have written so far. Your blog is one of those I used many years ago to get my finances into a better state (not that I was in debt, though). It is refreshing to see that you still write as yourself and hope you keep it that way.

mike
mike
1 year ago

Get Rich Slowly is and has been a fantastic blog. No question you struck gold the first time around. To find magic in the bottle twice might be chasing the wind. Back when, I was a huge fan of your blog and Early Retirement Extreme. Jacob was certainly the real deal. When I first read Jacob, I thought, “Man, this guy is nuts”. But I allowed myself to keep reading and thinking what he said. And he made a lot of sense. Now I might be wrong in my interpretation of things, but Jacob gave Mr Money Mustache an opportunity… Read more »

FiddleFaddle
FiddleFaddle
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I agree with JD that one of the most interesting parts of personal finance sites are the personal stories. The fun of finance is in applying those limited number of topics to real-life situations, especially when you get updates on the people and see how they’re applying the knowledge they’re learning to improve their situation.

Colleen
Colleen
1 year ago
Reply to  FiddleFaddle

I think your stories about real people are like case studies that I read about in business school. It’s interesting to see the theoretical side of personal finance applied to a specific actual instance. It’s definitely why I keep coming back and reading these articles. Even though I feel like I know a lot about personal finance, these case studies make me think what I would do in their situation or open my eyes to something I never even thought about. It’s a great way to learn, and I really think it’s an area you need to explore more if… Read more »

EarlyRetirementDude
EarlyRetirementDude
1 year ago

Much obliged for the shout out, brother…

Cindi
Cindi
1 year ago

I’ve been a blogger, earning money since 2007. It was never much money. I earned it through Google, based on the number of readers I had per month. I was a little bit provocative but that was only to entice readers. I don’t think I ever lied or made up stories. Everything was always based on my own life and my own financial experiences. I used to detest other bloggers who were never sincere. (still do) It was always so easy to see right through them. Around a year ago, Google disabled several money making blogs, mine included, for some… Read more »

HWB
HWB
1 year ago

I’ve noticed the decline in comments, but I hadn’t really paused to think about it, and I think your observations on critical thinking are probably related. I used to comment online frequently, but these days I do so much less frequently than previously. For me, a large part of this is due to the precipitous perceived drop in the level of discourse on most sites. Everyone immediately jumps to red alert and eviscerates anyone who marginally disagrees with them, which is a huge deterrent for those who aren’t as fervent. Perhaps this was always a problem that was addressed through… Read more »

Mike in NH
Mike in NH
1 year ago
Reply to  HWB

So I don’t know if it was the chicken or the egg, but the comments got watered down around the same time as the blogosphere content in general. I don’t engage in comments much anymore because so many of them are just people trying to get the name of their blog out into the open. It would be interesting to see how many people stopped commenting if they were no longer given the opportunity to link to their site.

Tanya CR
Tanya CR
1 year ago

Thanks for this blog post for many reasons. First, as a reminder to think critically about everything we come across, from websites to opinions. Second, for a insider’s perspective on financial blogging. Finally, as someone starting a (hobby) blog its good to hear about decisions and consequences I will need to consider going forward (including having/not having a comments section)

AA
AA
1 year ago

The Personal Capital shilling really bugs me because I see it a lot on blogs where I otherwise like the content and respect the bloggers. I want to know what they *actually* use for their budgeting tools, not what they’ve been paid to promote. I’m willing to believe that some of them do use Personal Capital for retirement planning, but there is no way they’re using the PC budgeting tool. Behind the scenes I know they’re probably using homegrown Excel spreadsheets or YNAB, and I wish they would own up to it. If YNAB is the best tool for you,… Read more »

Syn
Syn
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

But it really does seem like you are calling out bloggers who are trying to make a living while you already got your huge windfall. Do you not see this?

S.G.
S.G.
1 year ago
Reply to  Syn

If you can’t do it ethically then find another way to make a living.

JD isn’t calling out individuals. I think that’s good enough. If people disagree with his standards then there is no harm done. If they’re i sulted even when not called out maybe they need to determine if they’re mad at him or themselves.

StarBright
StarBright
1 year ago

So glad to see this post today as I JUST recommended Get Rich Slowly to some folks on another site who were looking for personal finance blogs. I said Get Rich Slowly was getting good again and then came over to see this – YES!

I really appreciate your strong editorial stance and how well curated GRS feels these days.

Coincidentally Bitches Get Riches was the other blog that was highly recommended in that thread.

Debbie
Debbie
1 year ago

Wow, dead on. I’ve been thinning out the financial blogs I’ve been reading over past 1 1/2years do to checking out recommended businesses, apps, etc and finding them terrible. Made me wonder why different blogs would glow about a business with the provided link when it was terrible. Even found that true with certain financial podcasts. One of which is hawking all natural hair growth vitamin. I do like Personal Capital but had to tell them to quit calling me to schedule an appointment with my advisor. Also sick of all the financial blogs attempting to get me to purchase… Read more »

JoeHx
JoeHx
1 year ago

I make pennies on my blog. It’s primarily for me to practice writing and web design. The “making money” part just serves as a metric for how well I’m doing. I don’t like posting referrals for things I don’t like – I have a referral link page, and am considering taking down the referral link for iBotta simply because I don’t use iBotta anymore. I’ve just been lazy. I used to have a popup come up after the reader scrolled for a bit, but it didn’t work like I expected (at the time I was trying to get more Facebook… Read more »

A Millionaire Next Door
A Millionaire Next Door
1 year ago

I’m more skeptical and warn my readers to be wary of the person’s credibility behind the blog. I typically only trust advice from people who are actually financially independent with net worth >$1M. There are many bloggers out there who have very little (or no) net worth yet run PF blogs. They give advice and shouldn’t. They are not experts on personal finance matters as they have no credibility. I find the trustworthy PF and FI bloggers actually give their net worth and many publicly post their assets and liabilities. (Even worse are finance journalists and authors who have no… Read more »

Selena
Selena
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

JD,

You were transparent about your circumstances and I don’t think anyone is taking issue with your site or how you positioned yourself. I never looked at GRS as a PF site doling out hard and fast money rules. It always felt like a journal chronicling your path out of debt.

Cofrog
Cofrog
1 year ago

Hubby noticed a few years ago that Personal Capital was mentioned everywhere, but no one ever mentioned Mint or YNAB, which made him think (rightly) that PC pays quite well whereas the other two do not (if they pay at all). I’ve noticed the same with AirBnB (vs. Homeaway and a few others). To me, if everyone is touting it, it means the company behind it pays them well. That’s ok, bloggers do deserve to make money for all their hardwork and I do appreciate all that they do and the information they give me. I do often click on… Read more »

Rebecca
Rebecca
1 year ago

What web hosting service do you and other bloggers use? I just switched from BlueHost to Wix, after using BlueHost for three years. I selected both based on online research, and now suddenly I’m wondering if I was tricked. My sites are HTML, not WordPress.

Spencer
Spencer
1 year ago

Long time reader, first time commenter. I apologize for not commenting sooner! I use to read your articles regularly in 2007 after I graduated college. I wasn’t sure how to manage my expenses as I didn’t learn it from my parents. This site helped get my spending in line in my early professional years. I read your articles regularly until about 2010. After the site was sold I struggled with the new content and slowly stopped reading. Once you have read a “five steps to retirement” article you have read them all. I always checked back in periodically to see… Read more »

Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
1 year ago

Hey old-timer 😉 For a while there, I was running out of good blogs to read because so many of my favorite money blogs had grown so much they sold (ahem) or went to a corporate model. I only read the PF blogs that continue to be personal and honest. That doesn’t preclude them making money, but it does generally knock the bought-out blogs off the list because readers aren’t reader, they’re revenue generators and that entirely changes how it’s written. I’ve received a bit of advice on how to better monetize AGSL but it mostly points to getting rid… Read more »

Laura
Laura
1 year ago

It is a fine line. I do prefer to actually try a product or get lots of legitimate feedback before doing a review (usually try myself). It takes time and effort, so there aren’t too many reviews on my site currently. On the other hand, making some money would be nice, though have been blogging for the past two years for “kicks” (no income yet so treating it as writing practice). And yes, I am a legitimate Personal Capital user, especially for tracking investments because a lot of other programs out there are lacking in that area. If you know… Read more »

S.G.
S.G.
1 year ago

I think it’s especially annoying in FIRE.

You might say this is retirement policing (I’m a card carrying member, after all) but I have a really hard time with someone who has “retired” to write a FIRE blog if they’re getting paid that much, and then dont acknowledge it! “I saved up a bunch of money and live off it and I’m totally retired!…Except for the $10ks I don’t acknowledge being paid to write about my identity of being FIRE.”

I mean, it seems relevant to the credibility of their entire identity!

Laura
Laura
1 year ago
Reply to  S.G.

Yes! There are some really good blog posts out there (though now i can’t for the life of me find them) about the inherent contradiction between writing about FIRE on a blog that the owner depends on for income.

Looking at the list of FIRE blogs I follow, most of them fall very much toward the “reader first” end of the spectrum – 1500 Days to Freedom, JL Collins, Frugalwoods, Luxe Strategist (whom I love, and was glad to see the call-out in this post!). Many others just don’t offer enough fresh content to keep me interested over time.

Jeannie
Jeannie
1 year ago

Yeah. I’m still a little upset at signing up with Bluehost through a blogger’s affiliate link.

Frogdancer Jones
Frogdancer Jones
1 year ago

You’re absolutely right about the comments dropping off. I’ve been blogging since 2007 on my personal blog and people have certainly become far less chatty than they used to be.

It’s a shame – I live for the comments.

And if you ever see a pop-up on either of my blogs – tie me to a tree and leave me there. I hate the damned things.

Jane
Jane
1 year ago

I also started blogging recently to help myself keep accountable and document my debt free journey. I knew nothing about personal finance, nor th me FIRE, or about blogging. And as I learn more, I realize there’s so contention behind serving your reader and serving yourself. It doesn’t have to either/or, but so many finance blogs are purely about money- making. I mean, just look at the sheer number of “how to blog” courses online. I’ve paid for two myself! And you can tell that some just do it to make money. It is honestly tempting to not try to… Read more »

Selena
Selena
1 year ago

JD,

You and MMM are the only financial blogs I frequent because most of the others feel like blatant advertising sites.

I appreciate not getting smacked with ads or questionable posts pushing products.

It’s nice to see you blogging again. I took a hiatus from PF sites entirely after you sold the GRS because the quality of content here nose-dived.

Thank you.

Selena
Selena
1 year ago
Reply to  Selena

And wanted to add that I kept reading your blog not because I was struggling financially and needed help, it was your sincerity, your ethics, and your voice. Your writing style flows easily. You have a conversational tone you use to share your story and I’m a sucker for a good story.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
1 year ago

Get ’em, boy.

WantNotToWantNot
WantNotToWantNot
1 year ago

Honesty is in short supply these days. What a terrific post. Thanks, J.D. for standing up as someone who realizes that money isn’t everything.

Character and Integrity—money can’t buy those.

I followed one financial blog for years until I realized how dishonest the writer was—it was so disheartening. But, everyone draws her or his own thin green line.

Like others here, I prefer your blog and MMMs. Both of you have the cards on the table. I respect that.

Marty
Marty
1 year ago

Thanks for the candid article. I love the comments section. Many news outlets have done away with it and I always like to read about their views on the subject.

Keep up the great work on this BLOG JD. You are making a difference.

Bonnie
Bonnie
1 year ago

Thank you, JD. Yours has always been one of my favorite blogs and is the only PF blog that I still check on a daily basis. Keep on keeping on! PS Even some of the “good” bloggers people are mentioning above use way too many affiliate links, including Personal Capital. It does get very annoying. I also generally stop reading when the original voice (like you) stops being the only content contributor. Like others, I stopped reading GRS when you stopped writing for it. I stopped reading Frugal Farmer and others, too, when the same thing happened. Your voice is… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

“Let’s get the band back together!”

Patti Ghezzi
Patti Ghezzi
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Where is Honey, and how is she doing on paying off her student loans? Also here for the personal stories. I have read all the tips.

Fearless Squirrel
Fearless Squirrel
1 year ago

This is excellent! I have run across a few posts since I started following the FI community that really had me wondering if the writer actually used or cared about the product. I always look for second opinions when it comes to recommended products just in case. Also, I’m curious why folks don’t actually use Bluehost. I was apparently suckered in by all the bloggers talking it up and have been happy so far with them. Am I in for a nasty surprise down the road?

Jaime
Jaime
1 year ago

I had Bluehost, and had a poor experience with them. When something was wrong with my hosting site, instead of helping me, their customer rep just wanted to upgrade me to the next package and my blog at the time had only like a couple of articles. It wasn’t a big site or anything.

Shawn R
Shawn R
10 months ago
Reply to  Jaime

Which hosting site would you recommend for a budding blogger looking to get started? I watched a lot of Create and Go videos, and was going to sign up with Blue Host.

Xin
Xin
1 year ago

This was a great post, and I enthusiastically second the recommendation for The Luxe Strategist and Bitches Get Riches! I think a lot about the issue of how blogging has changed, though I come at the question from a slightly different perspective, as I was originally far more interested in fashion/lifestyle blogs, and the “business model” for a monetized blog in that space is different. Around 2007-2008, fashion blogging was pretty new and people were pretty excited just to get free clothes from brands and invitations to fashion shows, but often weren’t getting paid to feature the items (I think,… Read more »

JohnR
JohnR
1 year ago

Thanks for keeping it real, JD.

The issues you discuss are very real and all too common. Astute readers are aware of the tactics.

What about PF blogging conferences? I can only imagine that many seminars are geared toward monetizing…

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
1 year ago
Reply to  JohnR

Are. They. Ever. I go to one conference that started out the way PF blogging started out: “How do we produce articles that help people get control of their finances, pay off debt, and build security or even wealth?” Now I hear people in the hallways boasting about how they’re “crushing it!” with regard to affiliate marketing, or how they hope to double or triple their blog incomes. Lots less about how to provide a valuable service. To be clear: There’s nothing wrong with making money. How you make that money is up to you. It comes down to what… Read more »

pdiddy
pdiddy
1 year ago

You may not want to be judgmental, but I don’t mind:

Disclose, disclose, disclose.

Have all the affiliate links you want, just be candid and forthright about that.

(Brought to you by Coca-Cola.)

S.G.
S.G.
1 year ago
Reply to  pdiddy

But wouldn’t you prefer a Coca-Cola brought to you?

Keith Schroeder
Keith Schroeder
1 year ago

This has to be required reading for every blog out there: new or seasoned. I struggle with the same issues. A business ought to turn a profit so the balancing act begins. The slope is darn slippery. I’ve promoted certain programs I don’t use, but enjoy when others do. I don’t like turning everything over to Personal Capital so I don’t use them. I love it when consulting clients have everything in one neat package. I see value so I add the banner ad without much in the way of a review. It is so easy to be tempted to… Read more »

Eric @ Flip n Finances
Eric @ Flip n Finances
1 year ago

This is a post I particularly useful to me now J.D. I’ve been working on my own blog these last few months and I will never advertise something I don’t use personally. I don’t use Adsense and I’m not sure I ever will. I have yet to decide if I will advertise Personal Capital, but I may in the future. If there are products I love AND I use them, then I will recommend them to readers. I will not advertise the “Top 10 Credit Cards” or anything I don’t personally use. If I don’t use it, how can I… Read more »

Piggy
Piggy
1 year ago

Preach, JD, PREACH! Luxe Strategist is also one of our faves, so we second that recommendation. Kitty and I talked about this a lot when we were first starting out. At the very least, we wanted to cover our hosting fees, but the idea of advertising, affiliate links, and writing sponsored posts just… squicked us out. So we decided to try to get by on donations. We thought we’d get $5 here and there, but we’re so grateful and humbled that we make enough through our Patreon to fully fund the blog and then some. Plus, it’s another way we… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I think of you more as Kim’s prince consort.

Mid America Mom
Mid America Mom
1 year ago

Hi JD I have read you and Mr. for quite some time. I really value the lack of affiliate ESPECIALLY when it comes to money. One reason we do not have a financial planner etc is because I am not interested in paying commissions as I view them as inherently not in my best interest Period. And yes I view affiliate as commission but realize in this environment that at least some is needed to keep the lights on. Recently I started to view personal financial information on the internet much more critically as I am looking for a solid… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
1 year ago

May I recommend “Not Your Parents’ Money Book: Making, Saving and Spending Your Own money” by Jean Chatzky?

Also: “How to Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not)” by Beth Kobliner.

And: A blog called TeensGotCents.com (which was created by a 16-year-old girl).

Notice the complete lack of Amazon affiliate links in this reply. 😉

Mid America Mom
Mid America Mom
1 year ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

LOL! Thanks so much Donna and I have enjoyed a few of your posts 🙂

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
1 year ago

Thanks, ma’am — and I hope you will again.

Liz
Liz
1 year ago

I really loved this post as a reader. People aren’t trained to employ critical thinking when reading information on any website which seems to be a big problem with disinformation. It’s obvious listening to podcasts that they all have the same sponsors. I do encourage you to accept sponsorship or pitch sponsorship to companies that you can get behind and outline why on your blog because it’s a service to your readers. I also appreciate your endorsements of the other blogs listed above. I’ll be sure to try them. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

savenospend
savenospend
1 year ago

I think that the “monetize everything” has ruined blogs in general. Same with youtube.
It’s hard to find good information.
In fact searching often yields red herrings.

I don’t think everyone needs to blog and make nickels and dimes in passive income if they are regurgitating the same thing with little insight.

I miss the days of personal bloggers and people who were passionate about content and weren’t just popular on social media, but actually had chops.

Mike in NH
Mike in NH
1 year ago

Careful fella, you might have to watch your back now! This has JD’s Jerry Maguire moment written all over it!

Sidebar: Nice manuscript 😉

Brad Castro
Brad Castro
1 year ago

Great post. What I feel has deteriorated the most when it comes to blogging and other online resources, etc. – and this goes beyond the personal finance space and well beyond blogging itself – is that it so much is about automation and scaling vs. personalization and actually helping people. Case in point – I just/finally launched a twitter account for my site/business and have a (very) small handful of followers at this point – but fully half of them are spammers, or people/businesses that offer twitter related promotional services. Pretty safe bet they’re not avidly following my tweets. Personalization,… Read more »

GYM
GYM
1 year ago

Loved this post 🙂 Thank you for sharing. I used to have a blog I started in 2009 that was profitable ($1000 US a month) and sold it. I restarted a new blog in 2017 and BOY it is hard work and the blogging atmosphere doesn’t seem like what it used to be. On my old blog there were 100’s of comments on one post (one of the major ones that had like 400 comments, I ranted about a particular financial advisor company) and these days people don’t seem to be writing comments anymore. It’s very de-personalized. When I read… Read more »

Accidental FIRE
Accidental FIRE
1 year ago

Do bloggers actually use Bluehost? No. I don’t know a single one who does. Let me fix this for you – I Use Bluehost. I can name a bunch of others who do too. Don’t paint us all with a broad brush. Granted, you don’t know me, but still. Financial bloggers aren’t making decisions based on what’s best for their audience. They’re making decisions based on what’s likely to bring them the most income. Let me fix this one too – SOME financial bloggers aren’t making decisions based on what’s best for their audience. They’re making decisions based on what’s… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
1 year ago

“Readers First” — fixed that for YOU.

And I’m glad to know that some (lots of?) PF bloggers are able to focus on readers’ needs rather than defaulting to the almighty affiliate earn-o-sphere.

By any chance will you be at FinCon18? If so, I hope to say hi in person.

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