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

Why you should be skeptical of financial blogs I’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.

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There are 109 comments to "The thin green line: Why you should be skeptical of financial blogs".

  1. Jim @ Route To Retire says 22 August 2018 at 05:28

    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 start of my site. And the biggest of my rules – don’t recommend something that I don’t use or believe in myself.

    That limits some profitable avenues, but I’m glad I did that. My readers trust what I have to say and I don’t want to steer anyone down the wrong path.

    Great post, J.D.!

    — Jim

    • J.D. says 22 August 2018 at 05:38

      “Don’t recommend something that I don’t use or believe in myself.”

      I think this is a great guideline, Jim. That’s why I found it so hard to write about Credit Sesame earlier this year, even though I had an obligation to do so. I’m sure the company started with good intentions, but currently I don’t see the value proposition. You get your credit score for free. So what? There are other, better ways to do that now — ways that don’t involve getting constant email. Why would I recommend this to my readers?

      This concept is also why you don’t see a lot of negative reviews around here. It’s not that I only publish positive reviews, but that I don’t think negative reviews serve much of a purpose. If I don’t like a product or service, why publicize it? What good does a negative book review serve? (That said, I do publish negative reviews of stuff like The Secret, material so bad that readers need to be warned away. And even if I don’t do a lot of articles with negative reviews, if I don’t like something, I’ll mention it in passing in other articles.)

      • Ige Lewis says 22 August 2018 at 22:14

        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 a question…

        Considering that you can’t possibly test every product, what do you think about recommending a product you trust but haven’t used, if you explicitly tell your readers through your Affiliate disclosure…

        • Syn says 25 August 2018 at 01:57

          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?

  2. Steveark says 22 August 2018 at 05:29

    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 that in your blog though. Which I’m sure is one reason you are so admired and respected, plus you write amazing content that is life changing. Like this post.

  3. Robert says 22 August 2018 at 05:30

    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!

  4. Raven_144 says 22 August 2018 at 05:36

    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!

  5. Chris says 22 August 2018 at 06:21

    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 good guys, and even more now that I have read this.

  6. Doug Nordman says 22 August 2018 at 07:02

    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!

  7. Joe says 22 August 2018 at 07:13

    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 be trusted.

    • The Debt Shrink says 29 August 2018 at 14:48

      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!

  8. Tim says 22 August 2018 at 07:18

    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 says 22 August 2018 at 07:21

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

      • J.D. says 22 August 2018 at 08:01

        The redesign will include a resources page that lists some of my faves. Until then, the Spare Change section is a good discovery tool.

        • Mike in NH says 24 August 2018 at 10:38

          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.

          • J.D. says 24 August 2018 at 10:45

            Haha. That’s hilarious.

            I had that blogroll here at Get Rich Slowly when I re-launched, but I had to remove it. The trouble is that the code I’ve written for it pings each blog every time a visitor loads a page. As a result, I was sending an extra 10,000 pings to each of those sites every day, and some of the companies hosting the sites weren’t happy. Oops. What I need to do is create a dedicated page here at GRS that tracks the blogs I recommend and shows their last three articles. Then folks like you can actually go to that page to see what’s out there, but we won’t be overloading anybody with traffic.

    • J.D. says 22 August 2018 at 08:00

      I get why the echo chamber exists. It’s easy. You get to know and respect your colleagues, so you interact with them more than anyone else. You want to share their stories and have them share yours.

      But I agree that this phenomenon, while easy and comforting, serves to homogenize the blogging landscape rather than create a useful diversity of experience and opinion. It’s like how Facebook creates information silos by only showing viewpoints similar to your own.

      This is something that Kim and I have been talking about as I prepare to dive into video. One of my primary focuses will be interviews. It’s tempting to simply interview the same folks that everyone else does, to interview my colleagues. But what value is there for my audience if I do that? Aren’t there already dozens of interviews with Chris Gulliebau and Mr Money Mustache available online? My solution is to mix it up. I’ll interview some of these folks, but I’m more excited about producing videos in which I chat with everyday people, with friends, with GRS readers. That’ll help me get out of the echo chamber.

  9. Ron Cameron says 22 August 2018 at 07:21

    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!

  10. Seonwoo says 22 August 2018 at 07:33

    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, I recognize that many people don’t care about their privacy nearly as much as I do and could get a lot of value out of it since it is a great product, privacy aside. I do have a post drafted that discusses Personal Capital and Mint, so I could put an affiliate link there, but I can’t make up my mind on if I want to.

    • J.D. says 22 August 2018 at 08:02

      Seonwoo, knowing you I suspect your comparison is fair and balanced, that you’re serving your readers. If this is the case, I’d absolutely include the link.

  11. Zambian Lady says 22 August 2018 at 07:35

    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.

  12. mike says 22 August 2018 at 08:22

    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 to post on his blog. I think that was one of the huge springboards for MMM. Of course, there have been other springboards, but I think ERE having MMM post on his blog greatly moved the needle for MMM. MMM maintained the momentum because he was the real deal, and he wrote great stuff.

    Sadly Jacob was a firstcomer and didn’t monetize his blog. His blog was simply his unusual ideas.

    I’m currently subscribed to ~40 different personal finance blogs. As you can imagine, most has been said, so there’s now a lot of noise. I’m sure most bloggers now scratch their heads and say, “OK, what can I come up with now”. I think even you’d agree, and MMM, that what needs to be said, has been said. I would think that’s one of the reasons MMM rarely posts.

    • J.D. says 22 August 2018 at 08:42

      I think of it a little differently. I don’t think of it as “everything that needs to be said has been said”. I think of it as “there are a limited number of topics to write about”. (This is also how several big-name financial journalists I’ve spoken with think about the problem.) The challenge, then, is to figure out how to approach these limited topics in new ways. That’s why I’m such an advocate of sharing actual real-life stories.

      Real-life stories — like the story of Wally and Jodie I shared the other day — are like puzzles. How do we take known PF principles and apply them to an actual situation, a situation that’s messy and complicated and not some easy theoretical thing? When we do this, there are infinite things to say about money and personal finance.

      But you’re right that there are only so many PF concepts that can be covered in a purely informational way. And the number that are actually interesting and apply to a wide audience is even smaller. This yet another reason it’s smart to focus on the problems of practical application…

      • FiddleFaddle says 22 August 2018 at 09:50

        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 says 22 August 2018 at 10:08

          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 you can. Thanks for always looking out for your readers!

  13. EarlyRetirementDude says 22 August 2018 at 08:24

    Much obliged for the shout out, brother…

  14. Cindi says 22 August 2018 at 08:34

    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 strange bizarre, pathetic reason. And they did it just right before I was supposed to receive my income check for the month. How convenient. After that, I deleted myself and all those years of writing (and uploading photos) completely out of Google (poison pill) and off the internet. Nothing from my past remains.
    I just got a notice a few weeks ago that Google is embroiled in a class action suit, and lost, for specifically doing to me what they did to thousands of others. Eventually, the notice stated, I WILL get my income check. At least 30% less of it.
    But I never really bogged just to get money. That was secondary. I genuinely wanted to share my financial experiences with others, in hope that others would learn from my mistakes.
    I do have another blog now (Diary Of A Mad Retiree) and it is completely ad free. I won’t even answer emails asking me to promote anything. Just not going to do it. I’m no longer interested in making any money. I’m an early retiree who is financially independent. I’m just still interested in telling my story, sharing my experiences and helping other people who are retired by telling them just exactly what it is like. For me. You won’t ever hear me brag that I successfully retired to Hawaii because I can live like a native and love it. OMFG!
    I still read other blogs; some just for a laugh and others I just love to annoy and expose them for the phonies they truly are.
    The readers that I have now are just wonderful, loyal people. It’s a different blogging world out there. We share ideas. There is never a disparaging word and for that I am eternally grateful. One of my readers told me you were back blogging and I have enjoyed your writing (and YouTube videos) ever since.
    Honesty is the BEST policy.
    People know. You really can’t fool them.

  15. HWB says 22 August 2018 at 08:47

    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 comment moderation, and as the volume has increased, moderation has been made impractical?

    In many ways, I think this also contributes directly to the “comfort” of echo chamber media, where you aren’t exposed to aggressive attacks or cognitive dissonance that comes from challenging information that contradicts your world view.

    There was an interesting article out of MIT looking at one country’s attempt to address this type of acrimonious debate; you might find it interesting, although it’s not particularly finance related:

    • Mike in NH says 24 August 2018 at 10:46

      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.

  16. Tanya CR says 22 August 2018 at 09:44

    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)

  17. AA says 22 August 2018 at 09:59

    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, say so!

    Anyway, rant over. This is a great and much-needed call-out, JD.

    • J.D. says 22 August 2018 at 10:04

      There actually are some bloggers who use Personal Capital for everything, but it’s easy to tell who they are. They’re passionate about the tool. Otherwise, you’re right: Most use YNAB or spreadsheets or whatever. (As everyone here knows, I use a long-outdated version of Quicken to track my money. What can I say? It works the way I want. But I do track my accounts in PC too so that (a) I have a quick dashboard of my financial state and (b) I can access the awesome retirement tool.)

      Also, I want to reiterate that I’m not trying to call out other bloggers. Instead, I’m trying to shift the focus to you, the readers. I want you all to be active readers, to ask questions when you read financial blogs or watch financial videos or listen to financial podcasts.

      • Syn says 25 August 2018 at 01:59

        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?

        • J.D. says 25 August 2018 at 08:47

          Of course I see this, which is why I was careful to note multiple times in the article that that’s not my actual intention. It’s not my place to criticize how other people choose to run their sites. My job is to inform readers so that they’re armed to handle situations where it appears that they’re getting objective advice when they’re actually being pitched.

          It’s the same thing with Consumer Reports, right? They don’t criticize companies for manufacturing products a certain way or making choices with how they provide service. However, Consumer Reports *DOES* let its readers know which products and services it thinks are worthwhile. More than that, the magazine (and company) try to equip readers to be better consumers. That’s what I’m trying to do here. And that’s why I go out of my way to link to blogs that I trust (and that I think readers can trust) while also sharing dozens of articles each week from other sites.

        • S.G. says 25 August 2018 at 16:39

          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.

  18. StarBright says 22 August 2018 at 11:30

    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.

  19. Debbie says 22 August 2018 at 11:52

    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 their course on creating a money making financial blog. I stop reading them when they do that.

    Your honesty over many blog posts is why I signed up for your year long course.

  20. JoeHx says 22 August 2018 at 11:57

    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 page likes) and, like you, I find them annoying. I also don’t want to build an email list. I rarely sign up for email lists, and when I do, I tend to unsubscribe rather quickly.

    Another reason I think some blogs don’t have comments is the ungodly amounts of spam. Yes, there’s spam filters, but it can still be mucky to root through those that get through.

    All in all, I agree wholeheartedly on being skeptical.

  21. A Millionaire Next Door says 22 August 2018 at 12:41

    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 net worth yet make a living in the field… entirely different debate, “not experts” as John from ESIMoney calls them)

    • J.D. says 22 August 2018 at 12:50

      This reminds me of a complaint I used to have about a decade ago. At the time, there was a boom in marriage and relationship blogs. Many were written by young men in their early twenties who had been married for a year or two. (And some weren’t even married yet!) It used to bug me when they wanted to offer advice on how to have a happy marriage. It made me even crankier when they wanted to level judgment after Kris and I split up. Dudes, come talk to me when you’re in your mid-forties. “I’m 24 and have been married a year,” does not make you qualified to label yourself an expert on marriage.

      Anyhow, I see your point — but don’t entirely agree with it. When I started Get Rich Slowly in April 2006, I was completely unqualified to offer financial advice. So I didn’t. I didn’t position myself as an expert. (I’ve never positioned myself as an expert.) Instead, I said, “Hey, this is my story, here’s what I’m doing, here are the things that work for me and the things that don’t. Follow along.” By your standards, I wasn’t qualified to run a personal finance blog, but in retrospect I’m proud of what I’ve produced.

      All this is to say, somebody with little net worth and no financial training can produce quality content. But I think it’s vital that they’re transparent about their situation, and I think they need to make it clear they’re not an expert.

      • Selena says 23 August 2018 at 01:08


        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.

  22. Cofrog says 22 August 2018 at 13:19

    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 their links if I’m going to be using that product anyways.

    But, like you, I do think it’s important to read everything with a little bit of skepticism. Doesn’t mean I don’t believe their reviews, just means if everyone has the same glowing review of the same product, I should look a little deeper before I 100% trust them.

    Awhile ago, a blogger asked her readers how they felt about non financial product advertisements. I appreciated that she put the questions to the readers. She was all about full disclosure which to me goes a long way in my trusting her advice.

  23. Rebecca says 22 August 2018 at 14:41

    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.

    • J.D. says 22 August 2018 at 14:54

      From my experience, bloggers use a wide range of hosts. For a long time, I used Dreamhost but Dreamhost sucks. I would never recommend them to anyone. All of my sites but GRS still live there, but that’s because of inertia, not because I like them. GRS resides on…I can’t even remember. Let me check… GRS lives on WP Engine, which is what several of my close colleagues use. But other folks use other services. But nobody I know uses Bluehost. (Again, I’m not saying they’re bad. I know nothing about them and have no opinion. But I know the people who promote them don’t actually use them.)

  24. Spencer says 22 August 2018 at 15:07

    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 what would come from the site over time. Needless to say I was pretty pumped that you came back to the site! Before I used to read your articles because of your writing style and to educate myself with ways to manage expenses. Now the reason I read them is more due to the way in which you deliver your message. I enjoy your honest writing style and find it very entertaining. I feel like I am enjoying a beer with a buddy while talking about financial issues.

    As you say it is a fine line between writing good content and getting paid. I don’t mind the credit card advertisements or the bank recommendations as I understand that is part of the game of getting paid. In fact I am all for you finding ways to leverage your site financially. Your “Readers First” philosophy does not go unnoticed and the key is to stay true to your philosophy. That has what has kept me coming back through the years. There are several of your colleagues in the industry that I used to read as well and no longer do because they sold out their site (literally and figuratively).

    Keep up the great work!

  25. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life says 22 August 2018 at 15:23

    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 of the soul of the blog and that’s not worth it. Not for me, anyway. I’d love to make a living from the work I put in but it has to be in a way that works for me as well. That means no shilling, and being as honest as I can without outing myself and putting my family at risk.

    I’ve made a small impact on people in my wider internet circles who aren’t part of the PF community and that’s as valuable to me as the money. If I can’t quit my day job to blog full time, and all indications are that that’s a no ;), that’s ok. I’ll live, with my integrity intact.

    • J.D. says 22 August 2018 at 15:33

      For those who don’t know, Revanche has been blogging about money as long as I have! (Or close enough.) I think she started in 2006 also.

  26. Laura says 22 August 2018 at 16:47

    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 of good programs/spreadsheet setups to track these easily across multiple accounts, then holler.

  27. S.G. says 22 August 2018 at 18:02

    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 says 22 August 2018 at 19:11

      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.

  28. Jeannie says 22 August 2018 at 22:14

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

  29. Frogdancer Jones says 22 August 2018 at 22:33

    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.

  30. Jane says 23 August 2018 at 00:31

    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 monetize. Every blogging course tells you to do so! But I have to remember why I started blogging in the first place. And if it doesn’t get slot of viewers or commenters, it’s okay at this point. I think in this virtual world, we lose sight by focusing on the “quick & fast” instead of dedication to the slow and steady. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

  31. Selena says 23 August 2018 at 00:52


    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 says 23 August 2018 at 01:00

      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.

  32. Donna Freedman says 23 August 2018 at 01:28

    Get ’em, boy.

  33. WantNotToWantNot says 23 August 2018 at 06:15

    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.

  34. Marty says 23 August 2018 at 07:08

    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.

  35. Bonnie says 23 August 2018 at 07:21

    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 always honest and helpful but NEVER judgmental–and I can think of only a few others who meet that standard and none who do it in quite the engaging, mature way that you do.

    • J.D. says 23 August 2018 at 07:31

      Well, as a word of warning, if I am able to ramp up income on GRS (in a way that keeps me on my side of the thin green line), one of my top priorities is to hire staff writers. I’m super eager to bring back folks like Donna Freedman to this site. I think having other writers is great because it allows readers to experience other viewpoints and voices.

      However, when I do add staff writers, I’ll be very selective.

      • Donna Freedman says 23 August 2018 at 11:01

        “Let’s get the band back together!”

      • Patti Ghezzi says 23 August 2018 at 12:46

        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.

  36. J.D. says 23 August 2018 at 07:48

    Hey hey. For those still reading the comments this late in the day, I just watched this video on YouTube calling out videogame critics for some of their antics. The point is similar to the one I’m making here: You have to read game reviews with some skepticism. Game reviewers too have a “thin green line” that they’re walking.

  37. Fearless Squirrel says 23 August 2018 at 07:49

    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?

    • J.D. says 23 August 2018 at 07:54

      Again, I have nothing bad to say about Bluehost. I have zero personal experience with them (other than their affiliate manager sitting down with me at Fincon 16 to ask me to write about them). For all I know, they’re perfectly fine. What I do know is that 90% (or more) of the Bluehost promotion that I see comes from people who have never used the company and never would.

    • Jaime says 16 September 2018 at 04:24

      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 says 24 August 2019 at 08:02

        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.

  38. Xin says 23 August 2018 at 08:00

    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, it’s possible they may have been getting paid, and just not disclosing).

    Affiliate programs quickly became more popular, giving the blogger either a few cents per click or a percentage of the reader’s total purchases from a made through the link (at no extra cost to the reader, similar to Amazon affiliate), which can add up to huge numbers, but the bigger moneymaker was and is sponsored posts, where a brand both gives the blogger free product and additional money to post (thousands of dollars per post or campaign for those with large audiences).

    You do see people who, when they started, had a distinctive personal style or extremely picky criteria for their fashion purchases letting those old standards slip in favor of only promoting brands that will sponsor them (and the affiliate income from linking other stores that don’t sponsor them, even if its substantial, seems not to be enough to be worth the effort for some blogs). Longtime readers usually call tell that “x blogger would never actually shop at y brand.” So after a while, the trust is completely gone and I (someone eager to read fashion blogs and, er, to also shop for the things they recommend, the more the better, provided that I think the bloggers are fairly genuine) only follow a very small set of generally very small fashion blogs that I trust.

    “Trust” in the person behind the blog is also my main criteria for picking personal finance blogs to follow and link to. (And ha, I totally have linked and recommended Personal Capital without being in their affiliate program. I take what is maybe a foolishly lax approach to the privacy of my own data when it comes to internet services I deem useful, and because some of my accounts can’t be linked to PC, I’m unlikely to get to the threshold where they’ll start calling me to sell their services anytime soon.) I have had some tech issues with PC though, it doesn’t work well with some of my accounts, so it’s no longer keeping accurate track of my net worth, and that rather defeats the purpose.

  39. JohnR says 23 August 2018 at 09:30

    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 says 23 August 2018 at 11:05

      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 kind of person you want to be.

  40. pdiddy says 23 August 2018 at 10:12

    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. says 23 August 2018 at 11:07

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

  41. Keith Schroeder says 23 August 2018 at 10:19

    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 prostitute your work. I’m certainly guilty of this for short periods of time. I’m going to re-read this several times a year. It is too important to forget the message as a blogger. I’ve refrained from the siren call of pop-ups for the same reasons as you, J.D. I know the stats on how it builds the mailing list, but I tend to avoid blogs that have the pop-ups.

    For me, I don’t mind ads as long as they aren’t invasive. A casual mention of a product I like, whether I use it or not is acceptable, I think. Ramming it down the readers throat reaches the border of criminal.

    Excellent read, J.D. Love your work. Thanks for the reminder.

  42. Eric @ Flip n Finances says 23 August 2018 at 11:49

    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 actually know? Integrity first really is key.

    Everyone has a different green line like you said, and if we can be content after looking back on our lives that we have been honest with our fellow men, then don’t do anything to compromise that, especially for a few bucks. It’s not money that makes us happy after all.

  43. Piggy says 23 August 2018 at 13:48

    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 can engage directly with our readers to make sure we’re giving them what they want–what they PAY for. Readers first, as you say.

    Now that we have established relationships with readers, I feel even more strongly about not pushing products that we don’t believe in and personally use. We turn down offers from affiliate marketers every other week without blinking. Our readers trust us and hold us in high regard. That, to me, is priceless, and I would never betray that trust to make a buck in the short term.

    Long story short you’re our PF blogging fairy godfather and we hang on your every word. <3<3<3

    • J.D. says 23 August 2018 at 13:56

      Haha. And today in another forum, Todd Tresidder called me a prom queen. This is getting a little weird.

      • Donna Freedman says 23 August 2018 at 18:36

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

  44. Mid America Mom says 23 August 2018 at 23:41

    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 site to direct my youngest child too (12).

    I have a kid that saves their chore and gift money- full of questions and does not mind reading about personal finance (yep at 12!) and even pushes us – and wants to start.

    And it has to be beyond simple as she comes to grasp the concepts. Needs to be the next level. But not beyond her ability to understand nor taking advantage. Affilate – less is welcome as I want to be positive in support of educating this impressionable kid and yet smartly cautious. Seeing or feeling through the hype is not easy for many adults let alone a 12 year old.

    • Donna Freedman says 24 August 2018 at 23:40

      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 (which was created by a 16-year-old girl).

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

      • Mid America Mom says 25 August 2018 at 21:28

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

        • Donna Freedman says 25 August 2018 at 23:57

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

  45. Liz says 24 August 2018 at 04:35

    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.

  46. savenospend says 24 August 2018 at 08:59

    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.

  47. Mike in NH says 24 August 2018 at 10:57

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

    Sidebar: Nice manuscript 😉

  48. Brad Castro says 24 August 2018 at 15:18

    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, it seems is the worst business model of all – so it’s always a struggle if you’re serious about competing in the market place while at the same time not being an a-hole and flushing all your self respect down the drain.

    – – – –

    And congrats, by the way, on the expansion into video . . .

  49. GYM says 26 August 2018 at 23:26

    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 a lot of these posts that say “there may be affiliate links” (on every post) I am wary and get a queasy feeling in my stomach. I do have some affiliate links on this new site too but I don’t share the ‘there may be affiliate links’ when there aren’t any so regular readers know.

  50. Dave @ Accidental FIRE says 27 August 2018 at 03:08

    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 likely to bring them the most income.

    Again don’t implicate us all. My closest blogging buddies aren’t even monetized, and I wasn’t either until 7 months in. I’m barely monetized now.

    Tons of us have a “Reader’s First” pledge, you just don’t have time to find us all nor should you. I get it, you’re a big blog and you put out lots of content.

    Don’t take this the wrong way JD – I love your blog. But I see a bit of blinders in your commentary above since you simply live in a different world – the world of MMM, JL Collins, and big established blogs. And you’re friends with all of them.

    But there are MANY smaller blogs who put readers first, most who aren’t even monetized. That’s the world I hang in. We comment on each others blogs an help each other out. And we’re really trying to help our readers, with no affiliate relationships, credit card relationships, or online classes.

    And yes, many of us use BlueHost, believe it or not 🙂

    • J.D. says 27 August 2018 at 07:29

      See, this is good info for me! Thank you!

    • Donna Freedman says 30 August 2018 at 13:52

      “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.

  51. Anne says 27 August 2018 at 03:49

    Thank you for reminding us to think critically about our personal finances and how we absorb information.

    I really like the voice of your articles and appreciate this and other guidance. Keep it up!

  52. Dave @ Accidental FIRE says 27 August 2018 at 03:53

    And JD, you recommend Four Pillar Freedom above and I love his blog too. Just saying that you didn’t realize he uses Bluehost too!

  53. veronica says 27 August 2018 at 06:13

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for not using GIFs. God they’re annoying.

  54. Torsten says 27 August 2018 at 11:35

    To me, readers first also means that the content is not only honest but original, too. Most often generic content goes hand in hand with a focus on monetization. I guess you could easily wipe out more than 50% or more of generic / repetitive finance blogs / websites (portals, etc.) and readers wouldn’t miss any content, but on the contrary, could find useful content much easier.

    As a software engineer I do my best to produce generic content only. Hence, my approach is users first and my blog mainly serves to promote the content. I also have no pop-ups and other marketing gimmics I dislike on my own.

    That was a nice read. Good luck with your blog!

  55. Patrice | Financial Peacock says 27 August 2018 at 15:17

    Great article. I think the message applies to a variety of areas where people are being sold to, even when they don’t really realize they are being sold to. For example….

    I recently started helping my retired father with his finances and got so angry when I saw how his “financial advisor” had invested his money. It was in investments that make the advisor money, not what was in the best interest of my dad.

    I know a realtor that pushes new developments on buyers because the developers give commission bonuses to the realtor.

    I just started out in the personal finance blog world and what I want most is to know I helped someone. I’ve been through ups and downs with my finances and really want to share and help people with my experiences. I’m way too small to make any money right so I’m not even attempting to monetize my blog, but if I ever go down the path of recommending products I don’t believe in just to make money, I hope someone calls me out on it.

    Thanks for looking out for your readers in a world where we are all constantly being sold to everywhere we go.

  56. veronica says 28 August 2018 at 05:57

    I find the green coloured font on a black background really hard to read. Does anyone else have that problem?

  57. Caitlin says 28 August 2018 at 10:02

    Great article! I dipped my toes in the financial industry years ago and event went as far to take the 65 (or some other number. It was awhile ago).

    One thing that separates Financial Advisors from personal finance bloggers is the requirement to be a fiduciary. Among other things, it means acting in good faith, in honesty, and trust for the client. The Financial Advisor MUST put the needs of the client above their own interest. They have to disclose when they get a kickback or have a personal interest in a stock. There’s a reason finance is a regulated industry! I know that this is an ideal and a standard that isn’t always enforced but it should still be held up as a best practice.

    Regarding PF blogs – It would be awesome if personal finance bloggers who monetize their blogs took on the role of fiduciary and took it seriously. There needs to be transparency so that trust is warranted. And transparency within the community when the reader’s trust is traded for shady recommendations.

  58. AJ Gorczyca says 29 August 2018 at 07:14

    Healthy amounts of skepticism is SOOOOOOO important in all aspects of life. Do your own research, don’t just believe everything you see and read at face value alone.

    I’m pretty sure my family and friends get annoyed on a regular basis by the fact that I always ask follow up questions and never just blindly trust what many people say or proclaim as true. And it’s not that I don’t trust the person, I just want to make sure I do my own due diligence everywhere I can. This is a skill far too many people don’t use.

    Go outside your normal bubble, get multiple sources, do your own research. All these things are so important and I wish more people would make the effort!

  59. Financial Wellness DVM says 30 August 2018 at 10:35

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m relatively new to this personal finance space with no previous experience blogging. When I saw how many of these blogs made their money, it honestly made me feel uncomfortable. Then I wondered if I even belonged in this space if everyone else was monetizing their blogs.

    I am certainly not a financial advisor, but I’ve viewed myself as a fiduciary from the very beginning. Thank you for validating my thoughts.

  60. Art says 05 September 2018 at 10:09

    Great article, JD! The original GRS was instrumental to my own personal finance journey… so glad you are back and putting out this good content.

  61. Sarah says 09 September 2018 at 18:19

    Ok, it’s funny that you mentioned Bluehost. I didn’t read blogs until about a year ago, so I didn’t know bloggers were usually paid to promote products. I needed to set up a website for myself, and I read a (blog) article about how to do it. It was fairly helpful, except that it recommended Bluehost. It was okay at first, but then they canceled all email support. I waited on the phone for over an hour about a small issue, and no one ever picked up! I researched hosting services with the best customer service and switched immediately. Saved a ton of money, too.
    It wasn’t until I started reading blogs regularly that I saw Bluehost mentioned over and over again. I was like, why is everyone recommending this crappy hosting service? Then I realized they must be getting kickbacks from Bluehost to recommend it. And that Bluehost must pay better than the other hosting sites that no one talks about.
    So now I know to look out for that, and I’m glad you mentioned that even big companies recommend banks and such based on commissions.
    Caveat emptor!

  62. Dan Blakely says 10 September 2018 at 06:02

    Amen! Lots of people need to read this article not only for financial blogs but the whole world of media consumption in general. I was thinking about your article and kids growing up today… this could be a really good stepping stone for a program teaching kids what is legit solid advice the read or see and what is just being Schiller to them so someone can make a nickel. I struggle with teaching my own kids how to critically evaluate the “facts” they read online.

  63. Jaime says 15 September 2018 at 05:46

    For a lot of people their PF blog is their primary income. Many of them have left their 9-5 jobs and now they have to rely on that income that comes from their blog. In a sense they’re kind of stuck just like they were stuck when they had their day job.

    I do have a PF blog but that blog isn’t the source of my income and if it ever becomes an income generating blog, it won’t be the only income that I will have. As bloggers we have to make sure that we don’t stick ourselves into a corner.

  64. Jake Jones says 27 September 2018 at 18:49

    Great stuff, JD. I just read this based on your recommendation on Twitter, and I am glad I did. It really helps to keep things in perspective. When you have an audience (and I don’t… yet) you have their trust. If you are misleading them intentionally with content, you might as well be lying to them face-to-face.

    Thanks for sending this my way. Maybe one day I will end up on your recommended list. 🙂

  65. Joe says 28 September 2018 at 06:53


    Thanks for writing this great article! I have been into FIRE for over a year now, and I always assumed these FI bloggers had the main goal of helping others achieve FI. As this article shows, there could be ulterior motives, so we need to take everything with a grain of salt and do our own due diligence on products and services. Thanks for everything you’ve done for the personal finance community. You are an inspiration!

  66. Ani says 11 October 2018 at 12:18

    Great article. I personally avoid FI blogs that have pop-ups and demand that I subscribe to them. That is why MMM’s blog is so attractive to me and it is why I avoid Millennial Revolution, Budgets Are Sexy and many others…I become livid when I see ads about credit cards and financial companies on FI blogs. FI bloggers are supposed to encourage less spending, so why do they display ads that often promote products that demand my money? It makes no sense to me. I understand bloggers want to make $, but because they want MY money, I decide to leave their websites for good.

  67. Sherifah says 19 February 2019 at 16:27

    I see BlueHost being recommended practically everywhere for new bloggers. What do you use or recommend for new bloggers, especially those whose primary aim is first to share their experience?

  68. A Journey to FI says 23 July 2019 at 07:41

    JD, thanks for writing this post. I very much appreciate you leading with intent and having a clear vision and mission for your site. I’m a newbie and my intent has always been to share things that I’m trying, mistakes I’ve made and so forth. It has never been about the money. Skepticism goes beyond personal finance, it should be considered in all aspects of life so like you said, be critical and do your due diligence. Thanks again for this post.

  69. Shawn R says 24 August 2019 at 07:38

    I’m so glad I read this article. I purchased a domain name, and already planned on all the monetization methods I would employ when I started my blog. In fact, I found an affiliate/network marketer on YouTube, and made a huge list of most profitable referral companies. Now, I’m thinking I should start a blog that truly helps other people . That’s my main goal honestly, and to get out of debt, and retire earlier than previously planned. Love your blog!

  70. Mike@NoStuffedShirt says 27 August 2019 at 08:08

    I just started my finance blog as a fun outlet of my past 22yrs (and still going) of a solid
    banking career.

    Affiliate marketing is a tough subject and I strongly believe promoting something for profit is not the ideal scenario. Your Bluehost comment was straight on – during my start up research several articles were all about Bluehost. Smelled fishy from the get go and didn’t use them of course.

    Earning income will come if you do it right and believe in what you promote/write etc. Get rich quick schemes are not for me.

    Soon enough if my blog interest folks out there then it will support itself. If the content doesn’t interest the people then that’s what was meant to be.

    Great article,

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