Can A Personal Finance Blog Teach You To Be Rich?
Everybody wants to be rich. OK, maybe not everybody… but most people! The process of actually becoming rich however, is another story. It’s not easy.
I used to believe that anybody could achieve Financial Independence before a traditional retirement age. If only they applied themselves. Once reaching the fabled financial status, they could retire early, travel the world, get in shape, or donate their time to worthy causes. I believed all of this could happen for anybody, just so long as they got exposure to the right information.
Maybe it was naive of me, but I thought anyone could do it. Now, I’m not so certain.
Lately, I’ve had a change of heart. Maybe it’s because I’ve been blogging about the subject for the past four years. Or, perhaps it’s because we’ve been traveling lately, looking at lots of different towns and cities in our quest to find a long-term retirement home.
The more I see how the rest of the country lives, the more I have serious doubts about whether a significant percentage of the population can achieve FI before a traditional retirement age.
Attitudes Around Wealth
For one, I think Americans are “showy”. Too showy. They love to drive luxury-branded cars with high-horsepower engines and giant trucks that never seem to haul anything more than one person and a Starbucks cup.
Americans love to live in giant McMansions too. I used to think we had a big house… then I started shopping around looking at homes in different small cities and suburbs around the country. Holy cow! Three thousand to four thousand square feet would not be considered abnormal in many suburban neighborhoods.
(Note: If the home was built in the last 10 years. This McMansion trend didn’t really start until recent decades.)
Do I even need to describe the interiors of these homes? Marble or granite slab counter-tops, real hardwood floors, and fancy porcelain tiled bathrooms are all considered “normal” these days! Yep, Americans love their giant fancy houses! Even if those same homes are making us poor.
Think I’m making this up? I recently posed a question to my twitter feed, asking what kind of home people might prefer…
Overwhelmingly the people that took this survey are willing to live like rats practically on top of one another, in order to have a shiny new home — Knowing that in a decade (or so) that same new home won’t be new anymore. The appliances won’t be in style, the carpets will be worn, repairs will be needed, and so forth.
Soon enough that new home will be old and busted. It can be fixed and replaced of course, but the lot size will forever stay the same.
It’s these attitudes around what it means to live well that I believe is one of the major hangups keeping a large portion of the population from achieving financial independence. They’re too focused on achieving their version of the “perfect life”. Nice shiny new cars, perfect lawns, a nice house, new clothes, stainless steel appliances, the latest iPhone, etc.
Frankly, I believe chasing that vision of perfection is a fools game. It’s an endless treadmill of spending, sold to us by marketers, salesmen, television, movies, and even our own friends.
And Americans are buying into it. Quite literally. Over 25% of Americans have absolutely no retirement savings.
Is It Just A Lack Of Information?
One counter argument I hear (and I even used to believe) is that financial education is a limiting factor. Schools in the United States don’t really teach personal finance, and kids can graduate into the workplace without knowing a single thing about retirement plans, stocks, bonds, or other assets.
While this still might be true to a certain extent, there now is a unending stream of personal finance information available for free on the internet. Nearly every single day I see stories about financial independence and early retirees written-up on major news sites. Yahoo Finance, Marketwatch, Business Insider… heck even Mr. Tako Escapes was mentioned in a recent Forbes article.
There’s gobs of information out there! Books, news articles, podcasts, and more personal finance blogs than I could possible count! Frankly, I don’t think there’s a lack of information OR exposure anymore. You’d have to completely ignore mainstream financial news to NOT hear about financial independence.
In my humble opinion, there is no longer a lack of information. Information is everywhere! We live in a society on information overload! You just have to have the slightest bit of financial curiosity (like reading one of those news websites I mentioned), to gain some basic exposure to financial independence ideas.
After that, it’s up to your own motivation and willpower to keep learning.
A Matter Of Buy-In
The average person has probably already read one of those introductory articles to financial independence. The idea of retiring early sounds cool, so they click the headline and start reading…
“How can I do that?” they ask. Then, they get to the bit about having to save 50% of your income for more than a decade — That’s about when the financial independence gears grind to a halt.
You see, most Americans have already bought into a superbly posh first-world lifestyle. Either they grew up that way, or they bought into that luxury lifestyle-train early in their career. There’s no-way-in-hell they’d be willing to give up their good life now, after years of living that way.
(This is commitment and consistency bias, as written about in a very good book called Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion).
At this point our hypothetical financial super-star turns into a real-world financial independence critic:
- “That’s way too much sacrifice for me! Retiring a few years early isn’t worth living a crappy deprived lifestyle for the rest of my life.”
- “Those people aren’t actually retired! They’ve just changed jobs to blogging and book writing!”
- “Just wait until the next market crash hits. Those fools won’t know what hit’em. They’ll be in the poorhouse soon enough!”
I’ve heard most of the criticisms after four years of blogging. And you know what? They’re just excuses to hide behind! Nobody wants admit they’ve been stupid and spent money foolishly! So they criticize and try to justify an overly-spendy lifestyle instead.
Once those individuals turn into FI-critics, they obviously won’t be motivated to dig deeper and learn how Financial Independence actually works. If they did, they’d know FI isn’t about deprivation. Far from it in fact!
And blogging income? Oh please! Most bloggers (like myself) don’t make more than pocket change from their blogs.
So to circle-back to the original question posed by this post — Can A Personal Finance Blog Teach You To Be Rich? Well, maybe.
If you’re the right kind of person.
Blogs can drop great tips and ideas that can stuff extra dollars in your bank account. They can also help keep people motivated… but lately I’ve started to think that the people reading financial independence blogs already have the soul of a millionaire. You either have it, or you don’t.
Most FIRE-blog readers probably already reject useless “showy” displays of wealth in favor of wealth accumulation.
Sure, there could be a few rare-ducks that are in the process of making complete financial 180’s in their life, but that’s going to be super-rare because of the psychological biases involved. (Most Americans will be stuck with the big-truck-big-fancy-house commitment bias until they’re much closer to traditional retirement age.)
The kind of person that does achieve FI is also going to need a serious dose of individualism, and self-motivation to learn about personal finance. All without giving a damn about what other people think…
These factors combined mean the number of folks actually achieving Financial Independence is going to be extremely limited. You’re going to be breathing pretty rarified air at the top folks.
The good news is, if your reading this blog and gotten this far, you’re probably already well on The Road To FI. If you’re not a millionaire already, you probably soon will be. Congrats!
It might be lonely at the top of this mountain, but the air is fresh, and the views are great. There’s also a few friendly folks here too. Hope to see you soon!
[Image Credit: Flickr]
30 thoughts on “Can A Personal Finance Blog Teach You To Be Rich?”
I’ve never personally believed that anyone could reach FI or retire early and I think you’re spot on about some of the reasons (though to clarify I answered that house poll and I responded small lot because I don’t want to deal with yard work or living in a place that needs renovations that I can’t afford to make at the time. It appears I missed the point of the poll oops…)
Anyway, I think you’re right that blogs can only teach you to be rich “If you’re the right kind of person,” but I think people can become rich even if they don’t have the soul of a millionaire. For example, my Mom retired at 55 and is the opposite of me in basically every way – she refuses to look at her investment balance because it scares her and she thinks she’ll sell, she likes having an advisor to tell her what her money is doing and withdraw amounts for her and she’s never read a book on investing – but she still retired early. Putting her in front of a blog probably wouldn’t have gotten her there any faster, but she did get there – even while having that big house, fancy car mindset. Though the point of your post is about blogs 🙂 reading it has given me hope that more financial change can be made in the world if someone is ready to embrace it.
Indeed, I was talking about reading pf blogs, but your Mom seems like an interesting case. I’ve never heard of someone afraid to look at their account balance before!
hmm, I think the small lot , nice home might apply more to the fact that a small lot is cheaper to maintain than a large lot. Less things that break, lower maintenance, lower taxes, and also much safer (at least in our country) because you need less electric fencing, walls, and guards to protect yourself. For me makes the smaller lot far cheaper and simpler than a large lot.
Actually where I live the opposite is often true. The larger lots are less “fancy” and require little more than the occasional lawnmowing.
Smaller properties often come saddled with HOA fees and the social pressure to keep everything perfectly landscaped. No guards or electric fencing required here.
Sounds awesome, can I get one for sub $100k please 🙂
Loved this. I think you’ve hit on a key point. I don’t think of it as the “right type of person” but I do think a person has to be in the right mindset. Your point about financial education in schools is exactly right. The reality is that schools teach it more often than people think, and my guess is some of the loudest voices about this probably got it in school too.
I had financial education in high school and hell even studied economics in college. It wasn’t lack of knowledge that led me to inflate my lifestyle and do almost no saving for 15 years. (I have no problem admitting I was stupid!) Lots of other things prevented me from really internalizing it or putting the knowledge into practice. Once I was ready to actually pay attention it was valuable. But until I decided it was relevant to me, all the teaching and advice in the world wouldn’t matter.
Unfortuantely, virtually every part of our society is sending the opposite message about consumption.
Housing is a great example and I look differently at all those HGTV shows.
Once ready to hear and learn – then all the content becomes valuable. Like you said – those reading this are probably going to be just fine. Great article!
Thanks EFI! 🙂
You are probably right about the already FI people reading FI blogs. I like to read them b/c it reinforces my beliefs. I also enjoy finding new, creative ways to cut down on waste. The amount of waste that is ending up in the oceans and landfills is really disgusting. What sort of world are we leaving future generations? Conscious consumption should be taught in every household.
So true. I personally hate how much waste we generate. What’s worse, I’ve recently read that most of our “recycling” is now getting shipped to countries in SE Asia, and then dumped into the ocean.
It’s absolutely terrible.
I live in a 3rd world country where the goal of being “financially independent” is practically unheard of. Most people here are barely scraping by. Minimim wage in our province is roughly $8 PER DAY.
Yet, I still think that we can (and should!) pursue financial independence. For one, although income is low in our country, so is cost (relatively).
Blogs like yours open my mind to the possibilities and encourage me to forge ahead in my own path towards financial freedom. So thank you Mr. Tako. I hope the FIRE fever reaches us soon!
I agree 100%. I used to think anyone can do it. I did it and I had many disadvantages. Any American citizen has a better shot at being rich than I did. However, now I don’t think that way anymore. Only a few people can achieve financial independence or become rich. It’s all about psychology. Most people are just stuck in one way of thinking. Something drastic has to happen so they’ll evaluate their life. Even then, people just get back on track and continue. Only a few people can actually break out of the mold. I guess that’s good. We need the American consumer to keep buying and prop up the economy.
I suppose your right — excessive consumption does fuel corporate earnings (and in turn stock prices)! 😉
Just discovering your blog now and reading old posts. I think you are exactly 100% right and put into words what I’ve been thinking as well. One thing that you maybe don’t brush on is upbringing/ background. I assume you have Japanese roots. I have Chinese roots (ABC) and I grew up poor, moving up economically. My parents are still overly frugal to the extreme. I’m not compared to them but am compared to my husband’s family (more traditional white middle/upper class). I hope my children will learn from me. I find that because of my mindset and interest in money (instilled from childhood), money seems to grow much easier for me, even when I wasn’t earning a lot. It is basic math, but also money just seems to grow for some people (from being saved) and for some it slips through their fingers. Much like diet and weight loss. Investing is the other component to learn as an adult but the frugality part is so inherent.
I definitely agree that you have to have a certain mindset to reach FI. I wrote a post a while back titled “The Path Is Simple, but It’s Not Necessarily Easy” and I stand by that 100%. The math to reach FI really isn’t that hard, but you have to understand the goal and want it – most people don’t.
But personal finance blogs can be the kick in the pants you need to have that eye-opener. Joe from Retire by 40 was my big awakening to understand that FI was actually a possibility. After that, I started consuming more and more blogs (like yours) and podcasts to learn what I could.
And now… I’m FIRE and enjoying the views and fresh air from the mountain as well! Coincidentally, I actually am enjoying those things as we’re now officially living in the mountains of Panama! 🙂
Congrats on your move Jim! I definitely think you’re one of those people with the soul of a millionaire. RetireBy40 was probably the kick in the pants to get you started, but from what I know about you it probably would have happened eventually.
Some of us just can’t help ourselves. 😉
Great post. I think you are right, certain people just cannot and will not ‘get it’’ because the great advice falls on deaf ears. Try and convince people to quit smoking and avoid meat for better health. Same phenomenon. You have to want it. Oh well. I guess that’s what make VTSAX go up most years. I kinda feel bad profiting from America’s consumerism. I try not to contribute to it. (Jim, love your blog as well. All the best in Panama). I may follow your footsteps
I’m another one who answered “small lot, nice house” because that’s exactly what I did and I gained 1M in the process. Same city geoarbitrage for the FI win!
I DO agree with what I assume is the survey’s premise, which is that land value is key, so owning more of it means that your property will hold more value. However, having a small block of land that I don’t have to spend all weekend to maintain is wonderful!
Personally I think the amount of maintenance required on those new homes is far higher than what people imagine. For one, they’re usually loaded with a big HOA fee, and then you’ve got the pressure to maintain the yard and the home to an extreme level of perfection. Perfect grass, perfect landscaping, flowers…the whole works.
I get tired just thinking about that perfection. I’d much rather take a older home with no HOA and a imperfect yard that I only need to mow once in awhile. Who cares if there’s a dead spot in the grass or I let it grow a little too long.
Trying to maintain a level of imperfection is far easier to me than trying to maintain perfection.
What’s an HOA fee??? Who’s putting the perfection on?
This is not a thing in Australia. Seriously… no one’s telling me what to do on my own property.
I agree with much of what you wrote but I think you stopped short of the implications. Perhaps you are saving it for a future post. “These factors combined mean the number of folks actually achieving Financial Independence is going to be extremely limited.”
Essentially what you are saying is that there is going to be a permanent financial underclass. This has very serious political & socioeconomic implications. Thought experiment: does a permanent financial underclass result in programs similar to those meant to help traditionally marginalized communities such as ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, etc.? Perhaps it is something closer to a the opioid epidemic. In your part of the country, don’t they have “wet houses?” – locations where addicts can take drugs under the supervision of medically trained personnel. As the ranks of the financial dependent (i.e. debt ridden and unable to survive the briefest periods of unemployment) swell, will they be treated like addicts or be protected like quota & other preference programs?
Even more existential, can a nation or society survive if too many people behave in the way you described in the post? If you think that question is too abstract or too broad, I’ll ask it a different way. If too many people behave in the way you described in the post, what are the long-term implications for the stock market?
Social implications are not something I think I could speculate on. Crystal ball reading about how society will change in the future isn’t really my game.
For me, I think the long-term implications are that the stock market will continue to be exactly what it is — A place to buy and sell shares in companies. Nothing more. It’s a *market*. Those with cash can invest and buy shares in companies that usually earn returns on capital. Those without will sit on the sidelines and earn nothing.
It’s all about psychology and behaviors, not the math or investing strategies. Those are straightforward. I agree that those who have the capability to achieve FI are a rare breed. Modern society just stacks the deck against them too much.
If it is purely with math and strategies, sure personal finance blogs can make you rich. But it’s not as easy and straight forward as that. It really comes down to psychology with money, your behaviours, and consistency. One miss step can mess you up pretty easily.
I think you nailed in at the end of the post. Those that will achieve are probably the ones that are out searching for blogs like yours. I’m a saver and always have been. I appreciate your blog because although I am similar in my habits you’re writings open me up to new ideas. I think blogs like yours will help me achieve my goals sooner. It’s easier to do something with others than it is alone, so learning from people like you is a huge advantage. Especially true for periods like now where the sentiment is getting very doom and gloom on investing. Just going to put my head down and stay the course. Thanks for the time and effort you put in.
The best personal finance advice I’ve received has come from blogs! If you read and continue to read, it means you’re interested. And chances are you’re willing to take small, then medium, then large steps in your life to put yourself in a position to become rich.
Interesting notes on those narrow, three story houses that you showed. I eat lunch right next to those at Jimmy John’s almost every day, and one of those houses were completely destroyed by arson. The house next to it had some damage, but not complete.
It’s so true that Americans tend to live large. It’s normal for us, so it’s hard to see any other way. People really need to become more aware that there are other less-expensive ways to live!
Great article and I agree that more Americans try to live way above and beyond their means. Kind of a Beverly Hillbillies syndrome.
I highly prefer having a larger lot with an older home. I live in a 102 year old craftsman in West Seattle. Lately, there’s been quite a few tear downs and the old home has been replaced with 6 townhouses. No yards. I have never appreciated a yard more. I get to hide from the city in my tree lined back yard, grow some veggies, and relax in the evening in my hot tub and hear the raccoons roam the yard.
Yard work is my workout regimen. It brings a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Also, with a 100+ year old home, working on things piece by piece is very satisfying. Now I am one that will replace my disgusting formica with a stone countertop soon… One that is in a timeless style and basic.
Interesting thoughts! I like where this is going – down the psychological questioning route. What drives people’s decisions to buy new stuff, make the same decisions over and over, and choose financial illiteracy because it’s what they are used to is unknown to me.
I agree it’s incredibly important to stop giving a damn about what society and friends and family and everyone else thinks about the FI lifestyle. Easier said than done sometimes, but important if you want to win long term.
Meant to add this to my comment: I think an apt analogy is diet and weight loss. Some people struggle so much when, in a sense it’s just consumption vs burning calories math. But so much is based on genetics, mindset, habits, honesty/accountability, etc.
Basically a lot of stuff that you’re either setup for success on from childhood or doomed to struggle with.
The FIRE blogs are just interesting for people like me to keep on track and turbo charge my projection.