A new visitor left a comment on my blog last week so I returned the favour and visited her blog. I found out she was a new blogger figuring out her way in paying down 10’s of thousands of debt. Way less than me, but still enough that she said it would take her four years, on her income, to pay it off.
I browsed a few posts and in her most recent one she described, with very great excitement, her new strategy. It involved cashing in $16K of her 401K investments and using a portion of it to pay down debt and about $6K for two vacations. Say what?
Her justification was that it would reduce interest costs by a thousand or two, and reduce debt repayment by two years. She was clearly very enthused having figured out this was a great thing to do, and only due to that I had some reservation about bursting her bubble. But in good conscience I could not leave a flippant comment or even skulk away and leave without commenting.
I spent considerable time outlining in about 5 points why this was not a good thing, including showing her the formula in excel (she was also an excel geek) that would give her the future value of her $16K. I empathized that maybe this was news she didn’t want to hear. I also coached that I was coming from a good place with my advice having been to the school of hard knocks myself.
She acknowledged in her reply comment that she would think about it. (Yay!) A day or so later she wrote a post acknowledging my comment, indicating she reviewed my blog and thought long and hard about it and decided that we have different stories and my advice did not apply to her. She indicated that she was not a spender (there were some warning signs in her blog posts that indicated otherwise) and was from a cultural background that you worked until you dropped dead, so living for today was her priority. Full stop.
I acknowledged her post, and praised her for giving it careful consideration and also for the proactive steps she was taking to address their financial situation. However, I also reiterated that my advice was still the same, and added that if she decided to go ahead, please be sure to put the interest saved aside and apply it towards the debt, otherwise her scheme would be completely without financial validity and robbing her future for lifestyle inflation for today (although I didn’t say in those words, it was implied).
Fast forward a day and I went back to see her response to my comment and the blog was no longer there. I found out on twitter that others had commented after me and supported my position. I gather the comments were all written respectfully and in as best a way of possible to point out the issues with her tactics. (I didn’t see them, but this is what I have gathered from some feedback after the fact).
So this brings me to my point on this post. Where do we draw the line in offering advice in the personal finance (PF) blogging world?
We Write, Therefore, We Ask For It
Why do we blog about PF if not to share our stories or get advice? OK, there may be some commercial motives for some as well, but let’s put that aside. We choose to blog about PF because we are any or all of the following:
- Passionate about it
- Have some experience
- Want to help others on PF topics
- Want to get advice for ourselves
- Want to get support for our situation / journey
In my case, all of the above apply. But I have to realize that not all are in this same mindset. In fact, I would say that said blogger was only interested in item #5, and when the support did not come in the way she expected, she bailed.
Does this mean that we should decipher the motives of each PF blogger and then decide how we will comment? H3LL NO!
First of all, you can have your perceptions about why they blog, but how do you really know unless they have stated explicitly or they have been blogging for awhile and you have been reading similarly? This may be a circumstance where you decide to hold back. I’ve done it, even though I didn’t agree, but should I?
If someone opens up their personal finance situation on a blog, they need to be in it for options 4 and 5 above, in my opinion. Or at least be ready to agree to disagree and not take another person’s point of view personally. If you are telling your story but just looking for placating people to agree with every move you make you are not really helping yourself. You are creating an environment where your tunnel vision may become entrenched. Most importantly, you are not creating a place where people can discuss and share ideas openly and not fear of offending. If you can’t stand the heat, then your actions speak louder than your words.
When Is Support Not Enough?
There are plenty of “rah rah, you go!” type comments in the PF community and I get that. I’m happy to get them myself when I’ve had a rough month financially. Particularly if you are a debt blogger, these journeys are tough. All of your money is not going towards FI. It feels like you’re still trying to get to the starting line. Knowing when to give a blogger a jeer up only and when to offer some alternative idea they may not have considered, requires some astute perception.
Praise where praise is due is totally warranted. Posts filled with comment streams of this can appear to be a little self serving. Meh, call me jaded but a little too much of that turns me off. I like a nice balance of thought provoking comments, questions, commenters responding to other comments etc. We are a community that speaks the same language, so we should be comfortable in communicating openly in a thoughtful and always respectful manner.
I’m always learning. I don’t have all the answers (far from it!). But I may have an opinion and it could even be changed as I learn more about the topic. Therefore, I welcome and even solicit advice in my blog posts. I’ll also ask for this in comments to other blogger posts. I get it. I’ve made mistakes and may be unwittingly making more. That’s another reason why I’m here. To get better at this stuff.
We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know
Sure, spending less than you earn, pay yourself first, pay off credit cards every month are all basic concepts and learned quickly, but what about the tricky stuff?
Just the other day I left a comment on a post that got me thinking about a tactic I deployed to extend mortgage amortization period and now I’m wondering if it was a good move. I’m also still navigating the waters of investments in my retirement portfolio and rely on many great dividend bloggers to learn (and BTW thanks for answering my dumb questions!).
If I write a post on something I am doing and you don’t agree with me, please tell me. As I said, my motives for blogging are all five listed above. I think I would have a hard time finding others who are not welcome to dissenting opinions in a respectful manner. We’re not looking for disparaging and hateful remarks the likes of bigger media sites. Those comments are really not helpful and just point out the lack of self confidence in people in this world, but that’s another topic. In personal finance blogs, there is no point in putting our ideas, tactics, strategies, concerns and questions out there if we are not ready to at least listen.
What If Someone Is Not Ready?
People don’t just wake up one day and decide to be a PF blogger. They usually will have been reading blogs for a period of time, some longer than others. Often they have a story to tell, some experience on the topic, or it could be that they’re just sick and tired of worrying about their finances. They’ve hit rock bottom on their financial situation and are ready to climb out.
Call me brazen, but if the latter applies, I’m pretty sure those people, like me, are open to constructive criticism. We are not looking for support just so that we can repeat the same dumb mistakes we’ve made in the past. We acknowledge that there may be times we are too close to the situation to see it. All feedback will be considered and although we may not agree, or decide the situation does not match our priorities, we can accept this and move on.
If every opinion is contrary to ours, we may feel outnumbered or dare I say – ganged up on. This alone is very telling, and should provide all the more reason to question our motives. The support will remain, as we find our way, or I certainly hope so.
If someone is writing a debt blog but not responsive to differing opinions, then I can only think that they have not hit their rock bottom yet. As readers, we may suspect this, but then should we couch our comments accordingly? I say ‘no’. We lose our credibility if we do not state our views.
The Need to Speak Your Truth
Now my views may be more in favour of MMM badassity principles or Frugalwoods extremes and yours may be like Fruclassity or even not that frugal at all. That’s quite alright. Our goals may be different.
This is where we need to appreciate our differences, but it doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong. It’s all from the point of view of that person.
Don’t write a blog unless you are willing to allow dissenting views from yours. Be open to views that are all dissenting. You might learn something … or at least help others who have stumbled across your blog. We all make mistakes, and if we weren’t wanting to help, we wouldn’t be reading in the first place.
What is your philosophy on adversity on the internet?