Announcing The Simple Dollar Personal Finance Seminar!

During the past month, I’ve been having some very casual discussions with an organization that handles the infrastructure of seminar programs for people who wish to run them. They handle things like booking locations, printing materials, planning prices, and things like that, while the person running the seminar plans out the material to be presented, and the two sides work together for promotion. They approached me because, in the past, they’ve had tremendous success with financial-related seminar programs.

So, how does it work? In general, during these seminars, an organization charges some rate for a session of some length with some financial presenter (or presenters).

The attendees get a day with this presenter and a bunch of take-home materials (usually a binder and sometimes a book, too). Once the expenses are paid (for renting the room at a hotel, printed materials, the meal, etc.), the company and the presenter split the profit according to some negotiated rate.

Some presenters have their own organizations that set up such promotions for them, so that the presenter (and his/her organization) keeps all the money.

A great example of this type of seminar is Dave Ramsey’s series of “live events”. These largely take the form of a lecture with tickets selling for various prices. There aren’t any materials provided outside of access to some websites, but the price is fairly low for a financial seminar, with the “cheap seats” coming in at about $40. (There are sometimes promotional seats available for less, but they’re usually sold out.)

If you can fill a room of 1,000 people to hear you speak at $40 a pop, that’s $40,000 for one day of speaking. Not bad at all.

Other seminars try to get a smaller number – say, 100 – at $400 each and give them supplemental materials. Again, $40,000 for one or two days of speaking. Not bad.

I could certainly use that kind of money.

The truth is a little more complicated, though. When I read about personal finance, think about it in my own life, and share it with others, one thing that keeps coming to mind is the idea of “enough.” What is “enough”?

For me, my life right now is enough. I get to spend a lot of my time doing something I enjoy, which is the pure act of writing. The thought of spending large chunks of my time doing things like sitting on conference calls to plan seminars, doing self-promotion everywhere, and gearing up for hours of presentation doesn’t sound like a lot of fun for me at this point in my life.

At the same time, I give away almost everything I write. Everything on this site is freely available. Even my books are easy to grab down at your local library. Even through that process of giving it all away, I’ve found ways to earn enough to make a comfortable living in the margins, earning enough to provide my family with the things that they need and some of the things they want.

Sure, the money I would earn from a seminar might be sweet, but it would, on the whole, reduce my quality of life. I don’t really need the extra money at this point and it would simply push me into spending my time on things I don’t want to spend my time on.

Perhaps most importantly – and this is true for almost every financial seminar – the information I would provide is already out there for free. All people pay for at such seminars is to listen to someone repeat the ideas that are already freely available in books and on the internet. My seminar would really be no different.

At the same time, I would feel somewhat hypocritical charging people in financial trouble for basic financial help. The people who could most use the help are the people who can least afford the cost of such a seminar. It feels like preying on the weak to me.

Given all that, I’ve still decided to launch my own seminar. And you’re invited! Here’s your invitation.

You are hereby invited to
The Simple Dollar’s One Day Online Seminar
The goal of this seminar is to inspire you to great success with your money, your career, and your life.

Seminar contents

Spend some time reading the following articles and following some of the links on them.

1. My story – how I turned my financial ship around

2. Everything you ever really needed to know about personal finance on the back of five business cards

3. 100 specific money-saving tips

4. 25 great “single actions” for saving money

5. 100 fun things to do for free

The next step to success is up to you.

Seminar cost: $40

How do I pay?

Take that $40 out of your checking account. Put it in your savings account. Designate that account as an emergency fund or, if you already have one, designate it as the start of savings for some life goal you have. If you find yourself in a better place down the road, send me an email and tell me about it.

There you go. I think this is a seminar I can feel good about – and the price is fair, too.

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  1. Jon says:

    Lame. Waste of a post.

  2. One day I hope to start speaking about personal finance to young people. I like writing, but I love speaking. Maybe you should try to speak at colleges or churches where the attendees don’t have to pay, but you still make money from the organization.

  3. Great idea, and I love the cost.

  4. Luke G. says:

    Nice, Trent. Really very nice. :) I was a bit shocked when I read the headline…it just seemed ‘out of character’.

    I really appreciate that you have been so affected by your own changes in life that you feel the need to reach out to help so many others. I have been motivated to help others for similar reasons in my life (of making changes and seeing benefits), so I can totally relate.

    Props on staying true to your motivations.

  5. Christine says:

    Very funny! And considerate of people who don’t have money to run to seminars but will benefit from a selection of your most helpful posts. I like the way you think!

  6. Stephan F- says:

    That was good. That is a good way to reach some people.
    However don’t forget some people are auditory learners so an audio version would be a good thing to.
    This could be a great youTube bit.

  7. sarah says:

    Trent,

    I think you’re missing one huge piece here – the fact that people have different learning styles. I know many people (many of my family members included) who do not absorb written content well, and need a multi-media approach (whether video, live, interactive, etc) in order to learn. Financial skills are equally important for these people as they are for us readers.

    No matter how many times these people are pointed to websites or books, the content won’t stick. This is the huge advantage of live seminars. And, where I live, there was just a Dave Ramsey Live event where I saw tickets going for $20 or less. (Never been to one, not promoting him above any other, just the only one I have a reference price point for.) That’s not much different than the cost of buying your books vs getting from the library.

    Granted, that doesn’t mean that YOU need to provide seminars if that’s not where your passion lies. Or, if you did, you could find a way to do it without gouging people – what about charging enough to break even after expenses (rental fees/travel/normal “daily rate” for your time). If ticket sales exceeded that you could find a way to give it back – refund a set amount to everyone. Or conduct a “grand prize” drawing from everyone who attended to win an amount to pay down their debt.

    I get the point that you’ve determined conducting seminars isn’t the right thing for you to do at this point in time. However, it would be nice to see you acknowledge the value and not dismiss as a waste of time or money-mongering for those who do conduct them.

  8. Pat S says:

    I enjoyed it. It was good for a laugh.

  9. Carmen says:

    Brilliant! Well done.

  10. Ginger says:

    I thought it was great for a laugh. Though I think you should do a pod cast too.

  11. Des says:

    Neat idea, but there is something to be said for going to see something in person. I have read Dave Ramsey’s book, but I still went to the seminar and enjoyed it. Was it new information? No, but that wasn’t the point. It is inspiring to connect in person with other people experiencing the same thing, and it provides a jumping off point for discussion with the people you attended with that blog posts just don’t do.

    Its kind of like saying “Why take piano lessons when you can just get a book and learn on your own?”

  12. Melanie says:

    Wonderfully said. You are in a class above most to not follow the money. A lot of personal finance help is definitely more about the marketing and profit than helping people.

  13. valleycat1 says:

    I think Trent is being serious, although it would have been more effective if he had just posted the highlighted part with the invitation, instead of his rather clumsy explanation of his thought process that apparently has offended some people.

    How is this idea any different from the very popular website where you pledge a certain amount of $ and set a goal, and then if you don’t meet the goal in the specified time, it goes to a charity or something? At least with his plan you don’t run any risk of losing your investment!

    Having planned some events at hotels back in the day, I can say that no one is clearing $40,000 a pop doing this [though if you can attract 1000 people, you'd net a decent amount after all the expenses - room rental & fees, snacks and/or lunch, printing expenses & staff to handle registrations etc, & income tax].

  14. KJ says:

    This made me chuckle on a strenuous day. Thank you, sir.

  15. LB says:

    Great post. I think my respect for you just doubled. I never really thought about the ethics of charging people who are having money troubles $40 or $400 to attend a personal finance conference and your post clarified my thinking on the subject.

  16. Amanda says:

    $40 doesn’t seem unethical.

    Yes, Trent, your site is free. However, it’s not always at a high level of quality. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

  17. marta says:

    Yeah, 40 USD for a decent one-day seminar is not a rip-off. If someone can’t or won’t pay, there are free resources online and elsewhere. Also, as you admit it takes work to do it, more than you are willing to do at this point. People get paid for their work.

    No need to diss those who do run successful seminars in order to pat yourself on the back…

  18. cynthia says:

    thanks, Trent. Although, I don’t think that it would be a bad thing for you to do a seminar, if that is something that you would enjoy.

  19. ChrisD says:

    I do like this seminar. Though the idea that an audio presentation would be helpful is also true. An hour or 30 minute presentation that is shown to new undergrads or at community events would be pretty good (not necessarily done by Trent).
    I guess $40 for a whole day including lunch is very good, however when I go to seminars I expect them to last an hour and to be free (i.e. sponsored by universities) so from that point of view $40 is crazy.

    Another factor that is unstated is that there are MANY seminars out there that are simply for making money. People claim that they are selling a money-making idea and that is why the author is rich, however really they are rich from the extortionately overpriced seminars and materials, ie. Rich Dad Poor Dad and all those ‘nothing down become a property mogul’ things. Those are basically an outright scam and I can see why Trent is rejecting that.

  20. Damon says:

    You guys obviously didn’t finish reading the post. To “pay”, Trent says to transfer $40 from your checking to savings. Nowhere does he say that you are paying him.

    Before you go spouting off about how $40 is a ripoff, read again.

  21. marta says:

    @Damon:

    Who is saying it is a rip-off? Trent said that he felt PF seminars were preying on the weak by charging $40 a pop. I said I did NOT feel it was an excessive fee.

    No one here seems to be thinking Trent is actually charging those $40.

    You obviously didn’t read the comments that carefully…

  22. Dee says:

    Thank you for staying true to your convictions. You are a true gentleman!

  23. kjc says:

    “All people pay for at such seminars is to listen to someone repeat the ideas that are already freely available in books and on the internet. My seminar would really be no different.”

    You are also paying to listen to a speaker who is (hopefully) knowledgeable, entertaining, and MOTIVATING. Ideas come alive and touch people when they’re artfully presented – in writing, and verbally. You ought to understand that.

  24. Katie says:

    Thanks Trent, for an incredible value, and for putting your money where your mouth is. You’re a scholar and a gentleman.

  25. Brittany says:

    Hee hee. Love the how to pay section.

  26. Jon says:

    Can you virtually hold the seminar in Florida, please? I’d like to write off some business travel to someplace warm. Or maybe Costa Rica?

  27. Riki says:

    There is, actually, a lot of value in listening to somebody speak on a topic.

    I attend lots of photography seminars covering all levels. Even the ones that don’t teach me anything really “new” are inspiring and worthwhile.

    Reading something on the internet isn’t even remotely the same experience. Paying for content isn’t always a bad thing.

  28. Laura in Atlanta says:

    ” . . although it would have been more effective if he had just posted the highlighted part with the invitation, instead of his rather clumsy explanation of his thought process …”

    Agreed! I had the exact same thought!

  29. joan says:

    @Stephan F & Sarah: FYI, Trent has a series of 17 podcasts that ran from June-September 2009 that are available on iTunes.

  30. elderly librarian says:

    When you say “the money I would earn from a seminar might be sweet, but it would, on the whole, reduce my quality of life,” this obviously applies to many things we do and makes us question whether we should put the time and effort into a certain activity. Makes people think about WHERE they are putting their mental and physical energy, so I think it’s a great post.

  31. Lou says:

    Sweeet. I like the whole concept. I do agree with those who say , journalist-ically, that you buried the lead, but I liked the thought process.

    You might consider a pod-cast or a video for those who don’t learn easily from the page or screen. That wouldn’t be near as much work as a seminar, no traveling and would help aural learners.

  32. kristine says:

    This is SO odd. I read the posts backwards. The next post is about spending vacation time making yourself of more value to your employer.

    This seems totally incongruous with not wanting to travel or take on more work to make an exorbitant sum, even for a short period of time, when a house in the country is the goal. Hard work, sacrifice, and going out of one’s comfort zone is touted here a lot. The discrepancy in the value placed on quality of life, one post to the next, is bizarre to me.

    I understand feeling like a phony charging people what you already offer for free- content- but with a live experience people pay for the motivation just as much. Otherwise- why even tune in for similar posts?

  33. PF says:

    I Loved this!

  34. Annie says:

    This is a good post, very thoughtful and creative way to reach your audience.
    I like seminars where there is value to what they are saying and you do that nicely with your free seminar.
    thanks for sharing.

  35. Jacinta says:

    I am a professional trainer. I teach people certain skills in that many other people do pick up for free by just reading websites. I have my own materials that I use, but they’re available on my website for free. Businesses pay to send their staff to my training courses, because an intensive course for a week is a very efficient way to teach those staff members a new skill when compared with asking them to try to teach themselves.

    While it is possible for someone to find out all that they want about personal finance just by reading websites, that isn’t the same as giving them an easy path to doing so. (Although your free ebook and 31 days to fix your finances are pretty close).

    A seminar takes the attendee from A->B. Some of those attendees won’t even know why they’re there. Others will have tried to get their money under control a few times and failed. Their destination is the motivation to make a change, and 2-3 goals to make *right now*. A good speaker can get them from A->B through a convincing presentation with a much higher success rate than any written text.

    Your “seminar” made me smile, but it also made me shake my head. If that’s what you want, sure, but I think part of your reason is that you’d simply rather not stand in front of people and give that talk. That’s okay, neither would I. Taking people’s money in exchange for showing them the basic steps to get their lives in order isn’t evil. People usually respect stuff they spent money to learn more than stuff they were shown for free… (People are weird.)

  36. Heidi says:

    That was great. Really. Seminars are great for motivation but do not encourage action. I think that the hardest step anyone can take towards change is the change itself. Going to a seminar is not taking that step, but taking the action Trent lists is that first step.
    Well done, Trent. Encouraging real change is not always profitable.

  37. Jordan says:

    You’re an amazing person, Trent Hamm. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness on this issue.

    Although, I will back up some other commenters and say, the process of teaching a room full of people is a really enjoyable and inspiring experience, and you might enjoy doing it one day!

  38. Teenie says:

    I agree with Des. I attended the Dave Ramsey seminar years ago. I had already purchased a book and was a faithful listener. However, I just wanted to see him in person. The tickets then were $13 a piece. The seminar was about 5 hours long. I brought my sister so that Dave could convince her to give up her credit cards. We enjoyed it and wished we purchased VIP seats for $20 a piece. We did received a booklet and prized were given away (The winners were pre-selected). About a year later my sister told me she gave up her credit cards and that she was glad I brought her to the seminar. She said that giving up her credit cards was the best thing she had ever done. For me and my sister the seminar was “priceless!”

  39. Rich says:

    Yeah, take a tip from the person above about auditory learners and YouTube. You have a perfect point about not wanting to charge people; take a page from Khan Academy and start producing YouTube videos. There does exist the potential for ad revenue there, though you’ll probably have to be careful to review what kinds of things get advertised (as I’m sure you do here).

  40. Rich says:

    Oh, one more thing: consider the fact that people tend to value something more when they pay for it (and they value it more the more they pay for it). I’m not advocating that you don’t charge what people can’t afford, but perhaps that charging a nominal amount may actually help your cause. Heck, you could even offer coupons, discounts, even “scholarships” While it sounds like just base market segmentation and trying to eke out the last dollar out of people, I’m really just trying to describe a way to let you charge money in a way that people still have cheaper/free options but still feel that they got something valuable, thus making it more likely they’ll act on it.

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