Digging Deep

Writing About Money Without Repetition, Burnout, or Self-Commercialization

Recently, several readers have written to me bringing up various points about writing about money. Edward writes:

I’ve been a reader of The Simple Dollar for two years. Sometimes it feels like you’re saying the same thing over and over.

Jamie writes:

You really should run more ads. With your audience, you could be making a mint with some well-placed advertisements or paid posts.

Kelly writes:

I used to subscribe to a bunch of finance blogs for a more well rounded perspective, but they got too commercial and too self-promoting, so only a few remain – including yours!

Shane writes:

When I first started reading The Simple Dollar, I found the money articles most useful. Now I find the time management and personal growth stuff more useful.

All of these comments (and several others) speak to a central problem when it comes to blogging about money: the basic principles of money management are surprisingly straightforward once you learn them.

Most of the money chatter out there – CNBC, Money Magazine, blogs, and so forth – is just that: chatter. They usually just cover the issue of the moment – what stock is hot? What investment is hot? – and move on from there.

Why do they do that? To put it simply, repeating the same principles over and over can be incredibly boring. If you just keep saying “spend less than you earn” over and over again, no one will listen or care.

Thus, if you start writing about money, you’ll usually start off covering the basics. You’ll talk about those basic principles – and quite enthusiastically.

But then, there comes a point where those basic ideas simply aren’t there any more – or they don’t come along with nearly as much frequency.

At that point, writers have several options:

One, they can try to write about related topics.

For me, I write sometimes about time management (because time is money), personal growth, and career matters. I view all of these as being pretty tightly tied to improving your financial life, so they feel like relevant topics to me – and apparently to Shane as well. The drawback here is that you can lose complete track of what you’re writing about – a money blog can turn into a GTD blog, for example. So, the solution here is to tie things back into financial issues.

Two, they can try to find new angles on the principles.

For me, this usually comes from writing about my own life experiences, observing how these things continually pop up in my everyday life and in the lives of people around me. The only problem with this route is what Edward points out – for long-time readers, some of these articles can seem somewhat repetitive. So, the solution would be to mix in some of this type of writing, but don’t focus on it.

Three, they can simply chatter about the topic of the moment.

This is an incredibly easy trap to fall into – and many writers do just that. They start writing about their preferred stock picks. They start talking about every little bump in the stock markets. They get obsessed with minutiae that really only helps people that are investing a lot of money. And, along the way, they stop talking about things that are of much value to others. I try really hard to avoid this – I focus on writing stuff that’s as timeless as possible, so that people who dig through the archives (and there are a lot of them) can find information that applies to their life.

Four, they can simply turn their writing into a running commercial.

This is a big temptation for people who have built up a following and realize they no longer have anything to say. There are many, many groups out there who will happily pay bloggers – even those with limited followings – to write glowing reviews about their products. Similarly, there are many, many companies who will pay good money to have advertisements on a site, particularly one with a following already in place. This pretty much directly describes what Jamie and Kelly are writing about.

I choose to favor the first two and ignore the last two. Yes, it would be easy for me to turn The Simple Dollar into a giant cash cow – but doing that would destroy any credibility I have. Similarly, I could churn out dozens of “topic of the moment” posts – but if I wasn’t writing anything of lasting value, I wouldn’t want to continue writing and the site would inevitably go down hill.

So, what does that mean for the future?

One, I will never sell my content.

Read this clearly, advertisers: if you want to pay me to write about your product, I will not do it. If you send me a prewritten post, I won’t post it. I only write about things I use (or have used) myself and find useful or otherwise noteworthy. 99.9% of the things companies email me about or want to pay me to write about are neither useful or noteworthy, in my opinion – so I won’t write about them.

The only exception to this might be if I found out I had a terminal illness, in which case I would try to maximize the immediate income from The Simple Dollar in order to provide more for my family after my passing.

Two, I only write about stuff I care about.

If I find a topic boring, I won’t write about it unless I find some way to get engaged in it – usually through reading a question or a story from a reader. I only write about stuff that I care about – why would you ever want to read stuff written by someone who could care less about the topic?

Three, I find the basic principles endlessly interesting.

I love nothing more than finding a new angle or twist on a basic money principle – and I will write about them. I use my life as a lab to explore these ideas, and I write about the results. I love to find new ways to break down the big ideas. That’s what I want to write about.

Four, I will branch out.

I write about anything and everything that has any sort of connection to a healthy personal finance life. That might mean time management. That might mean entrepreneurship. That might mean anything that I can find that has some connection to a stable, healthy financial life.

Five, I only have enough ads to pay the bills and give us a bit of breathing room.

When you visit the site, you only see one ad anywhere near the top of the page – that’s the prime real estate for sales. I could fit four or five ads up there and line my wallet.

I don’t. Why? I’m not writing to sell you products. If I were, you’d see ads all over the place and blatant shilling for various investments and so on. I’m writing because I enjoy writing and sharing ideas – for me, the ads are a way to make it possible for me to devote enough time to this that I can continually write worthwhile stuff.

In fact, that’s a big reason why I write books and have downloadables. Ideally, the site will reach a point where my book sales and downloadables will fund everything I do, enabling me to go ad free.

I am not in this for the money. I’m in this for the writing, the conversation, and the exchange of ideas.

If this sounds like a blog you want to read, stick around. If it doesn’t, I encourage you to find another site that matches your needs. I want nothing more than for every person who reads this site to grow a bit in their money and in their life – if The Simple Dollar isn’t doing that for you, I hope you’ll find something that will.

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  1. Madame X says:

    I noticed you’ve written a second book that’s now on amazon about 1001 ways to make money– you don’t seem to be mentioning that on this site. Just curious as to why?

    As for blogging, there are so many out there now that seem to just spout top 10 lists and boring repetitions of the same advice. I scan some to keep track of what’s going on, but for the most part I only read a few by people who share their life experiences in interesting, fun ways, which is what I’ve always aimed to do in my own blog. It may not “help” a lot of people, but hopefully it won’t put them to sleep!

  2. Frugal Dad says:

    Trent, I’m a few months behind you in terms of “blogging age,” but I know exactly what you are referring to with regard to PF blogging burnout. After all, there are only so many ways you can explain how to open a Roth IRA or pay down debt.

    One of the reasons I keep coming back here is for the variety. The book club, the food posts, the personal reflections, etc. all provide a nice balance of topics. And I even enjoy the occasional PF 101 post because I usually learn something new, and if I don’t, I surely need reminding from time to time!

    I appreciate your position on advertising, but don’t sell yourself short. I know the work that is required to pull this off, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about being compensated handsomely where appropriate.

  3. Jolyn says:

    When I found your blog I was desperate to get out of a bad situation, and getting advice from someone who had been there before was really helpful for me. For the first time I felt like it was actually possible to change my situation.

    I’m doing much better now financially, but I still need constant reminders to stay on track, which is why I continue to subscribe to your blog.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Gwen says:

    Time is money and productivity matters. That is something I have learned from this site that I think about often.
    I appreciate your authenticity Trent, and that is what keeps me coming back to The Simple Dollar.

  5. Gumnos says:

    In addition to your “to build wealth, spend less than you make” advice, you could take on fitness: “to lose weight, burn more calories than you consume”. :-) Yeah, the basics are pretty straight-forward, so it’s hard not to sound like you’re repeating the fundamentals.

    IMHO, you strike an excellent balance of topics. You don’t sell out, and your articles are well authored. I think one of the biggest draws of your site is your personal anecdotes: whether from your own experience or snapshots of finance-conversations with friends & neighbors.

    So keep up the good work.

  6. Laura G says:

    Even if, God forbid, you were diagnosed with a terminal illness, I suspect you wouldn’t have to monetize too much — just mentioning it would rally the troops, and you’d probaby receive an explosion of donations and ebook sales — that’s the value of community!

    (And sure, you might be loath to mention it — I would — but now we all know that if you suddenly over-monetize, something’s wrong, which is as good as saying so ouright!)

  7. Nate says:

    The posts I enjoy most are the ones about practical simple living. Grocery shopping/flyers, marinade, rent a vehicle for a road trip, psychology of money, quick summer meals, one hour project… all great articles about things I’ve thought about too. This is what keeps your blog interesting. As I read this entry, one blog in particular came to mind (ahem…I will teach you to be rich…ahem). I used to read all the time but it has gotten so commercial, most of the articles are about his book or something related to it. I think you’ve so far done a good job of avoiding that trap.

  8. Nate says:

    Also, did you see you made it on lifehacker? Pretty slick :-)

    http://lifehacker.com/5295372/stick-to-fresh-food-to-avoid-grocery-ad-tricks

  9. Damester says:

    It’s more than refreshing in a world of bloggers who fail to mention that they’ve been given either free goodies or are paid to write about something, someone both principaled and honest in how they approach their online work.

    It’s not easy for anyone, no matter their financial situation, to not take advantage of freebies, etc.

    If you need money at some point, consider turning your blog into a paid subscriber model. I have no problem paying for that which I value. And I value your work.

    Most people who write can only “afford” to blog because they write articles elsewhere for people who pay or they have other work. (OK. A few make it off their google ads, etc. but not that many.)

    People don’t realize how much work goes into your content and how much more thought, intelligence and insight you put into your work than a lot of stuff on the Web.

    I don’t always agree with your POV, but I really appreciate the way you put forth your ideas and how you come to certain decisions. More than perhaps anything else, I enjoy your openness about how and why and your own experiences.

    Good luck and continued success. In a world of “bloggers” like Penelope Trunk, who thinks bloggers have no conflicts of interest when they are paid or get freebies and otherwise compromise their work, you are the “real thing.”

    You have a POV, you state it, usually with no apologies. Your desire to genuinely help people comes through and your intention is what matters the most.

    You don’t sensationalize. You don’t seek attention for attention’s sake and you don’t make “you” the real focus even when you share your stories. That’s not easy to do, but you do it well.

    Our lives are very different but your work strikes a chord for me and my family.

    Thank you.

  10. JJ says:

    I keep reading TSD (and a few other blogs) because I trust the authors. You guys almost seem like friends. I like getting to learn things from your experiences – it’s a bit like a real-time memoir. If you started shilling products, I think I’d notice. And I’d quietly move elsewhere.

    Which leads me to saying, I’m not sure why you felt you had to explain yourself. My attitude is so, “duh, of course you’re not selling your content or products” that I even thought you were being a bit needlessly defensive by the end. Are people out there really jumping down your throat for perceived commercialism or being a sell-out? If so, ignore them. Any rational reader should realize that you are a solid, upstanding guy writing from a place of honesty and sharing.

  11. Laurine says:

    Hi Trent,
    I’ve found you blog a couple of monthes ago and I’ve started following it because I think it is very interesting for me.
    I was not really into personal finance in itself a few month ago, but I am French and currently in the middle of a 3-month trip in the US.

    Your posts about credits, loans, insurance, investing… are the best explanations I could get about all the aspects of personal finance from the American point of view.
    What is a credit card? (You get only debit in France) Why people are so used to owing money? Why people “invest”? How the health system works? And the retirement system? So many questions…

    Though it was not your main goal, you provided me a wonderful insight of how the american society works.
    Thank you.

  12. Miss Thrifty says:

    Trent, the simple fact that I’m a Simple Dollar ADDICT, despite having a gazillion other personal finance blogs on my RSS reader – as well as writing my own personal finance and frugality blog – probably tells you all you need to know!

    If you could keep up the good work, I’d be much obliged…

  13. Very nice! Amy Dacyszyn would not lend her logo to mugs and calendars. I think your site is maintaining a good balance. And I agree: the “same thing” is to me endlessly fascinating.

  14. Matt @ Ratoinal Imperative says:

    It’s great that you’ve gotten to a point where you can both live off of your blog income but still maintain the overall integrity of the site. I would be thrilled to be in that position.

  15. Moneymonk says:

    Financial blogs are a great way to learn about money topics. It becomes boring when you have saved enough money, actively investing and make a decent income is when it becomes boring.

    At least that’s my story

  16. dream says:

    I’ve looked at a LOT of blogs and websites about managing money and increasing your income. I started about 3 months ago. In that short time, I’ve learned a lot and seen a wide variety. While I’ve yet to incorporate as many of these principals as I would like, I always find myself coming here for more. Not only do you strike me as a man of integrity, your readers via their comments, show they feel the same way. Keep up the good work and feel free to experiment. We trust YOU!!!

  17. Dash says:

    I have been a follower of this site for about 1 year and I have to say I come back to this site daily just to check what else you are writing about. I’d say 9 times out of 10 I will read the post even though it might not on a topic that really concerns me. I definitely click on the links to other blogs if they are of interest but time and time again I always come back here, so you must be doing something right! Just in the past week I started using your search feature to look for articles relative to Vanguard. Very well structured side and it has helped me greatly, keep up the good work.

  18. Brad says:

    Trent,
    As they say, the lesson will be repeated until learned. I think you do a knockout job. I’ve been reading for a couple of years. Repetition is the mother of skill. Your information is accessible, and at real world / ground level approachability.

  19. Amit (India) says:

    I have been following your blog for a year and half.

    About saying the same thing again and again….I think this helps me a lot personally…since I might have read a previous old post which said “Spend less than you earn”…but when it is repeated again in some post…it keeps me reminding of that thing…and also keeps me motivated.

  20. honestb says:

    I first stumbled across your blog about a year ago, and I still read it regularly because, while a lot of the advice doesn’t really apply to my situation, when it does I feel like I can trust it. Plus making my own laundry soap is fun, and that was where I actually first found a link – from a blog about radical politics, of all things..

    I love the stuff about frugal tactics around the home (which you manage to keep fresh) and time management. The basics of money management, while important, I agree can get boring because as you said, there’s not that much to them.

  21. Wendy says:

    I’m a long-time frugalite who discovered your site only recently. Lots of good content in the archives and most of it is useful despite being last month’s or last year’s. The basic concepts don’t change and your tips are useful. I’ve checked out other blogs but yours is the best I’ve found so far.

  22. thefamilynomics says:

    If we all use our common sense, then money topics are really simple. Because spending less and saving more is central. Majority of money topics revolve around that. so, even though it feels that topics get repeated, they are necessary because not many people follow common sense practices when it comes to money.

  23. Simon says:

    To correctly manage personal finances, I feel that repetition is a must. For long time readers of personal finance blogs, they already know the basic methods that will lead to a better life.

    The biggest problem is that they DO NOT PRACTICE those methods they’ve learned. Therefore, personal finance bloggers must continuously preach the basics to remind everyone what must be done to achieve financial stability.

    Trent, as do many other successful PF bloggers, keeps it interesting and creative so that the learning experience is still there while the same message is conveyed.

  24. Thanks for so much in this post.

    I am new to this world and I have no idea where my blog is going. I get a lot of strength from what you write (in this post and many others).

    You spell it out nicely. The “YOU” comes out in each of your posts and that’s very appealing. I find a great deal of encouragement to let the “ME” come out as well….regardless of the fallout.

    Thanks

  25. Becca says:

    I some back to The Simple Dollar each morning because I trust you and I believe in your integrity. I appreciate your thoughtful approach to blogging, personal finance, and everyday life. You may focus more on frugal living and productivity tips than I have an interest in, but your writing is always an honest and worthwhile read. You can consistently make me think and your articles reinforce my commitment to financial and lifestyle goals. Thank you for all your efforts here on TSD to keep daily personal finance articles relevant and meaningful for such a large variety of readers.

  26. M says:

    Maybe you might want to consider 1 day a week, food day, making a meal for less than x amount of dollars, a special meal for the one you love, what you would serve at a large get together, your garden and what you are going to “put up”. You have been considering a food blog, most of us love the recipes you come up with, why not put out one article once a week with pictures and give yourself a little break from money.
    Just a thought.

  27. M says:

    One other comment, you always said how careful you were with the advertizing on your site yet right below this post is a Quit your job, make 60,000 a year, quick money little effort add. You’ve worked so hard to get where you are, I’ve read your posts for over the last year and this is the first time I’ve noticed this kind of get rich scheme on your site. It is only a dollar and some change but with your readership that could add up to quite a bit of money just from your site alone. No insults intended just an observation.

  28. Yes, it can be easy to stall out on ideas – no matter the blog topic. That’s why, when I got started, I kept a list of everyday / year-round ideas to fall back on for “slow news days”.

    My long-term approach has been to settle on a niche within the personal finance blogosphere.

  29. SteveJ says:

    Trent,

    I agree with many others, keep repeating yourself! For me at least, I hear an idea, think “that’s a good idea” and then get distracted. It’s only when you bring it up some time later that I mentally slap my forehead and go to it. Just this week I bought some more life insurance. I’d meant to do it for about 3 months, but then Monday morning I read the 1-2-3 review, which talks about basic estate planning, then the mailbag hits me with worst case scenario (CC debt question) and raising your kids (nanny question). All stuff you’ve mentioned a dozen times before, but it was finally the perfect storm to get me off my duff. Thanks!

  30. Hi Trent,

    I respect someone who says what they want to say, when they want to say it and how they want to say it because that’s what they want to say.

    Good on you,

  31. Emma Savage says:

    Hey Trent,
    I have been reading your site since the early days and this is what I’ve been waiting to see. Nicely put. I am tired of reading negative comments, you put a huge amount of effort and thought into your blog and it shows. You are a constant inspiration and source of information to me, not to mention a guiding light in a world gone mad with unnecessary junk.

    Keep up the good work and don’t listen to the naysayers!

  32. Danielle says:

    I like the way that your blog reads. I’ve gone through and read hundreds of posts, many of them remarkably similar… but usually, each one helps hit a point home in a different way.

    If nothing else, staying current with TSD helps me to remember to make the wiser money choice every time.

  33. Bill says:

    Like TV shows, Movie Franchises, or other serial media, blogging has a limited scope and then after a while you start ‘jumping the shark’. This is the challenge for all publishers. Good luck with that Trent.

  34. Hannah says:

    I agree, repetition isn’t all bad.

    Also, like M said, start doing more posts on cooking! You have stated multiple times that it’s something you’re interested in blogging about, and it is totally relevant and related to the overall message of The Simple Dollar. Though, if you want to keep up with the great food blogs out there right now, you might need to invest some time in learning how to make your photography look more professional.

  35. June says:

    Dear Trent,
    Your writing is my favorite part of my email…you are honest, humble, resourceful, reflective…all qualities I value in myself and want to deepen. You inspire me to keep on keeping on and you give me hope for both my future and everybody else’s. Thank you for your original take on issues affecting us all.

  36. Michael says:

    Eh…

    I know you’re more concerned about money than you pretend here. That’s fine because this is a business. You know your audience won’t stand too many ads and you’re aware of trends towards networks like Coudal’s Deck ads – less ads means more money.

    Again, that’s fine, but there’s no need to play the altruist.

  37. Prasanth says:

    I have been a regular reader of TSD almost since the beginning – I come back here every day just because I find you to be one of the few bloggers that say it like it is. I consider you trustworthy and a man of integrity. Keep it up Trent. Also I love repetitions!!

  38. Phil says:

    Trent,
    Just read your article on digging deep. Again, you’ve impressed me with your integrity and character. Writers (or anyone, for that matter) rarely show the honesty you’ve shown. It’s apparent you love what you do, and I think that feeds your soul (and ours). I’m feeling the effects of the bad economy as much as anyone across the world. Your blog is daily reading for me and my family to help us through this. Thanks for all your help!

  39. tammy says:

    It’s the writing, communicating and exchange of ideas that keeps me reading! You do a fantastic job. Trent you do great work!

  40. mb says:

    thanks for keeping tsd the way you have been, the basics need repeating. you give solid examples on how to do things that keeps reading useful, not just lists of ideas without application. you do run a business, so some adds are expected, i apreciate the adds here being reasonable ones.

  41. Kathleen says:

    great blog! I would like to hear thoughts on how to instill personal finance know-how in kids (and pardon me if this is on the site already … I haven’t looked).

    Also, I make me own yogurt at home — which I started doing purely for taste reasons — but I’ve realized it saves a LOT of money for yogurt eaters. And a yogurt machine is only a $20 investment.

  42. sibyl says:

    love your response. keep doing what you’re doing, I find your info interesting and will keep reading. And Please keep spouting those same basic principles about finance – one of these days it will sink in for someone somewhere!!

  43. ellynhill says:

    Dear Trent,
    Your blog is wonderful. I’m in a position now, just recently divorced that I need good advice.
    Some of your readers may be tired of the same things, but please remember there are lots of newbies like me. Thanks again!!

  44. Dana Booth says:

    Being relatively new to the site, I must say I have quickly become addicted; I need lots and lots of advice :) Please continue as is true to you and the site will stay terrific.

    Thank you!

  45. Trent says:

    Michael, ads just scratch the surface. You have no idea how some bloggers – once they’ve reached a certain level of popularity – make money. Hint: it’s not by shooting 100% straight with their audience.

  46. Vir says:

    My financial situation may be a little different than some readers – I have savings put away, I invest regularly in my retirement fund, always pay off my credit card balance and my only debt is my mortgage. But I read your blog because it reminds me to keep doing what I’m doing, to not get sucked into keeping up with the Jones’ and I like your frugal tips, which help me stay frugal too!

    Trent, keep up the great work!

  47. I respect your approach and transparency. I enjoy your writing and trust that your recommendations are genuinely motivated.

    I also envy (in a good way) your success and ability to devote as much time to writing and reading and research as you do. Sometimes I feel like I have 10 or 12 ideas bouncing around in my head but don’t have the time to chase them.

    I need to work on that side of my situation but I appreciate you demonstrating the potential for success.

    Dave

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