One of the biggest challenges I have when writing articles for The Simple Dollar is finding a balance of usefulness and audience.
What do I mean by that? Well, if I tried to write a personal finance article that would reach out to everyone who read it, it would be completely devoid of content. There’s no personal finance information that’s applicable to everyone in the entire world who might be reading this article.
On the other hand, if I write a personal finance article that’s just about my specific situation in incredible detail, it’s incredibly useful – but only to me. The more I dig into my own specific situation, the less applicable the entire thing becomes to anyone but me.
Instead, what I try to do is find a happy medium. I try to base the article on a few assumptions that I think a significant portion of my readers have and give advice based on those assumptions. Obviously, I can’t match every reader with every article – that’s an impossibility. What I can do is focus on areas that I know from my own life – like personal finance planning for parents, time management, building a career, escaping from debt, handling money issues and relationships, and so on – that match up with the information that others need.
So, how is that idea useful to you?
First of all, in order to find useful personal finance advice – here or anywhere else – you’ve got to discard some of what you read. Some of it is simply not going to be applicable to you because of the assumptions made by the person giving the advice. If you’re a retiree looking for frugality tips and you come across an article outlining ways to save money on a college campus, you’re probably not going to find too much that’s useful in that article. At the same time, for frugal college students, that article is very useful.
So, what can you do? Don’t be afraid to skip an article that doesn’t apply to you. Don’t be afraid to skip specific tips that don’t apply to you, either. Skip them, or better yet, pass them on to someone who might actually find value in that information.
Second, know how to identify what’s useful to you. Read the article – particularly the first paragraph – and ask yourself who exactly the article is being written for. If you’re still unsure, you can get clues from the rest of the website as well as the previous writings of the author of that article.
Also, use more than one source for your information. No writer is going to know everything – and that, most definitely, includes me. Writers are writing from different perspectives, have different sources for their own facts, and have different ideas about what’s important and what isn’t. Sometimes, writers are also flat-out wrong – and that certainly includes me, too.
There is no excuse for not getting multiple sources of input on any topic that you plan on investing your time and money into. Don’t base your retirement planning solely on The Simple Dollar or anything else. Major personal finance choices need to have some time spent understanding those options, and the best way to do that is to read multiple sources of advice on those topics.
Where do you go for this advice? Obviously, I hope that The Simple Dollar is one source, but I also hope that it’s far from the only source. Read other websites. Even better, read some books. Your local library is a giant treasure trove of great personal finance information.
There’s one final tactic, and it’s a big one. Always ask yourself if the person giving you the advice has a conflict of interest. I am very hesitant, for example, to trust advice given to me by a mutual fund company when it comes to buying mutual funds because they have a conflict of interest there. They make money by selling me mutual funds, not necessarily by giving good advice. I’m similarly hesitant to get my information about insurance from an insurance salesman.
You can’t always know whether someone has a conflict of interest when giving you information, but you can protect against it by eliminating the obvious ones and also by using multiple sources of information, as suggested above.
If you follow these tactics, you’re bound to find the information you need for your situation, validated by multiple sources. That’s the kind of rock-solid information upon which you can make personal finance decisions, career decisions, and other life decisions.