Practicing What You Preach

Should A Personal Financial Writer Be Expected To Follow Their Own Message?

Recently, a dustup occurred in the New York Times, where a regular writer on personal finance topics, MP Dunleavey, bought a home on the spur of the moment. The problem? Based on her earlier writings, that home purchase seemed to be far outside of what she and her husband could reasonably afford. Karen Datko at the Smart Spending blog has an excellent summary of the whole story.

Obviously, Dunleavey’s situation made me think about my own. I often relate details of my own personal financial situation on here and I know that if I were to suddenly go buy a McMansion, a lot of readers would be really confused because it doesn’t match up well with what I’ve been talking about for a long time.

It’s reasonable to believe that a personal finance writer would likely be able to make a good personal finance decision for themselves. If I were to buy a major house upgrade right now, it would be because I had the money available to buy it. I would not enter into a financial situation on the spur of the moment.

On the other hand, my exact reasons for making such a move – and the exact mechanisms for doing it – might not be something I’d want to discuss. Let’s say, for example, I received a financial settlement of some sort that I didn’t feel was appropriate to discuss on The Simple Dollar – or that I was legally barred from discussing. I would likely mention the purchase of the house, but I wouldn’t be able to really mention how I paid for it.

Of course, the other option is to simply not mention financial situations that don’t match up with what I’m talking about. In other words, selective editing. With the exception of personal issues, I don’t really do this – it’s basically too difficult to engage in an “alternate reality” when talking about one’s personal finances. I occasionally blur some things to protect privacy, but that’s about all – it’s much easier (and more honest) to speak the truth and come from the heart than to exclude or alter big swaths of the story.

It all comes down to establishing trust. I think that the real issue here is that some of Dunleavey’s readers don’t trust her, for whatever reason. No writer is trusted absolutely, of course, but honesty generally comes through in writing and is clear to readers over time.

Regular readers here know that I usually speak my mind and admit my faults, but that I’m also willing to argue if I feel strongly about something. That’s honest and real, and I think that a big reason why I’ve found so many readers is because of that honesty and reality. There is a level of trust there, and it’s because of that trust that I’ve done things like dropping most of my ads – I value the trust more than I value some short term income. What are my rewards for that? A loyal readership, one that will stick with the site for the long haul and are more likely to trust me if I make a recommendation or a suggestion.

That’s not a conclusion that some writers come to, but that’s not a reason to mistrust them. The reason that it’s worthwhile to read different views on things like personal finance is that you get different perspectives. Some writers focus on the prose – others focus on researching their topics quite well – still others focus on humanizing the topic. There are, of course, some who focus on maximizing the immediate dollar, too, and will write whatever will put a dollar in their pocket the fastest.

The value comes in reading lots of ideas and figuring out which ones are right for you. You may come to trust some writers more than others – that’s completely normal. But that doesn’t mean that the writers who are less forward about their own personal finances don’t have anything valuable to say, and it doesn’t mean that the people who gaze at their own navels a lot are wasting time, either. They’re both valuable.

I think the biggest problem that readers had with Dunleavey’s house purchase is that it seemed very rushed and sudden. After spending a lot of time talking about personal finances and using some personal examples that indicated that they were in “debt repayment” mode, the house purchase was abruptly put out there without any clear explanation about it, and in the way she wrote about it, I think Dunleavey overestimated the trust she had built with her readership.

So what would I have done in Dunleavey’s shoes? First of all, I would have been absolutely sure that I could afford the house according to my own definition of “affording the house.” By some definitions, anyone who uses a mortgage can’t really afford a house, for example, but I’m not that hardcore. On the other hand, taking out a mortgage for five times your annual salary without any money in the bank is pretty clearly a sign you can’t afford it. The actual line is somewhere in the middle.

Assuming that I could afford it, I would probably lay out the whole decision in writing and turn it into a post on here before pulling the trigger. More than once over the last year, readers have been invaluable at seeing flaws in my own thinking and also encouraging me to think about things differently. That’s another aspect of the “trust” relationship – it’s sometimes a two way street.

At that point, if everything seemed appropriate, I would have moved forward with the buy.

If I was forced into a situation where I had to make a move quickly, I would probably say “no” unless I was absolutely sure of the move, and if I said “yes,” I probably wouldn’t abruptly write about it here and just state that I could somehow magically afford it when there’s a clear history that I couldn’t. Instead, I would probably carefully analyze the decision over time on The Simple Dollar, looking at the factors that made me say “yes” quickly, and try to really piece together why I did it rather than just stating that it was the right thing to do.

Writing about personal finance sometimes turns out to be harder than you might think.

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  1. mgroves says:

    Financial bloggers are far from infallible; I don’t think any financial blogger expects anyone to follow all of their advice. Why should they themselves be held to a different standard?

  2. While it’s true PF bloggers are human also, and far from infallible…I firmly believe they should be living their advice. Otherwise, the word “hypocrite” comes to mind.

  3. turbogeek says:

    PF Bloggers should certainly follow their own advice. I changed financial advisors (and banking institutions) when I became aware that my CFP didn’t invest his money in the way he was suggesting I invest mine.

    I also beleive Trent does an unusually good job of stating 1) which advice he follows to the letter, 2) which of his advice are for ideas, but not necessarily things he does, and 3) thing he has thought of trying, or would recommend trying, but hasn’t put into personal practice for whatever reason. This makes him responsible, and genuine with his own fallibility, without the pretense that leads some to hypocrisy.

  4. Matt says:

    I think that personal finance blogger should at the very least attempt to practise what they preach. But they are also human and make mistakes. Its what they do with the results of their mistakes that makes the difference.

    Doing something that is completely outside of the normal for the person can hurt their credibility but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some perfectly good reason for it that we don’t know about.

  5. Laura says:

    I think that MP missed out on a wonderful opportunity to have her idea be thought out by her readers. Like you mentioned, having another opinion can help you to come up with a better decision or refine the one you’ve made. It’s a benefit that I enjoy on my site and I would to not take it for granted. I love it and I’ve experienced the benefits and hopefully so have my readers.

    I think that PF writers have the right to make decisions and not disclose information to their readers. They should, however, understand and accept the consequences of that choice. It’s naïve to think that if you make a major financial decision that it wouldn’t be scrutinized. It’s the nature of writing on the web. I follow her articles sometimes and I’ll still read articles if they’re relevant to my situation.

    I try to analyze the principles and main points in articles and follow that. I guess it follows under the ‘do as they say and not as they do’ category. We’re all learning as we go, some are more public than others.

  6. Jason says:

    TurboGeek brings up a good point in his post. The goal of an PF blogger should be to review both sides of an issue, sometimes take a position, and always tell readers what worked and doesn’t work for them. It’s a tough thing to balance, but sticking to honesty is a safe bet.

  7. Lesly says:

    Isn’t this the plot to Sophie Kinsella’s “Confessions of a Shopaholic?” :-) Seriously, though, it seems like people are harder on writers/bloggers than they are on people of any other profession. Haven’t we all seen a doctor who smokes, a fitness instructor indulging in a drink, or an educator reading Cliff Note’s?

    I agree that it’s easier to pick on writers because they’ve built their career on creating a paper trail of ideas and opinions, but I don’t think that means that they’re not entitled to making their own mistakes. After all, temptation is inevitable, but real power lies in the long-term commitment to a goal.

  8. Laura says:

    I might also suggest not to call the explanation/justification article “When the money rules don’t apply”. :P

  9. partgypsy says:

    Basically you shouldn’t buy a house you can’t afford.
    I agree the way she put it in the original article was almost like she was inviting her readers to scream at her, because she herself said that it was beyond what they could afford.
    However the way she put in the last article, it is unclear whether or not they could afford it; simply not enough information. The fact that her husband got a part time job to afford the house indicates that they changed priorites, only time will tell if it was truly within their budget and made the right decision.

  10. plonkee says:

    Broadly speaking a personal finance blogger should be expected to follow their own message and ‘fess up when they don’t. Nobody’s perfect, but it would be better to work up to say, a house purchase in your blog, laying the groundwork so to speak, rather than just announcing it out of the blue.

    Personally, I don’t always follow the most sensible path, but I admit to it. I’m a writer, not a paragon of virtue.

  11. DebtDefy says:

    Wow… just wow.

    An advocate for responsible spending, debt reduction, planning for retirement, and building a sound financial future… does exactly the opposite.

    1. Spends extremely irresponsibly? Check… not only does she note the house LISTED for $210k, though she fails to list their dollar offer, a competing bid trumped the price to $225k, and they matched it! Had she said it listed at $210k and they lowballed a $175k offer and it was accepted, people might have been understanding. Hard to beat that, it’s a good market for buyer’s to steal a house from a desperate seller, and if it means you instantly gain $40k+ in equity, well… that’s a good net worth calculation at least. Not this case though, this Finance GURU actually paid OVER list price for a house. Yes, over. Read it again. OVER. She paid MORE than what the seller was asking. MORE. Sorry, I’ll quit… just hard to stop shaking my head.

    2. Foregone debt reduction to go deeper in debt? Check… Now instead of having $6500 in CC debt and a mortgage, with money coming in that could have wiped out the CC debt, the HEL, and started a really nice emergency fund… they will have ZILCH. Scratch that, they will have ANOTHER mortgage payment on top of their existing… STILL be $6500 in CC debt, and have even less expendable income to get RID of that debt. Hey! At least she’s ‘happy’…. riiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

    3. Foregone planning for retirement in favor of immediate gratification? Check… Instead of eliminating debt entirely, and starting on the road to some serious compounded earnings, this crazy woman, I mean, personal finance guru, has opted to STAY in debt, paying interest, and forego the additional money for retirement.

    4. Put off building a sound financial future? Check… This crazy woman, I mean, personal finance guru, is probably what… 35? I’ll say 35… most financial people will tell you that she had better really start socking it away now, and it’s probably going to have to hurt to do it at 35, if she is going to have enough for retirement. So, instead of tightening the purse strings, and really buckling down to some serious financial-future building, this crazy woman… yeah, this crazy woman goes on a shopping spree for a house she can’t afford!

    The only REAL question is… did she anticipate the impact to her “career” as a personal finance columnist when her readers found out she’s about as savvy as a 3-latte a day habit on minimum-wage?

  12. Flexo says:

    The only fallacy is the expectation that humans act in a reasonable and logical manner at all times, even those who espouse reason and logic. Misleading someone for personal gain (like the advisor who wouldn’t invest in the products he sells) is an unrelated matter.

  13. I never even realized how hard it was to be a personal finance blogger until I started a blog. People like Trent make it look so easy. :)

    PF bloggers can certainly make mistakes just like everyone else. I think, in Dunleavey’s situation, I would own up to the mistake and blog about it. And in fact she wrote a pretty good response that laid out the math and other relevant facts behind her decision. By that time, perhaps a lot of readers had already lost their trust in her. But you can’t please everyone all of the time.

  14. Heidi says:

    I read MP’s NYT piece when it came out – it sounds like the house was her dream home and the timing was just a bit off. Homes are like weddings – emotional purchases. I don’t begrudge her the new place, and I commend her for writing about it; she’ll obviously have to do some reprioritizing to manage it.

    As far as PF bloggers not practicing what they preach – I started my site under the premise that I was a banker who wasn’t following my own advice. I admitted in my very first post that I have been a hypocrite, and I’m attempting to overcome that.

    No one is perfect, and sometimes emotions trump logic.

  15. Peter says:

    I believe her follow-up gave a better indication of the process she and her husband went through and the rationale, even if someone doesn’t agree with their reasoning. I think if she were looking for advice on the decision, she could have followed Trent’s lead and got it from her readers. However, the feeling I got from the articles was that she wasn’t really looking for advice on this decision, which leads me to think there is even more behind it than was let on.

    Additionally, we can’t always follow the best advice or take the best path, sometimes things happen or you make a conscience decision to suck up more debt to trade for something else. While it’s nice that PF bloggers try to follow their own advice and I would generally expect them to do so, I don’t expect them to be perfect or to turn to their readers to discuss all their decisions.

    Essentially practicing what you preach can be a tough call. Kids help in that respect, since you quickly learn that they do as you do, not as you say.

  16. Becky says:

    I don’t know about what is “right” or “not right” for a personal finance writer as far as practicing what you preach, but I can tell you that after reading about MP’s house purchase, my gut reaction was negative. Whether it’s right or not, the next time I read one of her articles, her seemingly not-that-great choice will be sitting there in the back of my mind. It will definitely effect how I take what she writes in the future.

  17. Rob says:

    Who knows…..nothing is what is seems. Ive been on both sides of the track. Yes…I’m on the correct now. All I know is you seem very sincere mr simple dollar. I’m one that is very hard to gain trust

  18. guinness416 says:

    Well, to me bloggers and advice sites are two completely different categories. Bloggers are just posting their own experiences and acting as (excellent) curators of links. Dunleavey’s a very high-visibility columnist and has written a book on the subject of personal finance – I’d argue she’s an advice writer and should be held to a higher standard than bloggers.

  19. Shelvia says:

    I believe they should at least attempt to follow their own message where applicable.
    I understand that we are all human beings who sometimes do unreasonable things; but if one person talks PASSIONATELY about an advice or a lifestyle without following it – doesn’t it make you question the PASSION? :)

  20. jmacdaddio says:

    MP Dunleavey seems to be a likeable person. I do take issue with the Women in Red series though. She makes it appear that all a 20s or 30s woman needs to do to secure the future and get that loft in Chelsea or brownstone in Park Slope is say no to restaurants and shoes and instead host mac and cheese parties and swap clubbing tops with friends of similar size. It takes years of self-discipline and putting off impulse purchases to amass a nest egg, not a few weeks of cutbacks on Jimmy Choo shopping binges.

  21. Mrs. Micah says:

    I think Flexo his on the most important responsibility of PF bloggers:

    “Misleading someone for personal gain (like the advisor who wouldn’t invest in the products he sells) is an unrelated matter.”

    Don’t defraud or attempt to poorly influence your audience. That’s critical.

    On other things we’re human.

    I admitted recently that I didn’t have health insurance (I do now) even though I believed it was a critically important purchase. I hadn’t made a big point of it either way up ’till then, so it wasn’t like I’d been pushing it and then said I wasn’t doing it. But it was one of those times where I was human. Readers were supportive and also advised me to get on it ASAP.

    As a general rule, I’d say that PF bloggers should follow their advice. More important, they shouldn’t actually mislead their readers by saying that they do X when they do Y. Most important, they shouldn’t give advice they think are unwise.

    I think one of the points of having a PF blog is trying to make wise financial decisions, at least it is for me.

  22. db says:

    Yes, PF bloggers should be following their own advice.

    When they slip up and don’t (it’s inevitable that mistakes would be made), that’s alright but if they are going to discuss it publicly it should be to reflect on the lesson they learned about themselves from recognizing their mistake.

  23. Bill says:

    I believe this is a cautionary tale.

    One can get so emotionally involved with something that they make a very poor decision.

    Other bloggers indicated MP is in her 40s, with a non-working spouse, a young child, and only about $20k in savings.

    If that’s the case, then her choice to carry two houses in what is still a declining real estate market, although understandable, was clearly not unwise financially.

    Note she made a full price offer to open, and when the sellers countered they subsequently received a higher offer, she matched that higher offer without any proof another offer even existed!

  24. Bill says:

    oops, make that “not wise from a financial standpoint”

  25. debtheaven says:

    Actually, I’m one of the people who beeched about this, so let me explain.

    The person in question is host of the WIR board on MSN money. Even though she doesn’t appear there often, her name it up there.

    She has a gig at MSN, she also has a gig at the NYT. I may be wrong, but I think she figured that the people who post at her WIR board would never read the NYT.

    Trent, that’s like you winning the lottery, buying a brothel, posting about it as a guest post at GRS, and assuming that nobody at Simple Dollar would ever hear about it.

    So yes, she got flak. She got flak from me too, although I regret it now, I wish I had just shut up (story of my life, lol). Why? Not because she bought the house, but because she neglected her loyal readership. Obviously the NYT gig pays much more, but if MPD has her name up in lights at the WIR board, those dedicated posters deserved a “heads up” for the NYT post.

    Another issue, one you may well face yourself one day, Trent. I think MPD has stuff in the pipeline, and the money for the house, and she’ll be more than fine. She’s very good at what she does, the ditzy idjut who always wants more than she can afford.

    But if that’s the case, you shut up about it, you don’t post about your new acquisition in the business section of the NYT! As I posted on the WIR board, that was what really rankled, the fact that she seemed to assume that anybody who posted at the WIR board would never ever read the NYT.

    I have nothing against Mia personally. I wish her the best. I hope she can afford that house, but I’m sure she can, she’s canny. A paid off house is indeed a great thing. :-)

    Sorry for the long post.

  26. debtheaven says:

    I know I don’t post here often, but I so regret that “it” rather than the “is” on the second line! I wish you had an edit function.

  27. Mrs. Micah says:

    “Trent, that’s like you winning the lottery, buying a brothel, posting about it as a guest post at GRS, and assuming that nobody at Simple Dollar would ever hear about it.”

    Trent won the lottery and bought a brothel? Wow!

    Debtheaven, that was a great example and I laughed my butt off! :)

  28. vh says:

    This whole flap has left me with my mouth agape. Even though my tendency to talk about my own finances has caused others who feel this is tacky to describe me as “funny” about money, my sense is that the whole matter is strictly none of anyone’s business. Who on earth are we to pass judgment on someone else’s private decision?

    Also, truly it’s hard to imagine why a person would get so vituperatively exercised over what a stranger chooses to do with her or his money. Where is the perspective here?

  29. MossySF says:

    Let’s say your minister preaches virtue every Sunday. Then news breaks that he’s banging hookers in secret. Does it change the message? Do you have the right to be upset about his personal decision?

  30. @vh: The whole point is by running it in the NYT it was *not* a “private” decision anymore. And she acknowledged that she went against nearly all of her own financial advice with this transaction.

    MossySF: interesting parallel.

  31. m says:

    I believe a person is perfectly capable of giving sound advice without choosing to follow it themselves.

    I don’t know Dunleavy’s history of advice, so I don’t know if what she’s advocated fits in with her recent home purchase, but I don’t really think it matters. I simply don’t see how her personal financial choices have any bearing on the advice she gives.

    If the advice was good before she bought the home, is that same advice suddenly less good now? Her personal spending, in my view, is irrelevant to whether or not she is capable of dispensing sound financial advice.

    What I consider a hypocrite is someone who claims to be a certain way but in fact isn’t.If that is the case with her, then, I believe there is reason to lose trust in her. But if she has not previously professed to follow advice that would preclude this purchase, then I see absolutely nothing wrong with her purchase or her disclosure of it.

    I def. do not believe that you need to DO the right thing to KNOW what the right thing is. Dunleavy could be perfectly capable of pointing others in the right direction even while choosing to not to go in that direction herself (and that’s not say she isn’t following her own advice; I just can’t comment on that sine I don’t read her writing).

  32. cv says:

    With respect to the comments about a CFP who doesn’t have his own money invested in the products he recommends to clients, there may be good reason for this. Appropriate investments vary depending on risk tolerance, age, net worth, goals, and any number of other factors. If a CFP recommends that you invest in bonds while he invests in options and small cap stocks, that may be totally fine if, for example, he’s a young guy with no dependents and a paid off house and you’re a more modest investor who’s been retired for 10 years.

    If, on the other hand, he’s in no-load Vanguard funds and he’s recommending similar funds with high fees, then I’d look elsewhere for advice.

  33. Shevy says:

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that the group MP heads up and writes about on MSN is called Women in Red because they’re “in the red”. This is all about a group of women who are a) in debt and b) struggling to get out. That includes MP, who writes about personal finance from that perspective.

    So we’re not talking about some financial guru with her act perfectly together. MP has been very upfront about both the good and the bad, not just about this house purchase, but about her finances all along.

    As to whether she can give advice without always having to follow that advice herself, I believe it’s very possible to know what the rules are, to be able to explain them to someone else and to still have trouble following the rules.

    Does anyone here have a weight problem? If so, and you know that in order to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories and exercise more, then you’re in MP’s situation.

    Same thing goes for smoking. You know about cancer, right?

    Or personal finance. Did anyone out there increase their credit card debt over the holiday season?

    In my own case, I know how important having a current will is. Guess what? I’ve been “in progress” on it since August. Does that make me incompetent? No, human.

    Let’s cut MP a little slack and see how it progresses. I’m pleased to see that her hubby stepped up to the plate about the part-time job. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened if not for buying this house and it helps balance their responsibilities.

  34. tightwadfan says:

    People can make all the excuses for Dunleavy that they want, but it won’t change the fact that she has lost her credibility as a personal finance writer with this decision. The issue is not, should she have bought the house? It’s, should the NYT be paying her to write about personal finance. I just think it’s sad that the supposed premier newspaper in the US can’t find someone more credible for the position.

    We all have setbacks in our personal finance paths, and I like reading PF blogs that document the struggle. But I expect more from people who have a prominent, public, position.

  35. Johanna says:

    It seems to me that many people who criticize Dunleavey for having bought the house (rather than for writing about it in the NYT without mentioning it on MSN, which is a whole separate issue) are operating under the mistaken idea that personal finance falls within the real of virtue and vice. It doesn’t. A poster above likens Dunleavey’s actions to those of a religious leader who visits prostitutes at the same time as he preaches, “Thou shalt not visit prostitutes.” Interesting parallel indeed, but completely false.

    The real message of personal finance is not “Thou shalt live as far below thy means as possible, or else thou art an evil person who is going to hell.” It is “Financial decisions have consequences, which are sometimes hard to weigh against each other, either because they’re long-term (like retirement savings) or cumulative (like buying lattes) or very emotional (like buying houses) or some combination of the three.” Now, it seems like Dunleavey bought the house on an emotional whim, without taking a whole lot of time to think through the consequences. Perhaps that was foolish, but it’s not immoral. I’m interested in seeing how it turns out for her, though, so I’ll be following her writing more closely in the future.

  36. Dawn says:

    I would think anyone who regularly reads her column would realize that she writes from the perspective Shevy describes-someone who knows what the rules are but struggles to follow them. She doesn’t really offer advice, just experience. The original goal of the Women in Red was NOT for MP to get out of debt, but to explore how and why people got there in the first place and how to do better in the future.

    I think that’s what makes her attractive to a lot of us. For whatever reason, I don’t have the discipline Trent does (though I try to be inspired by TheSimpleDollar to do better every day). So, I enjoy her writing because she is very real to me and struggles with the same things I (and a lot of other people) do. Also, if you read her book, it isn’t a series of rules or recommendations. It’s more of an exploration about the emotional side of money and why we spend the way we do.

  37. While I don’t know much, if anything, about Dunleavey’s “deception,” I couldn’t help thinking how difficult it can be to write a blog with such personal information!

    I’ve been debating with myself over the very issue you mentioned – do I give my readers advice that is sound even if I don’t do it myself? There are lots of great ideas out there that for one reason or another I haven’t done, and sometimes I feel so hypocritical telling my readers to do something when I don’t do it (even if it’s great advice!)

    After reading the comments, though, I feel much more confident in what I am doing. It appears that most people understand that one may be able to give sound advice without following it and still not be hypocritical. After all, every situation is different, and to not take advice because you simply can’t afford it at the moment is not contradicting yourself.

  38. It seems to me that some people are missing a critical point here.

    You don’t have to be a great doer to be a good teacher.

    I’ve known lots of people who are great at teaching or helping others, despite the fact that their personal choices aren’t the best. One of my best friends is an awesome social worker, but her personal life is a freakin’ train wreck.

    I have seen examples of this same principle in doctors, nurses, athletic trainers, counselors and acting coaches. I personally value what I can learn from a person. It doesn’t really matter to me if they follow their own advice.

  39. Demeron says:

    True, there are good teachers who do not alas practice what they teach… but I think they’re less effective if we the students find them out!

    I think part of MP’s success is simply that’s she’s interesting. There are plenty of zipped up people who have it together– it’s not hard for them to put their finances first; they’re born that way. Though admirable and useful, somehow I don’t find them as interesting as the people that struggle like I do.

    A house purchase is a deeply emotional one, pity they’re so blinking expensive. I went out on a limb to build a lovely house designed just for us, and now I have a mortgage that rose from 8% of our combined gross income to 25%. My PF reading has spiked since we moved, simply because I want to get my scary mortgage down. I keep reading about how the road to wealth is an inexpensive house, groan! I could have stayed in our ugly boxy place and been paid off in ten years, but I didn’t want to. For better or worse, I did what I wanted to do. I spend every day with gleaming hardwood floors and light and space, and also with a slight seizure of the internal organs when some hitch in my DH’s employment appears. (It’s okay, looks like we’re good for a while). My choice, but I’m glad my personal finance blog is not public!

  40. MossySF says:

    The minister/hooker analogy was not really a question about MP Dunleavy but a question about the readers. What are the readers getting out of her articles? Is it just a voyeuristic thrill watching a train-wreck in progress like typical daytime TV talk fare? If so, great — MSN/NYT has to right to publish “entertainment” in order to make money.

    But if readers are following her advice and experiences to improve their own personal finance situations, perhaps the readers should re-evaluate whether her articles are worth reading.

  41. Best Advice on Debt says:

    Yes they should!

    That’s what makes Dave Ramsey an amazing financial blessing!

  42. Sandy says:

    It’s a balancing act between your self-respect & mental health, vs. your spending, and while everyone agrees we shouldn’t get emotionally-attached to a house when we look to buy, how many of us can turn that off? I’ve never been able to. It sounds to me like she was tolerating a lot of things w/the old house, like a low ceiling, no office, etc. And would I put my financial decisions out there on a blog for people to comment on? NEVER She threw out her financial advice, and followed her heart. Don’t rake her over the coals for it. Sometimes in life, for our self-respect and mental health, we do these things.

  43. mouse says:

    Didn’t Dr. Phil write a book about weight-loss? I guess knowing what works and having the willpower to do it are two different things. Unflagging motivation is the key.

  44. Ryan S. says:

    I don’t think that being consistent in what you say and what you do is limited to any particular profession or position. I’m a social worker by trade; if I tell my clients it’s important for them to, say, complete their advanced health care directives, I think it’s important for me to do the same.

    That said, no one is perfect, and we all do things that aren’t necessarily in character some of the time.
    -
    Ryan
    http://uncommon-cents.net/

  45. Dana says:

    Mia has done this before, though it got less attention. She mentioned on the Women in Red boards last year that she was planning a vacation to Europe. This was not long after she’d had her first child. People pounced all over her for it, and she said she wasn’t going to go.

    I think her financial sense is skewed because she spent some of her “single young professional” time in NYC, then moved upstate when she settled down. She seems to measure a “deal” by how much she would have paid back when she lived in NYC.

    All that said, I found the situation a bit annoying only because I felt she was cultivating an entirely different persona on NYT than she did on MSN–therefore one, or both, has to be fake.

  46. If you did come into some money that made a purchase of a new home possible, you could easily discuss it. You might not be able to legally discuss the details on how that money came into hands, but no one can bar you from saying that your circumstances have changed. That would leave the trust in tact.

    The problem arises when there is a disconnect – without a clear explanation.

  47. MP Dunleavy is 41 with a newborn. They have no EF, no college savings, and $16k for retirement, and $6500 CC debt.

    Second, she kicked a woman out of the Women In Red Group (Stephanie) for buying a Mercedes. Apparently it wasn’t keeping with the theme of becoming debt free.

    Well then 3 months later she did the same thing buying a house. Can you say hypocrite?

  48. db says:

    “It appears that most people understand that one may be able to give sound advice without following it and still not be hypocritical.”

    UH — not really.

    It strikes me as pretty hypocritical to be in a position of being a paid columnist about learning to be fiscally responsible, and then to openly discuss a situation in which you flagrantly disregard fiscal responsibility.

    I think we should hold columnists/bloggers/etc to a higher standard. After all, they are purporting to some degree of being in a position of “expert.”

    Why should I give any credence to anything this woman has to say now? I don’t. What kills it for me isn’t that she bought the house, but that she bought it with such whimsy.

    If you go back and read her root articles, it turns out the only reason they will be able to afford this whole thing is her husband is taking a second job and they were lucky enough to rent the house they already own.

    If they needed a bigger house — well ok. So whatever happened to making the purchase rationally — selling the first house before buying the second one? And not buying such an expensive house that you need to take on a second job?

    Dave Ramsey would throw a fit.

  49. jana says:

    i believe practicing what you preach is very important. i would find ok if she went to buy an expensive par of shoes, but this is something that i consider a bit too big a purchase in the situation that you lot are talking about.
    i DO believe people like her could have something interesting to say as an advice but i would prefer reading columns by someone else

  50. SavingDiva says:

    I actually stopped reading articles by MP Dunleavy because of this misstep in judgement. Her finances are a mess! Why would I want to listen to her top 5 tips on how to save money?

  51. john smith says:

    MP Dunleavy also tells women how to leave thier husbands and take everthing they have.

  52. Yolander Prinzel says:

    Knowing the right thing to do and having the discipline to do it are two completely different things.

  53. Matt Beaty says:

    We are all humans and have all fallen short of the glory of God at some point in our lives. I don’t think anyone will be perfect in practicing what they preach on a daily basis. I think if someone preaches on a topic they are in fact touching on a subject that they may be already struggling with. That is how they probably came to focus on that topic. I work for one of the largest Financial Ministries in the world and still catch myself falling short from time to time in practicing what we preach. Only through constant prayer and the studying of God’s word can we be sharpened ourselves enough to keep our footing on more solid ground

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