Why Talking About Myself Is Important When Writing About Personal Finance

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I spent some time reading through the site recently and I realized how often I talk about myself and my own experiences on here, everything from my specific goals to my values and dreams, as well as a lot of the financial realities of my life.

Now, given that this site focuses on personal finance issues, why do I feel the need to write about myself so much? It’s a question that some of my readers have hinted at in the past and also one that troubled me when I first started the site. I posted my Road to Financial Armageddon series very early on, but I considered it to be a pretty major act of hubris, so early on I didn’t post much else about my goals or values.

As time went on, though, I began to reconsider this stance for several reasons:

Goals and values are foundation pieces of personal finance. Decisions like what house to buy, when to retire, and so on are all choices deeply rooted in individual beliefs and desires. What do you want out of life? Would you prefer to live in a less expensive house and retire a few years earlier? Do you consider it worthwhile to buy a highly reliable but expensive car, or do you look solely for the bang for the buck? Is going into business yourself the best way to go, or is there too much risk for you? All of these questions have different valid answers – it depends on the values and goals of the person answering them.

My specific goals and values often shade my perspectives on the site. I’m not a financial planner – I’m a person figuring out my own financial path and sharing what I’ve learned that might be relevant to your life. Because of that, I recognize that my own goals and values shade the advice I give here on a regular basis. For example, I don’t look deeply into some small business opportunities because I find them to be overly risky, so my suggestions focus on small business with minimal risk and low capital investment (like blogging or home computer consulting). I also focus a lot on mutual fund investing because I’d rather spend the time needed to chase individual stock investments with my family – I know I’m passing up potential amazing gains here, but I’d rather spend that time with my wife and son, so I don’t follow individual stock picks much. Those are just two examples – there are lots of smaller examples of such shading around here.

That means in order to make my advice as clear as possible to everyone, I’m open about my values and goals and I try to connect them to my conclusions when I can. I could just toss up my financial opinions without such a framework, but I would be criticized for it and rightly so – the advice wouldn’t have a whole lot of value for many readers. Instead, by connecting what I’m saying to my own values and goals – and clearly wearing those values and goals on my sleeve – I create a situation where most readers (not all, unfortunately) can see the connection and apply it to their own life even if they don’t have the same values and goals.

This is why I mention defining your own values and goals so often: they strongly influence every financial decision that you make in your life whether it’s obvious or not. For instance, if early retirement is not important to you, then you are much less likely to build towards it.

A recent commenter on the site summed it up very well when he said the following:

Even though some of your priorities are different than mine, your clarity about your priorities and what it means to really *live* them in the choices you make, is really helping me see *my* priorities more clearly.

And that’s how it should be – that’s why I write The Simple Dollar.

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17 thoughts on “Why Talking About Myself Is Important When Writing About Personal Finance

  1. I think one of the reasons I enjoy your willingness to share your personal views is that it makes the financial advice much more… well, personal. Everything is easy to read when it’s got some real life examples of your own experiences. It’s also taken a bit more seriously (by me, anyway) since I can see that a large chunk of your advice is not only directed at others, but yourself as well.

  2. Don’t change a thing – The Simple Dollar is one of my favorite blogs because of the writing style. I actually went all weekend without eating out and only driving to work and back (it was an emergency). I cite your personal examples on having frugal weekends for me overcoming the status quo and doing this. Keep it up!

  3. Trent,

    I am a Radio Host and believe me, using yourself in the context of the articles is a great idea.

    As Hosts we are often told we talk about ourselves too much, but really we are talking about our shared experience with the audience.

    Keep telling great stories, I will be reading.
    http://www.gregghenson.com

  4. Trent,

    I wanted to echo what other people are saying — I appreciate hearing about your experiences. Sometimes I feel like I can really empathize with a particular facet of your life and situation — and at other times I just like reading along. I wish that you and I could both be purchasing real estate at the same time — but I just have to live vicariously through you right now.

  5. Going to add my voice to the chorus here. I like your stories. Not only are they interesting, but they also give me the proper context in which to place your financial advice. Not all your advice applies to everyone, but the background you give about yourself and your life allows me to see not just WHAT you do, but WHY you do it. This is great for when I try to apply some of what I learn here to my own life.

    GJ
    http://www.60in3.com

  6. Ditto for me Andamom it’s a very well written blog. Trent you have a real gift for comunicating your thoughts, your blog stands head and shoulders above any else Ive read. Keep up the good work.

    As well forget the investing side there is real need for a blog like this (see first link) most people are clueless on how to climb out of the hell of personal debt and the banks are making it as hard as possible to do.

    One other area you can talk about is how the banks are ripping off middle America (see link 2 and 3 When Banks Turn Evil). Most people aren’t aware on how much money the banks rake in with service fees or how hard they make it to avoid them.

    Last link how the financial institutions are discovering there is alot of money to be made in marketing credit to the the poor and the financial illiterate.

    link 1 http://tinyurl.com/354knb
    link 2 http://tinyurl.com/3beh7e
    link 3 http://tinyurl.com/23g6sb
    link 4 http://tinyurl.com/2o9c58

    If this doesn’t make your blood boil than your not human or you paycheques depends upon ripping people off.

    PS can you add a preview button.

  7. Amen, brothers and sisters, preach it! Many thanks for what you do in this blog, Trent. I try to read through as much as I can first thing every morning, and it gives me a good mindset for the rest of the day.

  8. I’m pretty new to your site so after reading this post I went to read more about you. I am amazed that you started in late 2006, with as many posts as you have written!

    I am also amazed that Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is one of your favorite movies. I recall enjoying it, but it has been a while since I saw it, perhaps I should check it out again!

    An finally a question- will you add my site to your blog roll? As your readers start to accumulate some wealth, following your advice about frugal, thoughtful living, some of them will face the challenge of sorting through 500+ mutual funds. It is actually not too difficult these days, once you get a few of the basic concepts down, and that is one of the things I write a good bit about.

    Anyway, I added your blog as a link. If you think my site is more than just ‘methane,’ please link to it!

    http://www.wyliemoney.com

  9. Trent, for the past month I’ve been coming to your site daily and reading all the articles word for word. I really appreciate the advice and really enjoy the stories. Please keep writing the way you do. Thanks!

  10. You are definitely hitting the right combination of personal stories and financial advice — that’s why my blog has a link to you in my sidebar so I remember to visit daily. I want that personal touch. It inspires me, makes me feel part of a community of people trying to move their finances forward, and makes me think of my own finances personally rather than as an abstraction. Keep it up!

  11. Trent, if you’ll excuse my plain speaking, I like The Simple Dollar more and more since you’ve been increasing the transparency about you and your goals and beliefs. I think you had a tendency to come off a little bland and a little preachy in your earlier articles, and the more you begin to include yourself, the more I read your blog and realize that you’re just trying to make the right choices for you, not always saying that your choice is the right choice for everyone. It’s made your blogging voice, and The Simple Dollar, far more appealing.

  12. Hmmm, I think perhaps my early vision of having a “personal” finance blog has been clouded with wanting to pump posts out. I really do need to speak more about my own ordeals and victories.

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