Updated on 05.04.07

Are Personal Finance Blogs A Suitable Replacement For Financial Books And Magazines?

Trent Hamm

Here’s a loaded question that I was asked yesterday during an IM chat with a reader of The Simple Dollar. I gave a quick response to the reader, but I spent a lot of time considering this question, mostly in terms of my own site. Is The Simple Dollar an adequate replacement for financial books and magazines?

My simple answer is no, but it comes with some strings attached.

Your Money or Your LifeLet’s address personal finance books first. Personal finance books have a huge advantage over blogs: the continued narrative. A book can cover a specific topic with a depth that is far outside the normal realm of a blog. Even books that break things down into a series of tips still benefit from the advantage of having these tips available always in a specific order, with a coherent and cohesive voice and perspective. In short, personal finance books are better than personal finance blogs because they can address specific topics in depth.

Now, what about personal finance magazines? Much like blogs, individual issues of financial magazines cover a variety of personal finance issues, and the individual pieces, though longer than a typical blog (The Simple Dollar is a wordy semi-exception to this “rule”), are relatively short and quickly digestible. There’s only one real advantage that personal finance magazines have over blogs, and that’s the strong editorial staff. Almost every blog you read has a writing and editorial staff of one. Take out an issue of Money Magazine and take a look at the writing and editorial staff there: a lot of people. This means that individual articles (at least, the print ones – I’m not talking about their websites) are pored over carefully. Not only this, a blog writer is stuck with only a single voice: a financial magazine has a wide variety of voices. In short, personal finance magazines are better than personal finance blogs because of the breadth of different voices and perspectives and the editorial quality.

money-magazine.gifSo why bother reading personal finance blogs at all? The core of the matter is that there are several key roles that blogs fulfill that are simply outside of the realm of personal finance books and magazines. Here are a few of them:

Timeliness Blogs can discuss events as they happen. Print media has a much, much longer lead time and thus must rely on more in-depth reporting to have anything worthwhile to say.

Unfettered voices This is my blog. I can say what I want. Print media has to worry about advertisers, public relations, lawyers, and so forth.

Fact-checking No matter how good the fact-checking is, mainstream media messes up sometimes; it’s inevitable. Blogs are more error-prone, but with so many individual interested voices out there, blogs become a very powerful check against statements made against mainstream media. We can be the doubtful Thomases.

In short, personal finance books, magazines, and blogs are all complementary to each other. If you’re learning about personal finance and wish to be fully engaged, you should be utilizing all three resources.

This whole argument holds true when comparing any blog to mainstream media, to be honest. There are roles for both, and anyone who says that one should exist while the other should not is looking at it without a wide perspective.

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  1. Stephanie says:

    I think the reason I like personal finance blogs so much has a lot to do with the way I read books. Whenever I get a book that has little tips or hints in the margins or whatnot, I always go through the entire book and read all of those first! I think I’ve been trying to look for the “blurb” my whole life!

  2. Chris says:

    The thing I love about blogs are that they are free to go in depth with personal anecdotes since they also are free to be anonymous (or partially so). When you don’t reveal who you are, revealing other details is much easier.

    I’ve been inspired by this blog, and several others simply because I’ve seen the personal stories, as they unfolded. Your line of articles about your personal history is a perfect example. A book would have created a fictional person, and it wouldn’t have been nearly as convincing or real.

  3. Daniel says:

    I think another reason blogs are valuable is because they expose the reader to vocabulary and ideas in many different contexts. If I’m reading a book or magazine and come across a new word or idea (even words like “stock” or ideas like “compound interest” were new to me a few months ago), I may not totally understand the meaning behind it.

    Blogs offer up chances to read about these words or ideas in context and often create a link in my mind to the deeper meaning behind them.

  4. Wilson Porter says:

    I love the blogs. You can get so much so quickly.

    I like reading from different sources, too.

    As soon as I read stickyasset.com this October, I absolutely knew I had to educate myself on what is happening. Nowhere can help you do that more than the blogs….not as fast anyway.


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