Digging Deep

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.

Writer’s Options When They Run Out of Basic Ideas

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. They can 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.

4. They can 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.

What does that mean for the future?

1. 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.

2. 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?

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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