Talking Personal Finance in Public Forums

It has been just over a year since I sat down and started writing my first book, RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit. As I noted in the book then, and in this blog which came later, my foray into writing about personal finance in public forums was borne out of my desire to share what I had learned over the previous 13 years about achieving fiscal fitness and securing my financial future.

One YearSimply put, I wanted to share the joy of being free of the scourge of debt, building a substantial nest-egg and communicate to others how they could do the same.

What a year it has been! I self-published the book, started this blog, joined a lot of social media outlets, became a contributor covering personal finance at Healthy Black Men, became a moderator in a Google+ personal finance forum, self-published a second book – Personal Finance Puzzles and Quizzes – and was nominated for a couple of personal finance blog awards.

Now strikes me as a good time to reflect on, and share, the things that I have observed, the things that have disappointed me a little, the things I find interesting and some of the conclusions I have drawn with respect to how people approach personal finance.

As might be expected, when I published my book, I was excited to share it with friends and family; and release it to the public. Not because I thought I was going to sell a million copies…or even a thousand. In fact, considering the book was priced at $3.99 (since reduced to $2.99), at the time I told my wife I would be lucky to recover the cost of buying the ISBN codes. I was right.

My excitement quickly turned to disappointment. Outside of a few congratulatory emails, my extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) has largely ignored the book, even the offer of complimentary copies.

Again, it was never my intention or belief that this would be some best-selling book. However, I thought family members would jump at the chance to pick the brain of a family member that happened to know a little about personal finance and understands what is required to get fiscally fit and secure a financial future.

I found this incredibly interesting as quite frankly, most of them could learn – at least I’m pretty sure that most of them could learn – from the lessons in the book and the guidance provided.

At the encouragement of my wife and a couple close friends I started this blog with the intent of continuing the discussion started in the book and to engage with people interested in personal finance.

I was pretty excited as I spoke with a couple of financially savvy friends that indicated they would be interested in occasionally contributing material and I met a few people through social media outlets that expressed an interest in guest contributions.

Unfortunately, my experiences with guest contributors have largely been negative. The friends have not come through in any meaningful way, if at all. Don’t get me wrong. There is no animosity and there isn’t some stain on our relationships. There were never any explicit agreements. However, based on a few conversations, I was left with the impression there would be contributions; I would have the assistance of a couple of savvy people to help with engaging readers.

The guest contributors met through various social media? Unfortunately, they generally were more interested in bringing attention to other works, sites, etc. That is not necessarily a problem for me. I firmly believe people can, and should, learn from as many sources as possible, developing beliefs and a system of saving/investing that works for them. However, the primary objective of any guest contributor should be to engage and enlighten my readers. Too often that just wasn’t the case. I pretty much gave up on the idea of guest contributors early on.

This blog has led me down the personal finance paths noted previously: joining a lot of social media outlets, being offered the opportunity to become a contributor at Healthy Black Men and the offer to become a moderator in a Google+ personal finance forum.

I understood going in that I would have to spend time and energy cultivating an audience through social media. However, I did not suspect how much time! I can’t tell you how much time I spent on Google+ serving as a moderator, working hard to stop a lot of spam and engage members in conversations about personal finance.

While I enjoyed a lot of the conversations, my primary desire was to have those types of conversations on this blog…not spend all that time and energy in Google+ communities. The effort expended on Google+ simply was not commensurate with the returns. I could never find a way to encourage those in the various Google+ communities I participated to also engage on this blog.

Similar stories with Facebook and Twitter. I initially had a regular Facebook account and talked quite a bit about personal finance, providing links to this blog and other content I thought others might find interesting; very little feedback. On more than one occasion I’m pretty certain I heard crickets!

My wife’s niece commented that I posted too much about personal finance. Her comment was not malicious and I thought the point was fair. After all, most people were talking about other stuff; a meal they had recently, a recent vacation, sharing pictures of kids, sharing jokes, etc. Not really any discussion of personal finance.

Taking that cue, I recently set up a Facebook business page where I share content from this blog, content from other blogs as well as articles from finance related websites; content I believe is interesting and will help readers become more financially savvy. Similar story. Very little engagement.

What have I learned over the course of the last year? What is my most significant takeaway?

The Retirement Conundrum [Debt Free Guys]

Most people are not interested in personal finance; at least they aren’t that interested in talking about it in the forums with which I am familiar. Perhaps people are too busy with other things in their lives. Perhaps they aren’t comfortable talking about personal finance in any forum. Perhaps most people believe they are already financially savvy (I find that hard to believe if you trust the reports/studies with respect to Americans and their finances in general and preparedness for retirement specifically). Whatever the reason, or combination of reasons, I have been genuinely surprised at what I perceive as a lack of interest for learning more about personal finance and getting fiscally fit.

I have also learned that in many ways that the personal finance blog community is somewhat insular. A lot of the engagement I see on Twitter and in the comments section of blog posts is personal finance bloggers talking to each other.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with people who share a common interest having a conversation, my experience has been that as I try to engage with those that might benefit the most from learning more about personal finance, I end up spending an incredible amount of time engaged with those that already have achieved a certain comfort level with personal finance.

I strongly suspect that is the case with most personal finance bloggers. Unfortunately, it seems to me that most personal finance bloggers are writing about a lot of the same stuff and talking to each other about it.

As I touched on earlier, I truly never expected my first book to sell even a few hundred copies and similarly, I honestly did not expect that this blog would rival top personal finance sites/blogs such as The Motley Fool.

However, I did expect slightly better engagement from friends and family; and I was hopeful that I could develop more of an audience. Alas, the truth is my book has only sold ~100 copies and the audience for this blog is pretty paltry.

What does it all mean? While I do not plan to completely disengage from social media, I do plan to significantly scale back my time spent on those various platforms. Most importantly, I plan to continue to run this blog and really focus on engaging with the readers who haveThank You found some value in the pages of my books and the posts found here. As long as a few people take the time to stop by, I will continue to offer my two cents with respect to helping them achieve fiscal fitness and secure their financial future.

When my wife reviewed the first draft of this post, she said, “honestly, it kind of sounds like a pity party.” Yikes, that certainly was not my intent! I absolutely loved writing the book and I thoroughly enjoy running this blog; and I absolutely believe a few readers have found value between the two. And as I just noted, I have every intention to keep running it. I simply plan to modify my approach a little.

To those that purchased a book and/or read this blog on a regular basis, thank you. I look forward to continued engagement over the next year and learning from each other. Stay savvy, my friends!

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.

15 Comments

  1. Keep at it, James! Your time will come. I expect there’s still a number of pre-retirement people who still have their “head in the sand” and will poke it up in the coming years to find out how they can retire.

    Like Kay and yourself, I do find it quite fascinating how all the PF bloggers converge together, like we’ve all drunk the koolaid. We can’t get others to engage because (a) they’re doing fine or (b) reason above.

    In any case, I’ve learned a lot from PF bloggers, like yourself and I’ve only been doing this a short time. My goals are (1) motivate myself (2) help others (3) educate myself (4) set myself up for a post retirement sideline. I’ve already accomplished (1) and (3), even though they are ongoing. Time will tell for the other two.

    BTW, I find it difficult to influence family (except my children), and I wish they would listen to me and I don’t really dare to broach the subject with my friends (a little embarrassed, but slowly getting more comfortable).

    I’ll definitely promote this post, FWIW! 🙂

    • No doubt that I plan to keep moving forward with the blog. I really do enjoy writing about personal finance and I have received enough feedback to convince me that others have found some value in what I am doing. I did not really have any concrete goals/expectations a year ago when I started down this road, and this post was just a way for me to capture a lot of different thoughts. One year into it, I would say my goal is to continue engagement with other PF bloggers and increase engagement with PF neophytes. Considering I am about 13 years away from retirement, I am not thinking in terms of leveraging this blog into something else post-retirement. I’ll just have to play it by ear and see what happens.

  2. Keep it up, bro.

    I was attracted to your blog for the content.

    I, at least, think you’re doing something right.

    Let’s get more folks to hear the message.

    • Thanks, Rob. I absolutely plan to keep it going. No doubt that we need to keep preaching the message of financial literacy and attaining financial freedom.

  3. James, I have always liked reading your posts. You bring up good points and interesting topics. I do tend to be on google+ first then delve into other pages. I hope you are not abandoning the personal finance community totally.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Andy. I have no plans to stop participating completely in any of the platforms where I currently have a presence. However, I may pare back my participation a little bit. Creating new content for this blog, writing occasionally for Healthy Black Men, and maintaining a presence on Twitter & Google+ takes a lot of time. At the end of the day, my preference is to do all that I can to facilitate great conversations about personal finance & retirement planning and engage with readers on this blog.

  4. A Google+ reader notes…

    “Just started tuning in and lots of good ideas out here so I will keep checking in to talk a little money management.”

  5. A Google+ reader notes…

    “It’s good to reflect and helping people obtain their financial independence is a noble cause even when sometimes the effort isn’t always worth the reward.”

  6. James, I enjoyed reading about your struggles this year. Not that I am glad there were struggles for you, but I can relate to a lot of what you are saying. I’ve often thought how the personal finance blogging community is just all of us reading each other’s blogs. I’ve slowed down a bit lately, but will continue to post so that I remain engaged. I’ve been surprised that I’ve learned much more from reading others blogs than I had originally thought I would. For me, it’s been great connecting with others.

    I think you have a great site. You focus more on providing readers with solutions to their problems and with the tools they can use to help themselves become more financially savvy. In the long run, this type of content is what will last and pay off. I’m sure you will see that in the future.

    • “I’ve often thought how the personal finance blogging community is just all of us reading each other’s blogs.” A sentiment we share and one that is very interesting to me. I have learned a little – or at least fine tuned some beliefs – through engaging with other personal finance bloggers and like you, I have enjoyed connecting with others.

      Thanks for the kind words about the blog and I can truthfully say, yours is one of the few blogs I regularly check out…always a good read.

  7. There is only one “money” blog in my RSS feed, Retirement Savvy Dot Net. As I’ve mentioned previously I appreciate as well as apply the information you share.

    I appreciate your word(s), word.

    • As always, your support is appreciated. I’m looking forward to taking in what the next year – and beyond – brings!

  8. I enjoy your posts. I will continue to read your blog. You have put out a lot of good information. These are tough times right now for a lot of people and there are a lot of people that don’t think about retirement until it is upon them, when it’s too late. I believe that what you are doing, trying to educate people, is a great thing SavvyJames! Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks for the support. Though frustrating at times, it really has been a great year overall and I look forward to seeing what happens over the course of the next year or so.

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