What’s my job as a personal finance writer? What exactly is my writing supposed to achieve for the reader? I think about this a lot.
First and foremost, I want anyone who reads through my articles to come away with a baseline of financial knowledge. These are the core concepts: budgeting, investing, life insurance, tax efficiency, etc. I don’t want to embroil the reader in the math of finance so much, but I do want to show some simple math, like why 401(k)’s and dividend reinvesting are a good idea. It’s also my job to not mention financial terms like dividend reinvesting without explaining them, since that’s what turns away the readers that need advice the most.
I also want to pass along any ‘tips and tricks’ I come across. If I find a great smart phone plan for $10 a month, I want to make sure you know that your $100+ monthly bill is not the only way to do business.
But that’s about it. The problem is that unlike, say, quantum mechanics, personal finance is not that complicated, at least when done right. Simpler is almost always better, both in managing your money and in writing about it.
This presents a problem for a personal finance writer with 100+ articles under his belt. I, like any good money writer, have begun to repeat myself. If I thought buying individual stocks made sense, there would be no end to the material at my fingertips. I could write about different companies and sectors until I die or the sun explodes, whichever comes first.
Unfortunately, I don’t think individual stock ownership is a good idea, so I can’t in good conscience write about it. I believe, and the data supports that most people would do better investing in boring, low fee mutual funds and holding onto them. Some people can beat an index in a given year, but few can do so over the long term. And people who claim this rare feat can rarely produce documentation to prove it.
I could set up a website dedicated to breaking down every whole and variable annuity life insurance product. I could crank out two deep-dives each week and never run out of material. But I won’t, because I believe that for 95% of people these products are dangerous.
I’ll say it again: any money topic that provides a lifetime of unique articles is likely complex, and complexity is disastrous for the average person who has plenty to do beyond manage their money.
This means that if you regularly read a personal finance writer and you find them repeating themselves a lot, this may not be such a bad thing. It may mean that they really do have your best interests at heart. Resist the urge to flee toward a writer who distracts you with shiny objects.
If they’re talking about ‘consistently beating the market’, don’t believe them. If they’re talking about a product that provides ‘lifetime income with no risk’, be suspicious. If they’re trying to sell you some kind of “system” to get rich, ask yourself out loud why they need to work so hard selling this stuff when they could just use their own system to get rich and be done with it.
Go back to the writer who has your best interests at heart. Think of it like a Zen mantra, something repeated until it lodges itself in your brain and becomes mundane habit. Good finance should above all be boring.
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