Navigating the Vast (Confusing?) Range of PF Blogs: Know Thyself

DH = Dear Husband

Why I started blogging

When DH and I became committed to a pursuit of debt-freedom almost five years ago, I decided that I’d blog about it. My thought was that by writing, by putting our debt numbers and our repayment progress “out there”, we’d have a built-in accountability system that would make it impossible for me to slip back into my old, well-worn, head-in-sand financial mismanagement – the mode that had kept me in chronic, chaotic indebtedness for years decades. I wanted out. Big time.

Vast (confusing?) range of pf blogs

Little did I know as I began to write how big the personal finance bloggosphere was. My naive understanding was that everyone who wrote about personal finance was, like me, trying to get out of debt. My assumption, since high household debt is such a common stress, was that all personal finance writers saw debt as a problem to be overcome. But that’s not the case.

Pf blogs focus on everything from investing to dumpster-diving; from proactive couponing to meditative minamilism; from DIY tips to using credit cards to get points for travel. Different life experience, different motivation, and different mind-sets are behind different blogs.

“It’s good for people to have a choice about what to read.” True. “People need to find the voices that speak to them.” Also true. But I wonder how much confusion this vast range of pf blogs stirs up in some readers?

Grounded in Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover

Speaking for myself – as someone who was in stubborn denial of my money management disaster for all of my adult life until 2012 – I can tell you that I would have been lost in the conflicting points of view presented in pf blogs if I hadn’t first identified with what Dave Ramsey had to say about debt-freedom in his book The Total Money Makeover. I’m so grateful to Ramsey for taking the chaotic spin in my head and coaching it to a clarity of direction that really has changed my life.

In 2010, our debt-to-income ratio was double the record breaking national average. In 2012, our total debts amounted to $257,400. Now, we’re only left with a mortgage of $84,000, and we have a healthy emergency fund as well as growing investments. Our debt-to-income ratio is way below the national average. We’re financially fit, and you can’t put a price tag on the confidence, freedom, and room to dream that offers.

Getting real: “Know thyself”

“Know thyself” – these words were inscribed into the forecourt of Apollo’s temple at Delphi in ancient Greece. Only two words, but they offer such profoundly wise advice. Anyone seeking greater financial fitness by reading pf blogs should take it to heart. Know thyself – because not all of the ideas you read will work for you.

Here are some of the essential pf questions DH and I have been able to answer by getting real – by knowing ourselves.

To “debt snowball” or to “debt avalanche”?

Debt snowball starts with the smallest debt. Debt avalanche starts with the debt with the highest interest rate. Debt snowball gives psychological rewards: “We paid off the first debt so quickly!” Debt avalanche makes more mathematical sense.

Answer: Debt snowball. For us, there was actually no conflict since our smallest debts also had the highest interest rates. Still, I can tell you  that  the psychological reward of completely paying off our smallest debts was powerful in breaking the hopelessness we felt at first about our situation.

To credit card or not to credit card?

Credit cards get high praise by some pf types for allowing easy tracking, for building good credit, and for offering the added benefit of rewards points. Others warn that credit card companies are multi-billion dollar industries that employ brilliantly effective strategies to entice people to buy more than they can afford – or at least more than they would buy with cash.

Answer: I avoid credit card use.  I’m more susceptible to mindless spending when I use one. Rewards points would be outweighed by overspending in my case.

To emphasize mortgage or to emphasize investment?

“Why hurry the mortgage payoff? Interest rates are so low. Take that extra money and invest it for greater returns instead of putting so much against the mortgage.” vs. “The psychological rewards of being mortgage-free are worth the extra payments.”

Answer: Emphasize mortgage payoff. This is a tricky one, and it’s heavily influenced by my luck in having a good old-fashioned retirement plan through work. DH doesn’t have as much in retirement savings (he lost about 10 investing years to career upheaval and high expenses in the early days of self-employment), but my pension will benefit us both.

The psychological reward of complete debt freedom is very gratifying for us, so we’re motivated to emphasize mortgage repayment. We invest 15% of our gross income (this includes my pension contributions) as we pay off the mortgage as aggressively as we can. This rate of investment is way under the 50%+ of FIRE types. I can respect someone else’s choice to hold onto the mortgage and max out on investments, but it’s not a compelling strategy for us.

Do you know thyself?

Do you find, as you read pf blogs, that you have to sift through the information and opinions on different sites to distinguish between what would work for you and what wouldn’t? Do you ever get confused by conflicting viewpoints? Does “knowing thyself” give you confidence to choose between competing options? Your comments are welcome.

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26 comments on “Navigating the Vast (Confusing?) Range of PF Blogs: Know Thyself

  1. Yes! And I think, at times, I have been confused and unsure about which direction to go because there is so much differing information. Also, trying to find the perfect method has caused analysis paralysis. For me, it’s been a learning process that has occurred over several years. I’ve experimented with different strategies and changed my mind (and my own strategies) a few times. What feels right and what works for me today may not be the same in 5 years, as life and circumstances change. But, you are so right – you have to “know thyself” in order to be able to filter our what works for you (and leave the rest behind). It’s all about the “personal” in personal finance.

    1. “Analysis paralysis” – I can relate tot that! You make a good point in saying that what works now won’t be the same as what will work in a few years. We change, so to “know thyself” is an ongoing thing. Thanks for your comment, Amanda : )

  2. There’s no shortage of opinions in the PF blog world. 🙂 I do enjoy the various points of view, but for someone just starting out it can be overwhelming. We found Ramsey early on, and his baby steps were very easy to understand and straight forward so that it instantly clicked with us. Not to be overlooked were real life examples that he inserted on his radio show and throughout his book. That clinched it for me. If others could do it so could I.

    Today I enjoy reading many blogs and gleaning bits and pieces of information I can use in our own journey. I haven’t listened to Ramsey’s podcast in a bit, but recently started again, and its still every bit as good as I remembered.

    1. Thanks, Brian. I was also impacted by the real life stories in Ramsey’s book. They made what he presented as a theory a very practical reality. Like you, I thought, “If they can do it, so can I.” It’s nice to think they might be saying that about us some day : )

  3. There is definitely a plethora of varying PF blogs, writers and opinions out there. To be honest I couldn’t even tell you what ours really focuses on. Any thoughts? lol

    We hit the debt avalanche method because Mrs. SSC was in charge and boy did I have some high interest debts going on. Although it was probably a snowballing avalanche because I had ~3 CC with about $18k spread out across them, so she picked the highest interest one first and worked her way down to my $64k 2.5% interest student loan debt. I argued we should pay that one off slowly and invest instead of paying it off, but nope, she just wanted it gone.

    We’ll go mortgage free when we transition to “non-career” life whatever that turns out to be and like you, it will be nice knowing we have zero debt at that point, AND no monthly mortgage payment.

    It’s all about finding what works for you, and what bloggers you resonate with. I’ve found my little blog circle is different than Mrs. SSC’s because we each get something different from other people’s blogs.

    It’s all about what speaks to you from a blogging and financial planning perspective. Fortunately, no matter what you eventually find that your niche is, someone(s) will be writing about it. 🙂

    1. I can tell you what your blog focuses on: It’s a play-by-play of a couple reaching for FIRE. I like blogs that give snapshots of a journey. I get engaged in the unfolding story. I think Mrs. SSC was wise to focus on your debts (besides the mortgage) before ramping up your investments. Imagine how different your life would be if she hadn’t come into it and given you this vision of early financial freedom!

  4. I didn’t realize the PF world was as big as it was when I started blogging either. It sounded cool & I enjoy writing.

    I mostly know thyself (theeself?)

    I prefer debt avalanche, credit cards, & paying off the mortgage early. Now, we have paid our CC bill on-time each month and don’t do too much mindless spending. I’m not going to recommend them to everybody though because plastic money doesn’t have the stigma of paying with debit or cash.

    We also focus on our house payment, but, in the past year I think we have focused a little too much on the house and backed off retirement investing. We try to diversify our debt payoff & investing, but any additional disposable income goes to the mortgage.

    1. Thanks Josh. The thing about the mortgage vs. investing question is that if you’re being intentional on any combination of the above, you’re doing a good thing – far healthier than the average of doing neither. All the best as you figure out the right balance.

  5. I noticed some blogs that I followed early on, because getting out of debt was their main topic, once they got out of debt, they didn’t have anything to write about and subsequently stopped blogging 🙁 I agree that there is something for everyone out there, whether you are a new parent trying to navigate the budget with new expenses, or you are a young adult on the fast track to early retirement. That is what is great about the personal finance community!

    Also, I agree about the debt snowball method. Getting some momentum under your belt does wonders for the mindset when debt-busting!

    1. Yes it does! It gives a lot of confidence – often to people who don’t have much when it comes to financial management. Thanks, Mackenzie : )

  6. I smile every time I see a reference to what you and your husband have accomplished in such a short time!

    The first time I paid down debt was after 15+ years of poor money management, and the debt-paying blogs I found at that time made me feel worse rather than inspired.

    This time around, I went from only having student loans for a few years and a debt-to-income ratio of less than 15% in June 2015 to something around 65% by September 2016 (I haven’t checked my math and it doesn’t include my mortgage, but that is not fun to see in writing!)

    I stumbled across the concept of FIRE while searching for winter biking articles/inspiration and for some inexplicable reason that clicked — my whole mindset around debt started to open up and shift. For the first time I could envision a role for money creating a future rather than tethering me to decisions made right this second. Even though FIRE calculators currently tell me I’ll be ready by the time I’m 83 😉 having a long-long-term goal helps me stay focused on my shorter-but-still-years-to-pay-off-debt goal.

    Huh, this post has me thinking a lot – thanks, Ruth!

    1. I find it very interesting that debt blogs made you feel worse rather than better that first time around. It makes sense that you stumbled upon FIRE from a search on biking. FIRE types all seem to have a passion for cycling in common. It’s great to be motivated in a direction that gives you a vision. My prediction is that it will come to be well before you hit 83!

      1. I wanted to edit that after I posted! They didn’t *make* me feel bad – I did that to myself. I was in a place financially and emotionally where I couldn’t relate to cutting cable and not shoe-shopping and therefore saving $30K a year when I was making less than that in total, so “poor me” I paid off all my consumer debt a little bit at a time. Which I DID, so I think I was just comparing myself to situations nothing like mine and there was some jealousy from realizing I still had a lot of growth to do.

        1. I love that kind of honesty! Thank you. You’re talking about what so many of us can relate to but so few talk about. Comparison when situations (income) are very different. And jealousy – which can be terribly mortifying to acknowledge I swear that’s the biggest part of moving forward financially: transparency when it comes to character flaws.

  7. When I first started reading PF type blogs, I was reading about frugality, as in, how to stretch a dollar even further beyond recognition than humanly possible (at least for most people). So I started blogging about tips I’d employed over the years on the subject. I soon learned by reading other blogs all of the categories you mentioned and it changed my life. I wished that I’d known about PF blogs a long time ago. You’re right, the conflicting advice can definitely be confusing, but it really is nice to have so many options to choose from. I do especially enjoy the well-roundedness of You ladies do all the work and I get to just hang on for the ride! WEEEEEEEEE 🙂

    1. We are very happy to have you hanging out for the ride : ) And I’m glad PF blogs changed your life for the better. (You didn’t say, “for the better”, but that’s what I’m assuming.)
      I too wish I’d discovered PF blogs long ago – though I’m not convinced they would have done the trick in getting me out of my denial mode. Ramsey did a near miracle in succeeding on that front : )

  8. Thank you for writing this post. The PF world is quite overwhelming and has more layers to it than the Matrix. Which I believe is a great thing! Readers can start out just glancing and reading articles, then maybe putting them in practical use, then they can look at investing, and next think you know they are blogging themselves!

    I love the idea you brought up of “Know Thyself.” In the PF world, this matters very much so. Such as you not choosing to use credit cards. New readers need to see this because there are many sites that promote the use of credit cards (nothing wrong with that, I utilize them), but that may not be first thing a person who is recently stepping on the FI path and who may be just taking control of their CC debt, needs to see.

    Thanks for being that voice!

    1. Thank you HFI. Here’s the thing about credit cards: It’s not just newbies who choose to avoid them. I know more than one person who went back to credit card use after paying off debt and the same old misuse happened again. It’s like an addiction for some people – I’m even going to say most people since the stats show that on average, people spend significantly more when they use cc rather than cash.

  9. All SO true!! I used to vacillate back and forth between plans and ideas as I read different blogs and blog posts, just like a pinball in a pinball machine. It took me a few years to learn that Rick and I needed to make our own plan and do things in the way that worked best for us. Now that we are doing that, our success rate is much, much higher.

    1. It can be hard to figure out what it means to “do things in the way that work best” for you – or at least to have the confidence that you know what that is – especially at first. I’m very grateful to a few key people (like Ramsey) who set out the groundwork for us to fine tune and custom make. How great that doing it your way has made your success rate “much, much higher” : )

  10. So true, Ruth! It’s great that there is a range of opinions and perspectives out there. And it can definitely get confusing if you’re not sure where you stand. I enjoy hearing different sides of an issue, but every once in a while I’ll find myself feeling a bit guilty or conflicting about not following someone’s advice–especially if it’s a blogger I respect or admire. Ultimately, you can’t follow everyone’s advice. It’s not logically possible. You really do have to pick what you want to focus on–it is debt payoff, minimalism, zero waste, frugality, investing, etc. We can make little improvements across the board but I don’t have the bandwidth or desire to do it all at once. Know thyself is great advice in this area.

    1. Thank you, Kalie. I don’t have the bandwidth to do it all at once either. But our financial journeys last a long, long time, so likely, each one of us will continue to shift focus at different points along the way. As for feeling conflicted every once in a while, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. If we know where we stand, but stand with some flexibility, there can be adjustments here and there – when the time is right.

  11. I started so long ago that there just wasn’t this wide array of PF topics, it was more about building careers and getting out of debt, with a side of making money through deals, bargains, and credit card offers. All right up my alley!

    These days, my blog has morphed right along with the changes to our life: we are in wealth building mode with a lot of careful budgeting and investing, but I’m quite sure that much of my readership isn’t following my writing specifically for those topics.

    I love the wideness and vastness of the PF blogosphere today, I can still find people sharing their stories, which I enjoy most. My reading of blogs is 20% for information and learning, 80% is to get to know the people. For the 20%, I read everyone’s experiences and reasons for why they chose to do what they did, and decide what fits our lives best. I don’t need tutorials, generally, I need context.

    1. “I need context” – good point! Advice / financial wisdom is much less powerful when presented in a vacuum. It needs context to come alive. Even when I was reading Ramsey’s book, the stories about finances impacting peoples’ lives – for better or for worse – were crucial in compelling me to tackle our debts. Thank you, Revanche.

  12. So true! I read a wide range of PF blogs, which is awesome, because any topic I might need advice or more information, I can find all I need to know.

    My newbie blog, is focused on exploring the empty nest/pre-retirement years. Mr. Money Tree and I are fairly young, I am not 50, so I felt like I wanted to hear more from people that were out of debt, but still working/investing/stretching on one income.

    Dave Ramsey’s methods are the bomb! Following his steps, we got out of $60,000 in debt, cash flowed two kids in college and continued to work toward retirement. So thankful for his knowledge and coaching via books, podcast and other avenues.

    1. How great that you found what you needed in Ramsey’s steps to get out of debt and to get through your kids’ college years without dipping into more debt. You’ve set yourself up well for this stage of the game. Too many people at this point are massively in debt because of the costs of their kids’ post-secondary education (and the acceptance of parental debt as the only way to cover it).

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