Should Personal Finance Blogs Come with Warning Labels?

February 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Fools of Finance

I scan/read a lot of personal finance blogs. A few I find educational. A few others are worth reading because of the quality of the writing. Some I read for no good reason at all. (I gotta do something about that time-waster.) And then there are those blog posts that just make you shake your head in amazement. Some of those need “bad money behavior” warning labels.

A blogger calling himself Single Guy Money writes from a backstory of a typical personal finance blog: He had a ton of credit card debt that he has whittled down to a half-ton of credit card debt, along with a couple of mortgages, some student loans, etc. It’s a common theme in the personal finance blogosphere. Some of these folks redeem themselves financially. Others just write about their unfulfilled plans for redemption.

Apparently Mr. Single Guy is cursed with being an impulse shopper combined with a yet-to-be cured gadget addiction. Recently, he wrote about his desire for a MacBook Pro. He did’t say he needed a new computer. He wanted it because it was “cool” and did “awesome” things. (Translation: Apple=Better computing through marketing=Paid too much.)

So Single Guy decided to dedicate a special savings account to accumulating funds to satisfy his gadget lust. An excellent plan but one that didn’t last long. Instead, he went into Best Buy to “look around and play with the computers.” Really – play with the computers?

That didn’t last long either. He went straight for the buy. And while he was at it, he bought a protection plan (I guess cool and awesome doesn’t necessarily mean reliable) and a case. And while he was satisfying his buying urges, he applied for another credit card so he could get “no interest financing” for his $1600 purchase. The “watch me backslide” jackpot!

So what do we learn from reading Single Guy Money? We learn from his 2010 behavior why he was broke in 1999. He called this episode being his “prior self.” Nope – he’s the same guy. Except now he writes about it, including this gem.

I’m not upset about making the purchase but I am upset with myself for not following my plan and delaying instant gratification.

So did he do the right thing or the wrong thing? And if he is truly upset with himself, why doesn’t he take that overpriced gadget right back to Best Buy?

I’m probably being too hard on the guy.  We’ve all done our share of impulse buying. We all have our weak spots. Single Guy appears to have made progress in his debt management goals. But since he put his bad behavior out there, it’s fair game for a Mr. ToughMoneyLove comment. Your turn.

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13 Responses to “Should Personal Finance Blogs Come with Warning Labels?”
  1. andyg8180 says:

    $2400 mortgage… enough said lol That right there would say “dont buy it”

  2. Evan says:

    I think the fact that it is an anonymous blog (like mine – I am not throwing stones) is a warning in of itself.

    I read/comment/scan A LOT of blogs on a daily basis, and I rarely blame the author because most blogs, by their definition is akin to an online journal so they are just putting it out there…mistakes and all. But, I think the aspect that angers me the most is when people (like this case) justify the authors mistakes.

    Just because someone made a mistake doesn’t mean you should comment, Like Billy did,

    “I don’t think you did too bad. You are using their money for 18 months and you have plenty of money should you need to pay it off at any time. At least you recognize the instant gratification which is what most people do not notice.”

  3. kitty says:

    “… You are using their money for 18 months and you have plenty of money should you need to pay it off at any time…”

    So does the “SingleGuy” really have “plenty of money”? Because if he really does, who cares, even if he had debts some years ago? If he is like Donald Trump, he may even spend as much on a single pastry. Now if he doesn’t, than this particular comment simply wouldn’t apply.

    At any rate – people create blogs for different reasons. They may have extra time, they may want extra income, they like to write, whatever. Whatever he writes works for him. It’s up to the readers to follow what they read or not. There are books out there that are simply dangerous if one follows the advice: like those written by actors giving bad medical advice. There are self-proclaimed “financial gurus” on TV who often give investment advice that is downright wrong and can cost people money. It’s up to the reader to decide which advice or pattern of behavior they want to follow or not.

  4. Woah there buddy. I saw this and I had to come and defend myself and clear up a couple of things. Yeah, some people may say this was a stupid purchase and I shouldn’t have done it. I didn’t need a laptop at the time but I had planned to buy one this year.

    As Evan said above, it is a personal finance journal; I put things out there, good and bad. I’ve made a lot of progress in my personal finances and I’m not perfect. I still slip up from time to time. I am human and I make mistakes.

    @Andy: Please note that the $2400 is not for a single mortgage. That is the combined total of the mortgage for my primary home AND my rental property (and that number includes extra principal payments each month). If you picked that number up from my monthly budget review post, there was a note about that.

    I decided to take advantage of the credit card because I can use their money for free. I have the money set aside to pay off the balance in full at any time but why do that when I can earn a couple of pennies in interest? The 0% interest is good for 18 months but I plan to pay the balance off long before that.

    • Thanks for the comment. I still don’t understand the purchase. I also don’t understand if, after recognizing that you made a mistake, why you don’t return the computer and undo your mistake? You are in debt and you concede you didn’t need the computer. It’s a frivolous purchase. Also, with the margins that Apple gets on its grossly overpriced products, you aren’t using any money for “free.” You are paying through the nose.

      • No Debt Plan says:

        Got to agree here.

        1. Made mistake
        2. Realized mistake
        3. Did nothing about it

        Wait a minute…

        Why not take the laptop back, save up for a few more months (since now you realize how awesome the Mac is) and use that as motivation to save up more?

        At the very least take it back, find a deal online, and save 1-5% of the price with one of the deals at FatWallet.

        But to each his own. At least you’re willing to admit you made a mistake.

    • Everyone makes mistakes, my friend. No one is perfect. Plus, not everyone has the same view of what is “right,” when it comes to how to manage your money. I have my share of weaknesses, too, and don’t always live as humbly or frugally as I would like.

      For instance, I have always sort of turned my nose up at people who drive cars with fancy hood ornaments. I drive a 2004 Toyota Camry with lots of utility left. For whatever reason, I’ve recently found myself lusting for a new car. I haven’t broken down and purchased one yet – my wife has acted as a voice of reason (“you could get a new car – but think of all the money you’d be taking out of savings.”)

      I completely understand the purchase. That being said, I think it’s good to wait for things. If I wait six months – I might not even want a new car anymore.

      Also pay attention to how much satisfaction you get out of this purchase. If I were to get the new car that I desire, I would probably really enjoy it for a couple months. After that, it would just be the car I get into and drive everyday. Same old, same old. I would bet that the computer will be like that, too. You’ll enjoy it at first, but the luster will wear off, and it will just be the computer you use that might as well be any other (cheaper) computer. Just my two cents.

  5. jim juber says:

    I think Best Buy has a restocking fee for laptop computers (15%). Hence, returning the computer would cost a 15% “stupid tax”. With that being said, when a blogger post a story, it is open to comments from readers like Mr Tough Money and myself. And I agree with Mr Tough Money, it would have been nice to have read a post about him saving up to buy a MacBook.

    But…..Mr Tough Money, so harsh to consider a laptop to be frivolous purchase. What one considers frivolous, others may see value. I see no value in owning a Vacation Home, but Mr Tough Money does and actually used debt to purchase one (though he did retire the debt early).

    Responsible Personal Finance is about balancing saving for the future AND enjoying today. If one regularly saves and invest for the future and has a plan to pay off debt, why does it matter how he/she spends the rest?

    With that said, I wished that Mr Tough Money would have not intentionally left out facts, which by the way is not the first time. Which facts did he leave out? How about Single Guys saving account (over 25k), or the oversite of the $2500 being for one mortgage. How about implying that single guy has a ton of credit card debt (CC was 0, prior to the Laptop purchase and has been for some time). I do say intentional because he was able to dig up the facts from 1999 to 2010, which requires some back reading.

    Is buying anything frivolous with credit considered bad money behaviour? If so, does that make a financed Vacation Home bad money behaviour? How about a lapop that could have been paid for with cash?

  6. People create blogs for different reasons. They may have extra time, they may want extra income, they like to write. Whatever he writes works for him, atleast he recognize the instant gratification which is what most people do not notice.

  7. I love how people who blog have to try to justify every financial mistake as some sort of blessing in disguise. If someone who needed to lose weight ate a giant meal of crap, would we say anything positive about that? Or the crackhead who relapsed? Yet when this guy does it, he’s not “upset about the purchase”? Right.

    Whenever I see a blogger who gets questioned by their readers, it goes like this:

    Reader: That was a bad financial decision. I expected more from someone who writes a financial blog.

    Author: I’m allowed to make mistakes, I’m not perfect! But, here are the reasons why this is actually a good idea…

    Reader: You write a blog about finances! I’m allowed to hold you to a higher standard!

    Author: Stop attacking me! You’re mean!

    And repeat.

  8. Wow, that’s tough love Tough Money Love! Hope you don’t visit my site and bash me here. My feelings would be hurt. :) Actually, I would love you to bash my site here! That would be so fun. I really enjoy debating with folks.

    Do as I say, not as I do! That is the way!

    Best, Sam

  9. Frugal Babe says:

    We bought a computer a few years ago using a store’s zero percent interest program. It was Circuit City… maybe they let too many of us take computers with no interest! I did have to chuckle about your description of Apple products. My husband spends a lot of his day helping people navigate through web applications, which often run into snags on Macs. His experience is that the less a person understands about computers and the internet, the more likely they are to be using a Mac :)

  10. oilandgarlic says:

    I think it’s natural that we hold pf bloggers to a higher standard. After all, food bloggers are usually good cooks and design bloggers have a good eye. We forget that many pf bloggers just want an outlet and are climbing out of debt, i.e. not good role models.

    The thing that frustrates me most is that those climbing out of debt never listen to any advice that contradicts their spending sprees. Some of us are just trying to help and are nice about it.

    You should go on Blogging Away Debt’s website and try to talk some sense into the blogger. She’s justifying a $6,000 trip as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity just because her extended family is planning it and her ancestors come from Italy and Ireland. It’s not like she has a dying relative that she has to see.

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