THE TRAGICOMEDY OF HUBRIS AND WHY PERSONAL FINANCE BLOGS SUCK BALLS
It has been a while since I’ve posted anything on Beards and Money. Did I die? Maybe the alter ego Dr. Beard did a little, but the real life person behind the persona is still very much alive. Basically, Dr. Beard got disillusioned with the personal finance blogosphere. Personal finance blogs suck. The blog became a job, the rest of the blogs out there really suck, and the boring middle is a boring place to write about. In this post, I’ll tell you what happened to the blog, its future, and what I’m thinking about now-a-days. I’ll also detail how hubris leads us all to tumble from the sky.
THE ESCAPE FROM CRETE
If you haven’t looked around the blog in a while (and why would you, it’s been dead!), then you may notice some changes. As I’ve detailed in previous posts, I started this blog for shits and giggles with no intention of monetizing it and really no intention of having much of anyone read it. I had fun writing shit into a computer, being irreverent about money and beards, and weaving some short stories together from the cognitive science of my day job and my personal adventures dealing with dollars.
I had built wings made of wax and feathers to escape the dumb shit I was doing with my money. These metaphorical wings were my motivation to get my shit together, and they worked really well. My networth was climbing, my debt dropping, and my income blew past my expectations.
At the outset, I knew I was a dumbass. I literally warned you readers of this with each post. When it was two of you poking around, we were just a group of dumbassess banding together to learn and grow. We were each other’s inspiration, because you need that when you make a change.
My wings were working and Crete was far behind me.
And then I got big for my britches.
THAT SUN SURE IS PRETTY
Within a month of starting the blog, somebody important in the personal finance bloggysphere liked something I wrote and the next day I sat in my chair in my Prague office dumbfounded as literally tens of thousands of people scrolled through my site. This whole experience repeated itself shortly after that, only this time I was on a boat in Malta (don’t hate, bitches.)
Shortly after that, I wrote a post leaving instructions for my wife on how to handle the ridiculously huge life insurance payout when I died. Sappy shit. And kinda morbid. It got picked up by The Pennyhoarder (twice!) and traffic has just been chugging along since.
Seriously. I’m like an expert on life insurance now. Life insurance companies are linking to me and quoting that article on their social media presences. Reporters STILL contact me every so often when they’re doing a story on life insurance. Except I’ve only ever bought one life insurance policy and I don’t know shit about it!
That never stopped me from thinking I knew shit about it.
Sure, I joked about being a dumbass, with a cute little About Me page warning you that I don’t know shit about beards or money. But inside, I thought maybe I am some hot shit. Maybe I’m the next big thing in personal finance.
Rockstar Finance had me listed as one of the best new personal finance blogs for the year within the first two months of the blog’s existence.
I was going to be hanging out with The Financial Samurai in Prague (a scheduling conflict caused our metaphorical ships to sail past each other, unfortunately). I was planning on going to FinCon and meeting J. Money for a beer.
I started thinking that maybe I was the next Mr. Money Mustache. I was going to be the next big personal finance asshole out there raking in the dough talking about how to get rich by not drinking lattes.
This silly little blog about beards and money started to actually make money, too. Fuck! I’m a goddamn genius.
THE WAX STARTED TO MELT
Do you want to know how to get newspapers and financial websites to interview you so you can get those little “As seen on …” logos on your front page? It’s really. fucking. easy. I am not joking. With respect to the content of this blog, I am a nobody with no training, I won’t even use my real name, and I can’t go a paragraph without saying “fuck”. I’ve talked to several reporters for the finance sections of big organizations you’ve heard of and I’ve been quoted in some pretty mainstream, high traffic venues.
I am an actual, for real, credentialed national expert, who literally wrote the book on my field in real life (not even close to finance), and I can’t generate the kind of media interest a two-month old blog about beard oil managed to swing.
So obviously, I’m sooper smart about money and blogs. Fuck real work. I’m gonna blog for a living!
I kept telling myself that I’m just a lucky asshole. But deep in my mind I actually started to believe that I was someone worth watching out for. Truth-be-told, had I stuck to the blogging plan and plugged away, I’d be doing pretty well right now. But would it be worth it? Would I be providing an actual useful product?
The dirty little secret in personal finance blogging is that in order to start making money at it, your shit basically has to suuuuuuuuuuuuck.
For example, I started writing posts just to build up to affiliate shit at the end. I promise $150 for reading right in the title so the thousands of subscribers I had at the time would open it in their email. What kind of dickhead am I?!
That post about cognitive biases had some interesting thoughts, that I could have explored in a more meaningful way had I not written the entire thing as a wrapper for an Acorns affiliate link.
I wrote that post (and a few others) for the express purpose of making money off of readers. And it worked. And I hated it.
I seriously don’t care for the life insurance post, and it is still the main driver of traffic to this website. (I can’t work up a hate for it, because I wrote it before I tried my hand at serious monetization.)
MELTED WAX AND PLUNGING INTO THE SEA
If you’ve been reading this blog, then you already heard the story about how I turned off a fire hose of money because it became a job that sucked. (If not, go back and read that post. I’ll wait.) This stupid little website all of the sudden started looking like a job. I was getting tens of thousands of page views per month, posts where filling with comments, and I felt pressured to come up with more and more interesting shit to say.
But the interesting shit didn’t get clicks. Really. To this day I get more organic traffic to shitposts about shit products than I do for the stuff I’m really proud of.
Shit posts about making money with a blog with affiliate links to web hosting companies? More please.
Problem framing and understanding the psychology of why we think the way we do about money? Crickets.
I know I had (maybe still have) some readers that really liked my writing, in particular when I was writing more in-depth analysis. I like writing that stuff, too.
I really, really, really, really hate writing for the sake of trying to sell something.
At the height of the blog’s (relative) popularity, I went on a two-week tour of Europe with my family, where I didn’t waste more than three brain cells on work or this silly little blog. When I got back … I just didn’t care anymore. I didn’t want another job. Hell, I’d over-extended myself on my real job where I use my real name.
Two weeks off led to over a year, which goes to show you how much I really wanted to spend my time writing shit into a computer as an anonymous sock-puppet about a topic I am in no way qualified to talk seriously about.
And that is what happened to me and this blog. I freaked the fuck out because I and it was becoming something I didn’t want either to be.
I make 6-figures in my day job, and I actually LIKE my day job. Why bust hump to do something I don’t enjoy for a few hundred a month with the potential to make a few thousand. And I’ll only make the few thousand if I sell my soul.
HOW NOT TO DROWN IN THE OCEAN
Recently, I pulled all of the ads from the site and all of the affiliate links. I also changed the theme, because I like simple, plain text that you can read. I really fucking hate it when I’m trying to read an article and some hover ad asks me to sign up for the how-many-pennies-can-you-pick-up-off-the-street challenge, or whatever bullshit they’ve come up with to sell me shit in an email newsletter I don’t want.
If your website has a thingy that drops down from the top of the browser a few seconds after I’ve landed and read the title, then fuck you. I’m looking at you, Bobby.
I. do. not. want. to. make. money. blogging. And it seems these days that all personal finance blogs want to do is tell me how while rehashing PF bromides. Props to MMM for giving up on the “save $100 this week” shitposts and shifting to interesting stuff like urban planning.
The reality is, if you want to make money blogging, then you are forced to funnel your readers into products. Those products have to be enticing. And what really sells to someone trying to turn around their finances? Side-hustle bullshit. Make-money-blogging courses. Affiliate marketing tutorials. Sponsored posts.
The content on PF blogs is dreadful, and it’s kind-of your fault. It’s what makes money. It makes money because you buy it. Well, maybe not you, but people. People buy it.
The natural progression of a good PF blog is as follows:
- Write some interesting stuff that isn’t being written by others.
- People read it.
- More people read it.
- Traffic is now pretty big, which costs you money, so monetize.
- Monetization starts taking over with sponsored posts and thick ads.
- Interesting stuff appears less and less frequently.
- More and more affiliate wrapper and sponsored posts appear.
- Your shit sucks balls.
That’s the good ones. The shitty blogs (and there are more of them) go as follows:
- Rehash the same old shit.
- Use annoying pop-ups to drive newsletter sign-ups.
- Use techniques such as commenting on bigger blogs to drive traffic.
- Sign-up for Help A Reporter Out and start getting interviewed for online articles in bigger blogs/publications.
- Write shit filler posts for other bigger blogs.
- With in-links built, step up the monetization game.
- More and more affiliate wrapper and sponsored posts appear.
- Your shit always sucked balls.
Most stop at Step 1. The industrious ones make it all the way to Step 9.
There is absolutely nothing at all wrong with rehashing stuff for your own benefit. Writing can help you work out PF ideas in your own mind and, as I’ve mentioned before, can really help you on your way out of finance dumbassery and into the boring middle. But there are too many blogs like mine that try to touch the sun only to have our wings melt.
HOW NOT TO SUCK BALLS
With all of that said, I’m only going to post when I think I have something interesting to say. You will only read when you think I have something interesting to say. And … it will cost you nothing. Not even much of the modern day currency called attention.
With the reduced traffic the blog gets as a result of not giving a shit for a year (it’s still a few thousand page views per month!), this site only costs about $2 per month to run. Ad revenue has been in the low double digits, with the affiliate income dried up because you really have to stay on top of that.
Right now, I don’t think I really add much value, so why should you pay for it by having ads sodomize your looking holes. More importantly, because I’m a selfish prick, I just don’t want to spend the time managing all of the WordPress plugins and affiliate links.
It’s either shut the whole thing down, or get it back on track as a place for me to be an idiot without worrying about who and how many are reading. So out with the ads. I can afford the two bucks.
I’m probably going to get back to writing some stuff (I obviously just published this), but I have no set schedule. Maybe something once per month. I’m no longer trying to make a buck off of you, and I no longer care about building an audience, so I no longer have a blogging job. That should make writing easier.
If you want to know when something new is coming down the line, then just sign up in the sidebar for the googly subscription thing. There will be ZERO ads or affiliate links for the foreseeable future.
As long as this site costs less then $5 per month to run, then I’m going to keep it like this. If the traffic comes back and it goes over that, then I’ll put up a donate button. If it gets up to $10 per month to run (net donations), then I’ll maybe go back to Google Adsense ads, and if it goes higher still then I’ll probably cash out and sell my traffic and site to some advertising agency that wants to sell you insurance.
I’M NOT BITTER, I’M JUST … BORED
Don’t take this post to be as bitter as it reads. I actually don’t read PF blogs anymore, but I’m not truly mad at those that do read them or write them. Even the blogs filled with what I might consider re-hashed bullshit will be an epiphany to someone landing from Google for the first time.
I’m a quarter-millionaire, having increased my net worth by over $100k since starting this blog. I have zero debt. I could take off work for two years and never touch my retirement accounts. Those shitty rehashed PF shitposts I’m now being a little bitch about got me started on that journey. I’m a grumpy old troll, stuck in the boring middle, with nothing new PF-wise to do cause this shit is actually pretty damn easy.
For me personally, I just don’t believe I can put the effort into being the type of blog I would personally read myself on a regular basis. And if I did make it to the sun without getting burned, then I’d probably be writing right now about why you should buy GE stock and some Bitcoin. And I don’t know jack shit about buying individual stocks or cryptocurrency. Hell, I might even start thinking I know what I’m doing, and then I’d buy GE stock and Bitcoin and …
Hopefully, this will bring me to my next post. Stuck in the (boring) middle with you. What’s it like to get antsy when everything’s on autopilot and you get the urge to do something. Check you hubris, or watch your wings melt.