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Personal Finance: Practice the Values you Preach, or Alienate your Followers

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I happened across another personal finance blog article over the last few weeks that left me scratching my head and then doing some deep reflection.

I won’t mention specifics on who the blogger was to save him additional embarrassment (and to save you from ready misinformed personal finance advice), but if you read him, you’ll probably know who I am talking about.

This blogger bragged to his readers about buying a new car. According to him, he had paid his dues and gosh darn it, it was time to splurge a little because he deserved it!

Now, buying a new car can be excusable. The used car market has been ridiculously competitive since the Great Recession started – prices are inflated everywhere and from my personal experience – just about any decent fuel-efficient car manufactured in the last 5 years that has a clean title is gone within a day of it hitting Craigslist. BUT, if you’re guying to buy new, you have to do it the right way.

And if you’re a personal finance blogger who buys a new car and be transparent with his/her audience, you better REALLY do it the right way. And that means all of the following:

  1. personal finance valuesFind a cheap, fuel-efficient model.
  2. Get just the base features (which are plenty generous these days).
  3. Time it right with discounts.
  4. Pay for the purchase with cash or 0% financing.
  5. Negotiate like your life depends on it, BEFORE you ever set foot in a dealership. And even more when you get there.

This personal finance blogger did none of this.

  1. He bought a not very efficient mid-sized car that is overpriced compared to perfectly legit alternatives.
  2. Every feature imaginable was added – moonroof, heated front seats, 360-watt stereo with subwoofer, rear camera – top trim level. Judging by the make and model and every luxury feature he listed, my estimate that it was priced to about $35K. Twice what a compact base model costs.
  3. No discounts.
  4. He financed even when he had the cash available to pay.
  5. He didn’t negotiate ahead of visiting dealerships (and when you choose every feature, the dealers know you’re a sucker who’s willing to pay top dollar).

Throughout the entire post and ensuing comments, he made weak point after weak point defending himself on why the purchase was justified and why he went about it the way he did.

But what was most interesting to me were the ensuing comments.

Probably about 25% of the readers were cheerleaders: “Congrats! You deserve to splurge every now and then! (and you just made it excusable for me to do the same, yay!)”

But the other 75% took a drastically different tone…

Personal Finance is All About Values

I’m not sure why the blogger highlighted the purchase to his audience. I think maybe it was to demonstrate transparency. Personal finance bloggers are humans too – and sometimes we do make mistakes when it comes to spending. And that’s fine. His honesty can be appreciated, I suppose, but he did ALL THE WRONG THINGS in making the purchase and then didn’t own up to his mistakes. So, at best, he was demonstrating his personal finance incompetency, in a transparent way.

At worst, he was demonstrating how poor purchase decisions are all justifiable – which is Cardinal sin #1 in personal finance. Accusations from readers of being a poor example to others followed.

I bring this up, not to pick on the guy (whose blog has actually been rated as one of the best personal finance blogs) – but rather, because it was interesting to watch the the psychology play out.

Why were his followers so angry?

After much deep thought, I determined the answer was this: values.

People want to connect with and follow those who share their values.

And personal finance related decisions reflect your values on:

  • materialism and consumption
  • the environment
  • how you value family and friends
  • how you spend your time
  • effort and creativity
  • responsibility

No matter how many dozens or hundreds of articles this blogger’s audience had read previously, in this one particular post – their values (and the values they THOUGHT they shared with him) were very different to his. And that is disheartening for a loyal follower.

If you support a politician because you respect their values, and then find out they had an affair, you’re going to be disappointed. Why? Values.

If you follow an athlete because you appreciate their work ethic and find out they’ve been using performance enhancing drugs, you’re going to be disappointed. Why? Values.

If you follow a chef who talks about the weight losing benefits of their diet plan, and you follow their plan because it gives you hope, and then you find out they recently received a top-secret liposuction treatment, you’re going to be disappointed. Why? You guessed it…


Personal finance is no different. And those acting as role models for others should practice what they preach.

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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Jake Erickson says:

    I completely agree with you. Transparency is nice, but in this case the decision he decided to make public compromised his values. I know personal finance bloggers aren’t prefect, but you’d like to think they’d be smarter than to buy a new car with a lot of features and finance it.

  • Carmen says:

    Well said. It can be so hard to avoid financial mistakes for instant gratification in the name of reaching your long term goals. I look to the sources I trust to strengthen my resolve and remind me I’m on the right path despite living differently than many friends and family. That’s where you find solidarity. I’d be crushed if Dave Ramsey did something like run out and lease a Range Rover because I hear him saying, “Live like no one else so you can live like no one else.”

  • Ben says:

    G.E. – I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve outlined above. People connect to individuals whom they feel connected to through similar values or thoughts. That being said, I think too many bloggers/financial advisors/readers take this to an extreme and ostracize those who they thought shared similar values. This can lead to confirmation biases and the thought of “there is no way but my way” to a situation that have many forms of perceived success.

    At the end of the day, the content of this blog (and really any financial blog) is to provide a framework to reach long term goals. While we may not agree with the bloggers choice to buy a new car, it seems to me that we should respect it. I believe this goes back to values outside of realm of personal finance. Does this bloggers actions cheapen their advice to provide the necessary framework to secure a positive future? I highly doubt it. Did this one time purchase put his entire future in jeopardy? Probably not.

    I don’t necessarily agree with every post you make and have shared my experiences on several to rebut your position (ex. your down payment discussion on a home), but I think what you’re providing here is a framework to make smart financial decisions. This is why I continue to read your blog.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      You bring up some good points. I don’t think one bad decision or one bad post should result in completely dismissing the validity of the others. Ultimately, you have to look at the whole body of work. And just because you have one disagreement or point of differentiation with an author, you shouldn’t run away in fear. But… some choices are tougher to look past than others.

  • Sam says:

    Well after a little searching I came upon the blog you’re speaking about. Car buying aside, I think the most dangerous thing on there is his assumption that there will be hyperinflation that will eat away at your debt. If it’s true, we should have a giant debt party! Only what if it’s not …

    There seem to be at least two types of personal finance blog: the delayed gratification type, and the anti-consumerism type. I used to be a delayed gratification type (I’ll get a fancy new Beamer when it’s an insignificant percentage of my net worth). The longer I practice it though, I’m finding that it easier and easier to believe I won’t even want one when the time comes. Who needs the headache of expensive parts and worrying about parking lot dents? I enjoy the luxury of just not caring! So I can understand people finding a high consumption lifestyle, even by someone who practiced delayed gratification, as still offensive.

  • Mrs. Wastenot says:

    I have been following that blogger for a while, and I was not surprised by his choice….

  • Integrator says:

    Frankly, the readers themselves need to take some blame and have a good look at themselves if they have hero worshipped a blogger and then find themselves disappointed with a decision that the blogger has made.

    Most blogs contain anecdotes, stories and thoughts. Bloggers generally go to great lengths to disclaim liability. Many bloggers don’t have a good grasp of basic finance to even begin to give advice, let alone claim some role model mantle. That’s why the disclaimers normally appear all over most blogs.

    If the blogger in question is holding himself as a financial advisor, reader anger is probably justified. If he is charging readers based on the advice he is providing, reader anger is probably justified. Otherwise its just like all the other free information that you find on the internet which should carry a big “buyer beware” sign. Welcome to the wild wild west of the internet, which is free (and at times dangerous!) advice.

  • Anton Ivanov | Dreams Cash True says:

    I can understand saving for something you want to buy, looking for the best deals and then paying for it cash. But why in the world would you take out a loan for it? Especially when you have the money…

    I bought the car I currently drive cash. It’s not the cheapest model, but it’s the car I wanted, researched and saved for.

  • Jon Maroni says:

    G.E. you rightly call out this financial blogger on the discrepancy between his decisions and his ideology. My wife and I try not to give advice to others that we are not following ourselves, and the smart car purchase is one we feel free to give advice about. We bought a excellent used car and found a great deal, and we have continued searching to see if there are any comparable deals. To our great satisfaction we haven’t found anything as good as the deal we made.
    We can always find a way to justify making a bad purchase, something we feel we are “entitled” to. This seems to be at the core of the debt problem in our country. We feel we are entitled to have the things we want, that so isn’t the case. If you can’t afford to pay for it you don’t deserve to have it.


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