The World of Personal Finance Blog Advertising & the 20somethingfinance Advertising Policy

This should not come as a shock to people, but <gulp> generates an income.

You’ll either be super interested in this, or you’ll quickly stop reading. So, here we go…

20somethingfinance has provided a decent little second income stream for me.

How do I make that income?


I wanted to take a time-out post to offer full transparency into how this site makes money and the ethics behind blog advertising.

Before I get in to some of those ethical matters and my personal advertising policies, I want to first give you a primer of the different kinds of web ads out there…

There are four types of ads on the web:

1. Contextually Matched: these are generally the banner (image) or text ads you see on sites. Most personal finance blogs use Google AdSense. These ads contextually are matched out to the content of the web page. So if I write an article about a Toyota Prius, for example, the reader would likely see a Toyota, local Toyota dealer, or even competing automaker ads. Kind of like magic. If the ad is relevant to you and you click on it, I make money. Other times, advertisers opt to have their ad show on a cost-per-impression (view) basis, instead of click.

Most of the times, these ads are spot on with their targeting. Sometimes they are not. For example, I could write up a criticism of a company like Comcast (which I’ve done multiple times), and in those very same scathing reviews, you could see Comcast ads. Contextual ad matching is smart, but it’s not THAT smart. Publishers have little control over who’s ad shows. We can exclude certain advertisers and categories of advertisers, but we can’t say whose ad shows where.

2. Affiliate Ads: Instead of a pay-per-click or impression basis, affiliate advertising is based on a cost-per-signup or cost-per-purchase model. Here, publishers have full control of which advertisers ads show and where. Advertisers also like it because they only have to pay if someone actually signs up for their product or service versus paying for a click that might not generate any business for them.

3. Paid Links: This is when an advertiser pays a blog/website to include a link to their website with the purpose of manipulating search engine rankings.

4. Paid Reviews (sponsored posts): This is where an advertiser pays a website to write a review on them.

The Ethics Behind Web Advertising & my Personal Policy:

ad policyDiving in to the ethics is probably going to piss off a lot of bloggers, but oh well. Of the four ad methods I just highlighted, I use the first two. I’ll go into more detail…

1. Contextually Matched: With contextual ads, we talked about a lack of control. We can’t control whose ads show, but we CAN control whose ads don’t show. We can exclude both specific advertisers and categories of advertisers.

The ethics come down to what advertisers ads you are allowing. Even though they might be willing to pay a boatload to advertise on my site, I have excluded high-paying but ethically questionable financial categories like gambling, get rich quick, and payday loans because they don’t have any place on any personal finance blog that is worth anything. I have also excluded all “sensitive” categories like politics, religion, sexual-related, etc. No advertisers in these categories are allowed to advertise here.

Beyond that, I have also excluded 219 specific advertisers (constantly growing) from showing their ads on 20somethingfinance, because I think they offer little value to my readers. I can’t catch all the bad ones, however, so if you see any junk websites being advertised, let me know the URL.

2. Affiliate: The second type of ad I use is affiliate ads. With affiliate ads, the blogger has complete control over which advertisers they promote, as we discussed, and I am compensated on a signup or purchase.

The ethics of affiliate advertising comes down to three things: the quality of the recommendation, frequency of promotions, and transparency involved.

As far as quality, fortunately, most of the world’s best companies have an affiliate advertising programs. This makes it easy for me to find the phone, credit card, online bank, or investment account that I use or have heard great things about and then recommend them to my readers. 8 out of the 10 products or services I recommend on this site I use or have used myself and have no hesitation in recommending them to readers because I think they can save or make the reader money.

The other 2 out of 10 I have not personally used because it was not directly applicable to my situation, but I get asked for my recommendation all the time and make recommendations because I am familiar with the company, believe in their offering’s value proposition, and/or heard great things from other readers. Some of these promotions are exclusive to affiliate publisher partners, which makes them even more useful for readers.

You’ll see an upcoming promotion shortly from Chase that could help readers who have credit card debt, for example.

My mention of affiliate advertisers is not all “kittens and lollipops” either (is that a phrase?). You’ll find numerous occasions where I have blasted affiliate partners because they have made moves that are not customer friendly – ETrade, Lifelock, Amazon, Netflix, Comcast (search for the dozens of posts), and Virgin Mobile, to name a few – despite the financial repercussions of doing so. I’ve also recommended dozens of companies for which I have no affiliate relationship at all. I try to stay fair and balanced.

Bottom line: an affiliate promotion has to help my readers. I have a very guilty conscious, which you probably have noticed if you have read any of my environmental related posts. Therefore, I exercise extreme caution and could not live with myself if I knowingly promoted a junk offer for my own financial benefit.

A stream of constant promotions is not good for readers either. To address that, you’ll find that only about 5% or so of the posts on this site are of the promotional variety.

The other matter is transparency. To address this, I’ve talked openly about it here in this post, on my “money saving products” page, in the site “terms of use”, in the site-wide sidebar disclaimer, and on the promoted content itself.

3. Paid Links: The goal of paid links is to improve search engine rankings. There are ethical ways to do that, but paid links are not one of them one of them. The search engines frown on it, and if you get caught, your site could be demoted. If you ever see a blog that has odd text links to questionable websites, that is a paid link.

Despite thousands of offers to do so, I have never and will never put a paid link on I would question the integrity of anyone who does. You would be well served to do the same.

4. Paid Reviews (sponsored posts): With paid reviews, if the review writer has tried the product/service and really likes it, a paid review can be done in an ethical way. I think this is a rarity though. More likely, the intent is for the reviewer to write a favorable review in return for getting paid to do so. At other times, the review is nothing more than a glorified paid link and the reviewer knows this. The latter two scenarios are unethical, in my opinion.

I have never done a paid review here on and don’t intend on doing one unless it is of the first variety and benefited readers. If that rare situation were to arise, I would notify readers that it was a paid review.

Final Thoughts…

So that’s it, in a nutshell. That’s how personal finance bloggers and I make money blogging. I will continue to aim to be balanced, transparent, and helpful with ads on 20something and challenge all of my personal finance blogger peers to do the same.

Any time you have doubts about a certain promotion or ad, please reach out to me via my social media profiles so that I can address it.


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