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Financial Voyeurism: Sharing Your Finances to Improve Your Life

This article was written by in Personal Finance. 13 comments.


There’s something weird about what I’ve done here at Consumerism Commentary. Although I no longer share all the details on a regular basis, when I started this website in 2003, its purpose was to track my financial progress, to discover and share thoughts about building financial freedom, and to grow my own knowledge about money and life. I didn’t expect people to stick around to read day after day, unlike most blogs that are started today, where the goal is often to gain a large audience and eventually make money.

It’s weird because people just don’t share this kind of information in “real life.”

I wrote anonymously because it freed me to write candidly about my financial problems without fear of consequences outside of the site, such as a potential employer researching my name and finding too many personal details. This openness and honesty, particularly within the monthly financial reports gave readers an inside look into the finances of someone who was just beginning on the path towards financial freedom — although many years later than what would have been ideal. I was trying to catch up from far behind the pack, twenty-seven years old and very little to my name in the way of assets.

Net worth balance sheet, December 2011We expect companies we invest in to be forthright with their financial condition on a regular basis, but we aren’t really interested in sharing our own personal finances, so when someone opens the curtain, it’s fascinating. I credit the site’s early popularity with this concept: people like financial voyeurism.

There are people who don’t like this. As my net worth began growing at a quicker pace, my financial would breed resentment in some readers. One reader once asked me to take the net worth totals out of the financial report article titles each month so he could easily skip those articles in his newsreader, avoiding the possibility of feeling bad about his own financial situation. The financial updates were not a way for me to brag about my success, and until relatively recently, I wouldn’t have had anything to brag about even if I wanted. As my financial situation changed compared to the world around me, it’s easy to see how a community once interested in following the story would be turned off.

Comparing yourself with other people can be dangerous if you’re not psychologically able to handle the comparison or if your worldview involves an external locus of control. There will always be someone more successful. If you think the net worth shared here publicly is disheartening, check out Forbes’ 40 Under 40. I don’t have any power to make someone feel a certain way. The feeling is formed in how a person reacts.

While I didn’t track my financial progress with a purpose of showing off, I didn’t set out to inspire readers, either. The progress I’ve shared might reflect the idea that “if I can do it, anyone can,” but my goal isn’t motivating others. If others find motivation within my story, that’s great, but it’s not what I set out to do. I have a strong disdain for people who fashion themselves as motivational gurus in order to make their livings, at least those whose communities of fans take on a cult-like form. Motivation is a powerful tool, but in the wrong hands, motivation turns into cult-like adoration and critical thinking skills disappear.

I’ve stopped reporting my finances on a monthly basis for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that the situation that necessitated the self-reflection, adjustment, conditioning, and progress no longer exists. That isn’t to say I’m done improving my financial situation, but my needs today for self-improvement are very different than they were ten years ago.

What I may like to do — and I didn’t even realize this I was halfway through writing this article — is work with a reader of Consumerism Commentary who is willing, anonymously of course, to share his or her financial progress on a monthly basis, much in the same way I had done with my own finances for such a long time. I have a few candidates in mind, but if you’re interested in being a part of this, contact me soon or leave a comment here describing your situation.

I have complete confidence and I can guarantee that sharing your finances on a monthly basis will improve your life, forcing you to reflect and offering a little bit of pressure not to let down an audience expecting you to make progress each month.

Published or updated October 12, 2012. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Veronica @ Pelican on Money

The way I see it, it’s your blog, you should be able to share anything you like. If people have a problem with that, they can simply not read the post, it can’t be that difficult. I know many PF bloggers are constantly updating their progress not for everyone else to see or inspire anyone, but rather to inspire themselves. It’s much more motivating to self seeing the numbers in front of you, and having extra feedback from people who care to read and follow than going at it alone.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

I agree completely, Veronica. Over the years, I always looked forward to my monthly ritual of exporting my financial data from Quicken and seeing the numbers, for the most part, increase. I found it very motivating — and the numbers are just the details. It’s easy to get bogged down thinking your progress is just about numbers, so I tried to always look at the big picture.

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avatar Jacob

I think this is a great idea, Luke. This is one of the best ways to help keep someone accountable to improving their finances. If I knew that my financial status would be published everyone month for the world to see, I would probably make a few different decisions throughout the month, for sure.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

That’s what it’s all about! The “threat” of public display can encourage more responsible behavior. And I have to say the idea to continue this is partially inspired by your Budget Friday series!

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avatar Jacob

Awww, schucks. Glad I could be an inspiration. :)

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avatar krantcents

Interesting! I think sharing the problem and the ultimate solution is instructive. Parents and generations do that all the time although not necessarily to such a wide audience. For me, accountable is much more internal than just publishing it. Facing people I know when I fail is much more difficult than publishing it.

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avatar Kathleen @ Frugal Portland

90% of the reason I started blogging was to put up my numbers … not to inspire people, but to show exactly where I was. Being honest with myself, and having monthly check-ins, has been really motivational in a way that I couldn’t do in person. If you need someone’s numbers, I can do it! I’d be happy to.

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avatar Evan

Agree completely Kathleen – My first post 4 years ago said I want to be held accountable to ANYONE who may come across the blog

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avatar Lance @ Money Life and More

I’ve thought about sharing my situation but I am not anonymous and that’s what is stopping me. People who know me could find the site and then know too much about my financial situation. I wouldn’t want people to be turned off about the amount of money I may have in retirement in 5 years compared to others my age.

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avatar Rich@MoneyWisePastor

I think it’s a great idea to share reader stories. It can be inspiring and educational to read of other people’s experiences.

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avatar Dominique Brown

That is a great idea! Sharing your finances online is a great way to motivate yourself to reach your financial goals. It is also a bonus when people start to follow your blog to get tips and inspirations for their own financial goals. I was already pretty open with my blog posts and numbers, but I’m trying to be open more with my personal life as well.

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avatar Brad

Luke – Thanks to you and your Net Worth spreadsheet, I started tracking mine monthly using your same spreadsheet. I started in Nov 2007, and it absolutely kept me motivated and focused on the big picture. 5 years later, net worth is up 665%!

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

WOW! That’s fantastic! I’m so happy to hear you’re doing well and humbled to think that the spreadsheet helped keep you motivated.

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