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BusinessWeek Online: Best Blogs for the Young and Broke

By Karyn McCormack
August 11, 2006

Should you be clipping coupons or should you just stop buying “crap?” Here are some blogs to help you get real about money.

Figuring out whether clipping coupons is worth the time and money saved at the grocery store may not be your cup of tea. According to many young personal finance (aka “PF”) bloggers, the subject of money is still “taboo” and many of their friends don’t know how to create a budget, set goals for retirement, or manage their debt. Says Amanda Gleason, 24, who pens the Young and Broke blog from Chicago: “So many of my peers and friends were uneducated about personal finance, from 401(k)s to saving for retirement.”

My latest journey in the PF blogosphere found many that veer off into rants about things like why you should be able to afford a house guest or talk up a company selling gift baskets. But after digging deeper, I was encouraged to see some very helpful advice written with flair by a growing community of twenty- and thirtysomething money bloggers.

Some of the best PF blogs written by twentysomethings, such as MyMoneyBlog and I Will Teach You To Be Rich already have been noticed. A few have turned into decent side businesses, generating up to $1,000 a month from ads using Google AdSense, links from affiliates, or referrals.

KEEPING THEIR DAY JOBS. However, a bunch of young bloggers told me that making money from their blogs is not a top priority and they have no plans to give up their day jobs. “It’s not something I count on,” says “Flexo” at Consumerism Commentary. “I live without that money [from the blog], just put it away.” Many of them say that blogs are merely a creative outlet for them to write about their experiences and share what they’ve learned so others won’t make the same mistakes, such as using credit cards for everyday expenses.

Community-building is a big plus at money blogs, with weekly events such as the Carnival of Personal Finance and Festival of Frugality that lets bloggers enter posts that are collected in an easy-to-read list. There’s also a Question of the Day that sparks discussions among bloggers and readers and becomes an interactive exchange of ideas. The best place to find it all is Money Blog Network, a collection of six blogs launched in January by 42-year-old “FMF” at FreeMoneyFinance (the site that many young bloggers admire).

Here are a few blogs written by twenty- and thirtysomethings that are worth bookmarking for straightforward, easy-to-find, and often entertaining, advice about money matters. This is subjective, of course, and odds are you’ll find some things more useful than others. Also keep in mind that they’re not financial professionals. Happy trails!

Great Starting Points
All of the Money Blog Network members are worth checking out. The youngest ones are Jim Wang, 25, at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity and “Flexo,” 30, at Consumerism Commentary.

Jim is studying for his MBA at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and is about to take a new job at a consulting company. He launched the Festival of Frugality in December, and recently published a handy list of the other carnivals. He says the most popular posts on his blog are about specific companies, such as Costco’s (COST) easy return policy (one person returned already worn underwear!).

He admires billionaire Warren Buffett because he came from a small town and built his wealth from scratch. “I’ve read almost every one of the books about him,” he says. He also likes Ben Stein’s column on Yahoo! Finance.

His pan is self-proclaimed personal finance guru and author Suze Orman. “She talks down to people,” he gripes. A number of other young bloggers share this dislike of Orman for her style and peddling of her products.

“Flexo,” who has been blogging since 2003, works at a financial services firm and lives in Princeton. He’s finishing his MBA at the University of Phoenix Online this month. His blog also covers a variety of personal finance, ranging from credit cards to tips for saving on gasoline.

He started the Carnival of Personal Finance last summer, and more recently helped five bloggers by providing Web space for them on his servers, which helps them create more robust blogs. He does Web development on the side, and also teaches music to high school students. One of the popular posts on his site was the value of a MBA degree, he says.

Frugal Living
My favorite in this niche is Frugal for Life, written by 33-year-old Dawn Cadwell, who works tech support at a local cable company in Englewood, Colo. Her site was born at the end of 1994 out of her desire to emerge from bankruptcy (filed in 1998) after racking up about $20,000 in credit card debt.

“I needed to make changes,” she says. “I was having a difficult time applying for things because of my bad credit.” As a child, Cadwell says she learned how to count by playing with dollars and coins and watched her parents wash out sandwich bags to make every penny stretch.

Now she sees many people living paycheck to paycheck. Her most recent tips for making every cent count range from making homemade furniture polish and dishwashing detergent to knowing how your credit score is calculated.

Popular posts include her musings about minimalism, essentially how to keep only life’s necessary things and get rid of clutter. Another one was frugal food items, or edibles that you can live on for a week for $20. (I liked 10 Fashion Tips for the Newbie Frugalista.) “I truly love money,” she admits.

Money Can Be Funny
Nick Ferris, a 23-year old software engineer in Rockville, Md., started writing Punny Money about a year ago “to express my creative side” and measure his own progress with his finances. In between his job and studying for a master’s in computer science at John Hopkins University, he takes up a challenge from a reader to find out whether clipping coupons is worth the time and money.

“It hasn’t done much for me, and it takes time,” he concludes. “My time is worth $90 an hour to me.” He admits he’s only been able to collect that sum once, and he discounts his time helping friends. “I encourage others to compute how much your time is worth,” he says.

As for investing, Ferris has a 401(k) and actively manages it. “I check it every week and depending on how the markets go, I’ll adjust it as needed.” His next venture is starting a blog about the Olympics — essentially a guide to the 2008 games in Bejing.

Last, but not least, is StopBuyingCrap.com, written by 23-year-old “Cap” in Westminster, Calif. He started it in April, 2005, when he realized he was deep in debt. “It’s a daily reminder is stop buying crap,” he says. Well put.

While in his final year at a community college, he offers tips on how to consolidate your accounts. I got a chuckle out of The Wind Stole My $10. Down the road, “Cap” says, he’d like to start a business in the resale of automotive parts, which has been a hobby and how he accumulated his debt years ago. “I also eat out a lot and travel — a lot of us in this age group spend a lot.” No kidding.

* Source locations: BusinessWeek Online and Yahoo Finance

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