I’ve been asked this question several times over the past few years, by strangers and friends, most who don’t approve of my openness for one reason or another. Each month, I write with excruciating detail about my expenses and income, assets and liabilities, and my net worth. For example, here is my latest net worth report and my latest income and expense report.
So do I think strangers are actually interested enough to peek into my wallet? Do I think my friends want to know the intimate secrets hidden inside my piggy bank? Am I some kind of jerk, or what? Well, some people think so, judging from the nasty emails and comments I get once in a while. I won’t share any of those. I will however share first the “anti-reasons” for posting my financial data online for “everyone” to see.
I’m not writing to “brag.” I would have not much to brag about. Many people my age (31 as of almost a month ago) have done much better with their finances than I have. I’m not maxing out my income at my day job, I don’t have great career prospects, and I don’t love what I do for a living. While random side income is picking up, there is no reason for me to believe it will continue. I don’t have enough saved for retirement and I don’t yet own a house. If I were posting my numbers only to show off, that would be a pathetic attempt.
I’m not writing to “teach.” Although I am college-trained to be a teacher, and I am certified to teach kindergarten through 12th grade in the state of New Jersey, this blog is not an instrument for learning. I am not a professional personal finance advisor or guru. I would be very wary of any blogger who claims to teach me something unless I know that blogger’s credentials. Even those credentials can have little meaning, depending on the individual.
I started this blog to learn more about personal finance. It motivates me to read articles, books, and comments left by visitors more experienced than I am. If there’s something to learn from my monthly financial reports, then that’s fine, but that is not my intent.
Well, I have another word about teaching. Any one person has something to offer any other person in the way of education, but that usually doesn’t happen when one is claiming to be “teaching” the other.
I’m not writing to “get rich.” When I started this blog, very few bloggers were making money through this activity. It was a hobby for most people, with no thought of “monetization.” Then Google AdSense, which was released in April 2003 (based on technology my mom — and I to a very small extent — helped develop), made it very simple for bloggers to earn a few cents. And that’s all that most were earning — those who dared to put advertisements on their blogs.
Any income from this blog is a treat, cosmic gratitude. If it were to disappear I’d be disappointed, but I’d get over it. I like writing on this blog and would continue to do so. And I have no delusions that it will ever be a full-time job, but who wouldn’t love to get paid for doing what they enjoy doing and would be doing otherwise?
Those are my “anti-reasons” for posting my monthly figures on the internet. I do have some “pro-reasons,” which I guess are generally just called, “reasons.”
I was in bad shape. It wasn’t completely horrible, but a few years before I started Consumerism Commentary, I was losing the game. My net worth — if I had stopped to think about it — was getting lower and lower each month. This was happening not because of an extravagant lifestyle. For a while I was crashing at a friend’s house for $500/mo, and my paycheck provided me enough money for rent, commuting to work, and some food. That couldn’t go on forever. Eventually, I got myself in gear. Then I started this blog to keep me accountable, to keep me moving, and to increase gears and gain momentum.
I love building communities. I don’t mean architecture or landscaping, I am referring to online communities. I’ve been building them for at least fifteen years. In high school, I ran an online bulletin board system (BBS). Friends and strangers dialed in to chat with others, send email, post messages much like the MoneyBlogNetwork Forums (though not about money), download 8-bit GIFs, ASCII and ANSI art, and the latest DOS warez at 1200 baud, play games like Trade Wars, and surprisingly, meet members of the opposite sex. (Active membership was co-ed about 50/50, hence we had the “Co-ed Naked BBSing” shirts printed, and the girls were much better looking than the guys.)
I couldn’t resist the urge to rewrite the BBS software and build a network of a few other BBSs, operated by friends and protégés, who ran my modified version of the software.
My freshman year of high school, I was the “internet liaison” (that is, the only local member with regular, “free” internet access — and at that time the only worthwhile use of the internet was Usenet and email) for the biggest Doctor Who fan club in the United States at the time, the Prydonians of Prynceton. Yes, I was a geek, but with a pretty good social life and always a girlfriend (or two).
When I ventured off to college in 1994, I let my BBS die and started building websites on the budding World Wide Web, which eventually led to blogging five years later. All of this has been in my blood. When I had a problem to solve — my finances — I turned to what I knew: internet publishing and community building.
Posting my progress each month is a natural progression. It is the perfect way to keep myself accountable. Sure, I could keep my finances private in my own copy of Microsoft Money or Quicken. But by doing so I would have no accountability, at least, not while I am living alone and have only my life with which to concern myself. I quickly discovered I wasn’t the only crazy one out there. MM from pfblog.com was posting his finances around the same time I started. He’s about the same age as me, but he’s much more successful in his career. That could have intimidated me, but I didn’t stop.
Not many others were out there at this stage, but as the activity of blogging as a whole exploded, so did the number of blogs in every possible niche. On July 15, 2005, Ryan Williams emailed me (and I’m assuming a few other bloggers) to let me know that he had formed NetworthIQ, a place for people to share their own financial data, based on the idea of publicly blogging monthly reports. There are members in every possible situation, some with climbing net worth, others slowly getting out of debt. Again, if there are thousands of public profiles, I can’t be the only crazy one.
What’s in it for the reader? I don’t know. Honestly, I can’t tell you what I think readers should take away from my monthly reports. Probably not much, and that’s OK. I read others’ updates because it gives me ideas for investing, saving, goal-making, and more. I don’t read to be envious about their position or to heckle their progress.
So if you get something out of my monthly updates, that’s excellent. I get a lot out of posting it, and as we all (should) know altruism doesn’t exist.
Updated April 13, 2016 and originally published April 10, 2007.