As a Personal Finance blogger, especially one who is just getting started, this is a hard article to write. I’m devoting considerable effort to growing my readership right now. I’m engaging on Twitter and Facebook, trying to produce interesting content daily, and yes, hoping that I might turn this blog into an additional source of income.
The thing about accepting advertising or affiliate dollars is, you run the risk of turning your readers into the product rather than the customer. There’s enormous pressure from the few sources of income in personal finance blogging to deliver your readers into the clutches of less-than-ethical companies which would like to shave a percentage off the top of any financial success (or failure) the reader has.
This is hard to watch as someone who genuinely believes that we are all capable of managing our own finances, and at ultra-low-cost. It’s even harder when I am reviewing material by other Personal Finance bloggers and finding that some of them give conflicting or even harmful advice.
Any personal finance blogger who has monetized their site has to strike their own moral balance. The thing is, I don’t need this blog to feed myself or my loved ones, and I won’t sell my integrity for some referral fees. How can any of us dole out good advice on the one hand, and then recommend services that totally contradict that advice?
I do feel like it’s important to lay out a statement of where this blog draws the line so that I have a document to refer to as opportunities arise.
First, Do No Harm
Tonight, I read an article on a site that espouses low-cost index funds… most of the time. This article ran completely counter to that, suggesting a Hedge Fund company’s actively managed funds. There was so much wrong with the article from an advice point of view, touting the “power of active management” (the possibility of which, I should add, has been disproven time and time again). I also read an article suggesting that people sell now (while the market is down– because selling low is how we get rich) and get into precious metals, complete with affiliate link to a commodities broker.
This is just messed up. Some of our readers are vulnerable: indebted, at the start of their financial education, and willing to try anything. Sacrificing their long-term wellbeing for a payout is despicable.
I will never advise you to invest in any way but the following: Invest in a small number of low-cost, passively-managed, no-load index funds. Invest in Real Estate if appropriate for your risk tolerance and lifestyle.
Finance Blogging Integrity Means The Reader Makes Money
It’s only ethical to make money as a finance blogger when the interests of the author, the reader, and the advertiser are aligned. I will only partner with companies whose product or service will hasten your success, not delay it. This will usually mean recommending brokers and providers that don’t benefit me financially, such as my strong preference for Vanguard.
Where This Blog Makes Money
I won’t make a secret of this- I would love for this blog to make money. So far it has made back about 50% of what I have paid into it. Here’s where I see some finance bloggers are making their money, and what you can expect to see here.
What I Will Do:
- Personal Capital is a partner. I have a referral link in the sidebar, and link it when appropriate for a story. If you click my referral link, you set up an account, and you link accounts totaling $100,000 or greater, I am paid a referral fee, as they consider you a viable lead for advisory services. Because I honestly believe that Personal Capital is the best hands-off expense tracking software– the only reason I ever cite in recommending them– I am comfortable with this arrangement.
- I have a YNAB referral link for those who are looking for budgeting software. This link decreases the cost to readers, so it seemed that all benefit from the arrangement.
- I have an Amazon Affiliate account. When I link a product on Amazon, if you click the link and purchase that item (or any other item during that session), I get 4% of the cost of your purchase. This seemed harmless, since it will never cost you more than you might have spent otherwise, and because I am not looking for opportunities to push products on you.
- I make a small amount from the ads on this site. As people have become accustomed to ads and I have tried to put them in unobtrusive places, I hope this is relatively inoffensive.
- I am learning Spanish with the help of iTalki. If anyone clicks my referral link, signs up for an account, and takes a lesson, I receive a $10 credit towards my own lessons (but no actual money).
- I host this site through Bluehost. They offer an affiliate program. If you are interested in starting a blog or a web site, they have great prices (starting at $3.95 per month) and I’m happy with the service. If you click my affiliate link and sign up (no additional cost to you), Bluehost pays me a $65 referral fee.
- If I review or cover any service which would pay me any sort of fee, I will disclose that relationship at the beginning and ending of the article.
- I will disclose any money made by the site in articles published quarterly, if not more often.
What I Won’t Do:
- I will not attempt to convince you to use actively managed funds or individual stocks, ever.
- I will not attempt to productize the articles on this site. I truly believe that this information should be in everyone’s hands, and that it should be free, forever.
- I will never attempt to sell you expensive courses or seminars. My time and whatever knowledge I have is yours, within the boundaries of the time I choose to give the site. Hucksters selling promises, but delivering only sales pitches for ever-more-expensive “coaching” or “training” are the very worst type of parasite.
- I will never hide any part of this site behind a paywall.
- I will not recommend that you use any service which contradicts my own belief that you should manage your own portfolio at minimum expense.
There. I’m glad I’ve got that off my chest. What do you think? Am I striking the right balance? Have you seen any shady financial advice or advertising online that made you uncomfortable? Let me know in the comments.