What I’ve Learned from Two Years of Writing about Personal Finance

I launched this site two years ago as a creative outlet, a virtual business card, and a resource for friends and family. I was publishing four articles per month, each 1,000 words or more. I wrote about how to save money, my real estate predictions, meditation for some reason and political astronomy. I used good SEO practices and spread my content through social media.

Two years ago was also the height of meme stock mania, 0% interest rates, and free money falling from the sky, so the timing was good. It was relevant. I was part of a trend and it was fun even though I had no end goals.

Today inflation is at 9%. Mortgage rates have doubled. Debt relief is going to those who need it the least. The stock market has been chopping along sideways since February, flirting between bear and bear-ish. I’m still buying, but not the same things. I have no idea what anyone else is doing with their money. Don’t care.

And in this different environment I’ve also found a different reason to write.

Now I write to prove to myself that I can. I try to connect dots, tell stories, and tap into the human factor of investing. The mark of truly understanding something is being able to teach it to other people. The mark of truly understanding your own thinking is to be able to articulate it in as few words as possible.

This changing environment seemed like a good time to change the name of the site (against all the wisdom for trying to build a reputable brand). Poor choices is why I started the site in the first place. Poor. Choices.

The Sensible Merchant is to Poor Choices like Eminem is to Marshall Mathers. One is MTV Hits, the other is VH1 Behind the Music. (My pop-culture references are all from the early 2000s.)

There’s a million websites out there that will tell you how to invest better than I can and they will show up a thousand spots higher in your Google search anyways. I’m far more interested in why to invest in the first place. I’m also more interested in writing as a craft at which to get better, so I don’t mind that only a few dozen people will read this.

I also have a second job which I got through having this website. Now in the evenings and on the weekends I work there which leaves very little time for writing here. This is why four articles per month have turned into one (but hey, it’s free, what do you want?!).

If I’m going to preach the benefits of saving, hard work, and investing, I should probably walk the walk. I choose the side hustle that earns me money over the side hustle that doesn’t.

With that housekeeping out of the way, here’s what I’ve learned over the past 75,000 words:

It’s hard. Writing during quarantine was easy because there were only so many shows I cared to watch on Netflix. Writing while building a house, planning a wedding, and trying to have a social life in 2022 has been a challenge. But I haven’t missed a month yet. That’s my only goal.

I prefer writing how I want over writing for SEO. I should absolutely be focusing on keywords, driving traffic to my site, and hitting a certain word count. I should also not be changing the name of my site. But I had to admit that’s not why I was writing about money in the first place. Here’s a link to Investopedia if you want that other stuff.

Creating is fun. Social media is toxic. I created 322 unique and time-consuming posts for Instagram over the past two years. I followed designers, learned from Photoshop experts, watched UX channels, you name it. Then I spent countless hours tweaking the colors, shapes, and placement of every single element in my posts. That was fun and I am really proud of the stuff I made. But the fake, generic, humble-bragging, personal finance guru bullshit was way too much. Everyone is shouting in the same room. Hoping for more views. More likes. More fake relationships. Gross. I hate pretending to be someone I’m not and social media encourages it. I feel bad for anyone trying to be a creator or influencer because I know how much they can love the actual work but the machine needed to broadcast it to fans is just suffocating. Yet, they are beholden to it. YouTube is their master. Facebook is where their dreams find hospice. The Twitter algorithm decides if they eat this week. God forbid they are attractive, too. Then it’s also a race against the clock of aging. Meanwhile, the real world keeps marching forward, crushing anyone who didn’t post today under its boot. Whew. That got dark. I’m sure some people love it. Maybe it’s just sour grapes for me, but it feels a lot better ignoring it.

Short posts are better than long guides and self-indulgent writing. Acknowledging the previous paragraph is hypocrisy for this one, I really try not to use too much embellishment in my writing now. More words does not equal more value. Most books are long yet very few need to be. This is because otherwise people won’t think they are worth it. That’s the dirty secret of publishing. I’d rather tell a short story, draw a lesson from it, and be on my way. We’re all busy.

Almost all financial headlines and articles are meant to distract you from the truth. It doesn’t matter where the S&P ended today, what stock Warren Buffett bought, or where the housing market is headed (no one really knows). Every poll, survey, or analyst opinion is complete bullshit. Just ask anyone making predictions in December 2019 about how the next year would turn out. What matters is understanding yourself: your goals, your risk appetite and your spending habits. Manage your expectations and lifestyle, automate your savings, diversify your assets, and put as much of your financial life on auto-pilot as you can. I say this knowing damn well I check stocks daily and listen to five hours of financial podcasts per week. Most people don’t need to do that. They just need to focus on time in the market, not timing the market. Compounding will do the rest.

That’s why I write these posts now. Honest. Finance.

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