(This interview is a part of the Ethics, Values & Personal Finance Week. )
(UPDATED on Tuesday, February 27, 2007 to include the interview with J.D.)
Trent from The Simple Dollar, Jim from The Blueprint for Financial Prosperity and J. D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly were very gracious to share with me and the readers of this blog their views on Ethics, Personal Finance and Blogging. With over 80,000 page views visitors per month, they know what it is like to be successful bloggers. They cover a wide range of topics related to personal finance with integrity and interact with several different people every single day through comments and emails. Who better to discuss these issues with? So, here we go.
ISPF: How do your personal values impact your everyday financial decisions?
Trent: When I consciously consider them, my decisions almost always align with my values. My problems occur when I do something without carefully considering it, like an impulse buy.
Jim: I’m not sure how personal values impact day to day decisions, like whether or not to go out to lunch or bring food in, for me because I don’t have a lot of major personal finance concerns. If, for example, I had credit card debt, I think my personal values would have a greater impact because I’d try to spend less and bring my lunch in so that I could pay off my debt faster. Since I don’t have debt (outside of a mortgage and student loans) or any other major concerns, I don’t think my day to day actions are actively affected by my values (they may be on a subconscious level though).
J. D.: This is a great question, partly because it’s more subtle than is apparent at first glance.
I make a lot of conscious choices about where I spend my money, and what I spend it on. For example, I will almost always buy things from kids because I like to encourage self-confidence and an entrepreneurial spirit.
I think that our values *always* influence our everyday financial decisions, even when we think they’re not. For example, I often state that organic food is important to me, and that I like to buy local when possible. These are two of my stated values. However, the reality is that I *rarely* pay extra for organic, yet I’ll go out of my way, and spend more, in order to obtain locally produced foods. So here’s a case where I have two positions that I believe are important to me, but only one of which is actually important in practice.
ISPF: You have a very successful finance blog. What role do ethics and principles play in your choice of topics, ads etc., for your blog?
Trent: I’ll write about almost anything that has some relevance to personal finance or is requested by a reader, but I don’t write about things for pay. As for ads, my criteria is that they must be appropriate for a general audience. I typically don’t approve ads that violate the things I talk about (i.e. payday loans), but I do run Google ads and these can be hard to catch.
Jim: Thank you very much for the compliment. I mainly write whatever comes to mind in my own personal finance experience and it just happens to gel with the readership, I try to keep everything honest and open, as I would like to be treated, and so the words just flow naturally for me. With respect to ads, I see them merely as advertisements and a way for me to earn more money so I can do the things I want to do, whether it’s buy a new television or donate more money than I otherwise could to organizations that need it.
J. D.: I’m actually far more restrictive with advertising at my site than I am with content. That is, I do my best to restrict advertising for sites that are against the philosophy I preach. I turned down a *very* lucrative Mastercard ad (TWICE!) because I don’t want to encourage credit card usage.
Likewise, I don’t feature many articles on how to take advantage of credit cards. I don’t want to encourage their use.
On the other hand, I try to cover a wide range of topics at Get Rich Slowly, and I don’t necessarily agree with every idea I throw out there. (This is particularly true when I host guest articles.) But I feel it’s important to offer a wide range of opinions and ideas. What is right for me may not be right for somebody else. If I’m doing my job right, my readers don’t actually know my political and religious views.
ISPF: Have you ever had a troubling situation because of a reader’s question or comment? For instance, if someone leaves a comment on your blog that is a very valid point, but clashes with your personal beliefs, how do you deal with it? Any examples?
Trent: If it’s not personally insulting to another reader, I leave it up there. I only delete comments if there are personal attacks in them. If I disagree with a commenter, I leave my own comment; my site makes my comments appear in a different color than others.
Jim: Unless a comment was written just to be hurtful and without any sort of content, I keep it there. There are a bunch of comments that have clashed with my own personal beliefs but I don’t mind having them on the site, it’s always important to show all sides of an argument, not just your own. In fact, I write posts that run contrary to my own beliefs (Devil’s Advocate) for that same reason. I’m afraid no examples come to mind.
J. D.: I haven’t taken too much flak, and when I have, it’s been deserved. I’m human. I make mistakes. Sometimes I post in haste without checking facts. My readers are *very* astute, and they call me out when I do something stupid. I’m actually glad for it. At first I felt mortified, but now I see it as a way to encourage me to produce higher quality.
I have no problem leaving comments that clash with my personal beliefs. As long as a comment is not inflammatory, or a personal attack, I’m likely to leave it.
ISPF: I am addicted to blogging. These days, at work, I have an irresistible urge to browse, and look at what other bloggers are up to. It’s a constant battle between my work ethics and my personal interests. Any advice for me (and other folks in the same boat as me)?
Trent: My work experience makes this a non-issue – if I’m in a situation where I can actually access my blog, that basically means that I have some spare time and I can do as I wish. If that’s not the case for you, I suggest utilizing “breaks” for that purpose, perhaps fifteen minutes every two hours or so.
Jim: I suffer from the same things but it’s important that you don’t ever write while you’re at work. I surf the web, just like everyone else, during the down moments but just refrain from writing (leaving comments, writing posts, etc.) and it should be okay. And subscribe to the RSS feeds so that if you are addicted, at least you’re efficient at it.
J. D.: I wish I could help you there. I, too, am addicted to this. The real trouble, though, is when we become addicted to the non-productive aspects of the hobby. I have a bad habit of checking my stats every fifteen or twenty minutes. Why? Is it really that important to know where people are coming from? Of course not. And it keeps me from actually research and writing.
ISPF: “Money is the source of all evil”. What’s your take on that?
Jim: Money is important because it provides a way for you to support yourself and your family, sometimes people focus too much on the money and not enough on the “yourself and family” such that they sacrifice them in order to get the money, not fully realizing why they were going after the money in the first place. Money isn’t the root of all evil, greed is.
J. D.: I’m sure others will correct you, but just in case, the actual quote is “the love of money is the root of all evil”. I think this sounds nice, but just is not true. Sure there’s plenty of evil caused by loving money, but there are plenty of other sources of evil in the world, too.
I would like to thank Trent, Jim and J. D. for taking time out of their hectic schedule to interview with me! You can read more about what Trent has to say at The Simple Dollar or subscribe to his feed here. You can read more about what Jim has to say at The Blueprint for Financial Prosperity or subscribe to his feed here. You can read more about what J. D. has to say at Get Rich Slowly or subscribe to his feed here.
To navigate to other interviews that are part of this series, please check the agenda of the Ethics, Values & Personal Finance Week.