No. No I didn’t. My deepest apologies for the click bait title. My blog traffic is in the doldrums and I needed a boost. I’m kidding of course. Well I’m kidding about trying to boost traffic, not kidding about the sad state of my blog traffic.
I’ve seen many of these sensational click-bait titles in the mainstream financial media outlets recently. First, I want to say that I admire those who achieve financial independence/early retirement (FIRE) at a young age as well as those who paid off large sums of debt quickly. It takes discipline, hard work, and sacrifice to achieve these goals and they should be commended. I don’t want anyone reading this to think this is a slight against those who achieved these goals. However, I do think that these articles are generally unhelpful for the general population. But the point of most of these articles often isn’t to help others. They are to get clicks and views.
The gist of these stories is that the person realized that they were buying stuff they didn’t need to impress people they didn’t care about. They stopped doing this, living below their means and they are now retired. Similarly, in the case of debt repayment, they made some sacrifices and put all their discretionary money towards paying off debt. Okay, I’m not saying it is impossible that someone reading the story won’t have an epiphany and actually change their money behavior. It is possible to see someone achieve such a great goal and be inspired to follow in that path, but it’s probably unlikely. Moreover, with these stories, a lot of detail is left out which makes the journey seem far too easy. Also, for many people, living below their means, driving their cars into the ground, bringing lunch to work, and budgeting isn’t a groundbreaking revelation. They already know this and do this. Doing these things doesn’t mean they’ll be able to retire next year. Most of these articles are really geared towards those making an above average income where cutting fat from your expenses can make a huge impact. So, perhaps someone who earns a good income, but tries to keep up with the Joneses might realize there is a better way.
While I know I should avoid the comments section after reading these articles, it is like a traffic accident…you can’t help but turn and look. Most commenters reading these stories will say that the person being profiled in the article is either making it up, privileged, or had some special advantage. The person being profiled, most often a blogger, will call the commenters “haters” and “trolls” who don’t want to fix their finances. I absolutely understand being upset when anonymous commenters seem to be attacking you and your accomplishments. And there are many commenters who really are trolls who have nothing better to do than try and knock other people down. But I can also understand the frustration of some readers when they see these sensational article titles. When most of the people in this country can’t even come up with $500 to pay for an emergency, how useful is an article about someone retiring in his or her 20s or an article about someone crushing an enormous amount of debt in a short period of time. People easily get defensive. It is human nature. Even though these sensationalized articles might include some useful tips, people are turned off because it makes them feel like losers as the goal seems so out of reach and unrealistic. Worse, some of these articles imply that anyone can achieved this goal. And if you can’t, you’re just making excuses.
This is not a grievance or knock at bloggers who accomplished great feats with their money. It is not a knock at them if they want to get more traffic by getting featured in the mainstream media. It is not a knock at reporters doing their job by publishing a story which I’m assuming the editor is looking for. And it is not a knock at the editor who’s trying to get eyeballs on to their media outlet. Hey, people need to earn a living. Businesses need to make a profit. I get it. I am just making an observation, which is that click bait articles about extreme early retirement or getting out of debt quick don’t help most people learn about personal finance.
Now with social media and the decline of newspaper revenue combined with the huge supply of content creators online, everyone is more and more desperate to capture readers’ attention to get that ad revenue. It doesn’t matter that the story won’t help the majority of readers or that the method the person being profiled used to pay off debt or retire extremely early is not relatable or even possible for some reasons. All that matters is the reader is engaged, which leads to more clicks, shares and comments. The question is not whether the article is useful. It is whether the story is exciting.
A couple years ago, a personal finance blogger came on the scene and shared the story of how he became a millionaire at the young age of 27. His story was published in a profile on Yahoo Finance News and someone who knew him called into question the validity of his story. It was later revealed that 80% of his net worth came from an inheritance. Many bloggers in the personal finance space were disappointed that he lied and felt deceived. However, many also sympathized with him, rationalizing that he omitted the inheritance part of the story because he felt more people would embrace him if he had earned the million dollars on his own. They thought he was ashamed he didn’t have a pull yourself up by the bootstrap story. Um, nope, that was not it! The main reason for this blogger’s deception was he wanted to get clicks. He wanted more traffic for his blog from the feature which equals more money from ads. Obviously, I can’t read his mind or know his motives, but a few months prior to his deception, I received a mass e-mail from him. He had a different personal finance blog which he was trying to sell saying that he was too busy to run a blog. However, shortly after selling his site, he went out to build another site when his lies caught up with him. I guess he was in the business of flipping blogs like people flip houses.
I was hesitant to include the above story as I don’t want anyone to think I’m saying that those profiled who retired early or got out of rich quick are scam artists. Nothing can be further from the truth. Most of them have great stories which can definitely inspire those in the right circumstances. I only included it to point out the dangers when there is a narrow focus on stories from this niche. The financial media can play an important role in teaching and promoting financial literacy. Content creators have great influence and with great influence comes great responsibility so hopefully we can see more articles that can inspire and encourage people of all difference financial backgrounds.