Recently, I did a brief interview with personal finance blogger, Flexo from Consumerism Commentary. It’s my intention to get to know some of the other personal finance bloggers out there, and I wanted you to get to know them better as well. I don’t see the other bloggers out there as competition, but rather I see them as a community of people that share the same goals and values as me when it comes to helping others manage their finances better. We can all learn from each other, and that’s my goal with interviewing other bloggers in the personal finance community.
Erik: What prompted you to start Consumerism Commentary?
Flexo:Consumerism Commentary wasn’t my first blog; I had been publishing onthe web since 1994 and I became a “blogger” soon after the first blogging software became available. In early 2002, I realized that Ineeded to start paying attention to my personal finances before I dug
myself deeper into a hole. By June 2003, I was on my way to improving my financial condition, but I decided that blogging about my journey
would be the next step. There was no “personal finance niche” in the
blogosphere at that time, and my pure intent was only to keep myself accountable for my progress.
Erik: I didn’t realize you’ve been blogging for that long. You may have been one of the PF blogging pioneers! What’s your favorite and least favorite part about writing and managing a personal finance blog?
Flexo: I have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that I am a writer,
particularly because I believe that I’m simply not very good at it.
Other bloggers have seen quicker success — with success defined as vast
popularity — and I struggle when I compare myself with them. I have a
quirky sense of humor that doesn’t translate well to the printed page,
or perhaps I just haven’t found a way to make it work. My least
favorite parts about writing and managing a personal finance blog are
the writing slumps I encounter that last months at a time. These slumps
are interspersed with a few hours of creativity each week, so I’ve been
struggling with writing lately. That’s not to say that I no longer find
blogging enjoyable; I still believe it’s a great medium perfectly suited
The business of blogging weighs me down, as well, particularly because
it requires a lot of time and effort — time and effort I’d rather spend
on being creative (when not in a slump).
Erik: It’s good to hear that I’m not the only one that struggles with writer’s block. I think that surrounding myself with financial news and information throughout the day helps me come up with topics to write about. If you could sum up your philosophy about managing your finances in one statement, what would it be?
Flexo: A one-statement philosophy is a horrible method of communication and
is endemic to the tendency to oversimplify multilayered and nuanced
knowledge. Therefore, my one-statement philosophy for managing one’s
finances is, “Eschew one-size-fits-all advice.” For managing my *own*
finances, I tend to follow the rule of, “Don’t stop thinking about
tomorrow, but you only live once and there’s no time like the present.”
Ok, that was three statements in one.
Erik: What is your long-term goal for Consumerism Commentary?
Flexo:My long-term goal for Consumerism Commentary is for the blog continue
to force me to continue my financial education. The blog exists not
because I believe I know it all and I am therefore compelled to spread
my knowledge; I am learning about finance as I go along. I’ve learned a
great deal from visitors who comment, many who set me straight on a
number of topics about which I am still learning. Consumerism
Commentary is a reflection of my nature of being open to new ideas and
viewpoints, and my long term goal is for this to continue.
Of course, while it was completely out of the question in 2003 when I
started the blog, Consumerism Commentary is now earning income. I’d
like for this to continue.
Erik: That’s cool, I share similar goals for Money Crashers. I’ve learned more in the last two years about personal finance than I ever have from commenters on this site, doing research for the articles, and the conversations that come about when talking about my blog. And yeah, the income thing helps, too! While we’re on the subject of learning, what’s your favorite personal finance book?
Flexo: I liked The Number by Lee Eisenberg. The author was able to
communicate his ideas without condescension. I think many books are
written to appeal to the largest audience possible, and therefore must
be geared towards those of average or below average intelligence for
fear of being too “academic,” or worse, “boring.” I got the impression
Eisenberg did not take this approach. Instead, he started with the
assumption that his readers would have an above average level of
intelligence and would not require platitudes and gimmicks. Even so,
the book managed to be entertaining. I try to take this approach in my
own writing, as well — unless I’m being “ironic.”
Erik: What is your opinion on all of the media attention about the economy going into a slump? Is the outlook gloomy, or do you think the media likes scare us?
Flexo: The mainstream media is after ratings, plain and simple. They are
similar to the average personal finance author, catering to the “lowest
common denominator.” A whiff of a recession turns into a frenzy because
it attracts readers and viewers. And no media outlet wants to be left
behind. Markets move in cycles and if you’re in it for the long run, I don’t
believe there’s much to worry about. We may be in for a bumpy ride in
the mean time, however.
Erik: I completely agree with you. The media feeds off of bad news. One thing that separates you from many other personal finance bloggers is that you have done a great job of keeping your identity anonymous. You post your income and balance sheet statements each month. Are you ever worried that your identity may come out without your consent?
Flexo: Early on in the history of Consumerism Commentary, I was interviewed
by a magazine catering to MBA students. They printed my real, full name
in the article. I quickly emailed the reporter with whom I interviewed
and asked them to remove my name from the website on which the article
was published, but the damage had already been done in print. Since
then, the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, US News & World Report, and
Money Magazine have all managed to keep my full name unpublished.
My biggest concern right now is staying anonymous to avoid anyone
researching my real identity. I’d rather not explain to a potential
employer, who searched for my real name on Google, why I willfully
publish very personal information or why I write about my current
employer. I am not as concerned about faithful Consumerism Commentary
readers discovering my real name.
Erik: Unfortunately, I didn’t attempt at keeping anonymity on the net, but once my wife graduates and we start aggressively paying off our student loans, I am going to track that and let others see our progress. When you’re not working your day job and blogging for Consumerism Commentary, what do you like to do in your leisure time?
Flexo: I have a wide variety of interests which I occasionally mention on
Consumerism Commentary. I enjoy performing and teaching music; in fact,
this was my profession for a while. When I have time, I volunteer for a
select group of non-profit organizations involved in the arts. I’ve
recently picked up my childhood hobby of coin collecting and I’m
beginning to become more involved with photography. The truth is I have
very little leisure time.
There you go, Flexo from Consumerism Commentary. Go check out his blog, it’s one of my favorites, and he tends to have some of the more fresh and original material covering personal finance. Thanks to Flexo for taking the time to participate in the interview.