By day, Nicole Mladic is a 26-year-old marketing relations professional working in Chicago. But after hours, she lets it all hang out online in her blog. On her web Web site, where she goes to spill her secrets for any random Internet passerby to read, and she shares her sins, vices, desires and aspirations freely with the entire world.
A recent passage:
“Today I updated my net worth, and I'm happy to say I've more than doubled it over the last six months! Today's net worth total checks in at $5,413. Wahoo! So how am I going to celebrate? Well, I'll admit, I already did. Yesterday I was at Woodfield Mall….and I managed to pick up new shorts ($40) and a pair of discount jeans ($40) at J. Crew. Yesterday I was a little embarrassed about the jeans, because they were a total impulse buy ... they were originally priced at $98! ... but today I consider them celebratory presents to myself for meeting my financial goals.”
Okay, so it’s far from a raunchy MySpace entry. But instead of dishing about sex and drugs, Mladic indulges in something almost equally taboo — talking about money. As the Budgeting Babe, Mladic pulls open the curtain and shines a bright light into every corner of her finances. She gives specific figures for how much she has in her savings account ($6,482.12), what she owes on student loans ($9,000) and how much she spent on her last shopping spree (a pair of pants for work from the Gap for $24.99, but they were originally priced at $50).
But besides confessing her lack of financial assets, Mladic researches and writes posts about pressing financial topics of the day, like how to determine one’s net worth. She answers questions from readers, such as about taking out student loans, by giving her personal experience or asking financial professionals to offer their advice on the topic. Mladic also links to articles she finds financially relevant in any way, like a Chicago Tribune article comparing the cost difference between men’s suits. And she also offers non-related advice as well, such as making time during the workday to look out the window (“Summer is upon us, and even if us working gals and guys can't experience it fully right now, we can certainly appreciate it.”)
Musings like those are the reason readers keep coming back to her blog, or web log, which attracts several thousand readers a month. Mladic dedicates The Budgeting Babe blog to “all the young working women who want to spend like Carrie Bradshaw in a Jimmy Choo store but have a budget closer to Roseanne.”
“I strike a chord with young women my age who are having the same experience as me,” said Mladic, who started her blog in November 2004 after hearing her more financially established co-workers talk about their 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts and not understanding a word they said. “When [young people] look at financial articles in newspapers and magazines for advice, the heavy tone can be intimidating to them. They want advice from someone who is more experienced and helpful but who has also been in their shoes.”
Hers is one of a growing number of blogs that focus on the daily tasks of managing one’s money. Most personal-finance bloggers out there started their blogs as a way to lay out their financial goals, track their progress, and get encouragement and accountability from readers. Others are motivated by the educational aspects of teaching novices and sharing their advice.
One of the latter is financial-blog veteran Jeffrey Pritchard, a 36-year-old financial planner in Texas, whose blog AllFinancialMatters was one of the first of its kind when he created it in October 2004. In his latest postings, Pritchard explained how to calculate the remaining balance on a loan, and created a calculator to compare mortgages.
“My goal is to educate people about financial math,” he said. “I do try to answer questions, but not specific ones because that would be giving free advice and that would cause regulatory problems because of my financial planner’s license.” Readers with specific questions he directs to professional Web sites, such as that for the National Association of Financial Planners.
What’s common among personal-finance blogs is the level of sensitive personal financial information they are willing to reveal. In the offline world, people tend to guard the intimate details of their financial lives — what they earn, how much they’ve saved, what they owe — and tell no one, perhaps not even their spouses. But the anonymity of the Web allows bloggers to open up their books and let others see how well, or how poorly they’re doing in money management.
“Jane Dough” is the pseudonym for the 35 year-old creator of the blog Boston Gal’s Open Wallet, but even though she keeps her name under wraps, most everything else financial is out in the open, which still surprises her.
“Ten months ago, I never would have discussed this with anyone,” she said. “I had been trained not to talk about finances in social settings or even family situations. But what I discovered was that when I started this blog and reading up on financial matters so much, it was easier to break the taboo and talk about it with my parents. What’s even more amazing was they were eager to talk about it too, even grateful, although we keep it in a private setting.”
“On one hand, you don’t want to share too much with others,” said Dough. “But on the other hand, you feel much more free online. No one judges you in the blogging world.”
Indeed, readers typically offer their own insights and advice on bloggers’ financial plans, creating a virtual community where bloggers and readers frequently communicate and share intimate financial details, even though they’ve never met face to face.
The engaged couple who run the blog makelovenotddebt.com said being part of the personal-finance blogging community has educated them more than creating the blog itself. “Him” and “Her”, a twentysomething couple in Chicago chronicling their climb out of $90,000 in debt (mostly due to student loans) averages 300 visitors a day, many of them vocal.
“Most of the bloggers in the community are extremely well-educated about finance and often have posts that introduce me to new concepts or increase the depth of my knowledge,” said "Her." “When we make a stupid purchase, our commentators point it out. Sometimes when we can’t figure out what to do, we post our question and our readers respond. It’s like having a financial advisor 24 hours a day.
“It’s much more efficient than aimless surfing the Web for information,” added "Him."
As these blogs become more mainstream, many of the established ones have caught on to the prospect of a potential new cash stream. Some of them partner with Google AdSense, which serves up links to advertisers that relate to the Web site’s content (a post on personal-finance software may pull up an ad for similar products).
Budgeting Babe’s Mladic has gotten a few offers from financial-service companies wanting to partner with her, and another financial blogger told her that her blog is worth nearly $48,000 in value. But she shies away from AdSense types of partnerships since she can’t vet the types of ads posted on her blog. “Right now, it’s more about being credible than making money.”
One way to find relevant and popular personal-finance blogs is to check out pfblogs.org, which aggregates current blogs (currently more than 500) and ranks the most popular ones.
Well-established bloggers typically post frequently about their financial situation, and their blogs are good for picking up a few tips, but because the nature of blogging invites anonymity, it’s a good idea to do more research before taking their advice. Many bloggers already post disclaimers on their sites, stressing that they are far from financial experts. On her blog, Jane Dough wrote, “If you take something I write as advice and follow it with unfortunate consequences, I sympathize with you, however I take no responsibility for your actions.”