May 6, 2005 5:06 pm

Personal advice within a public forum

Blogging, the art of writing a weblog, or personal online journal, about pretty much anything, is one of the big“grassroots” online success stories.

The results can be spectacular: back in 2002, a young woman in New York called Karyn Bosnak set up a site detailing her attempts to pay off her $20,000 credit card debt, and appealing for cash. The ploy worked so successfully that she paid off the debt in 20 weeks, wrote a book about it, and her site now contains loads of clever tips for other people searching for ways to live debt-free.

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In the US, there’s evidence that many people (especially women) are disenchanted with impersonal corporate advice and are instead turning to blogs for help and education concerning on personal finance and investment matters.

It’s all at your own risk, but there are some excellent and entertaining blogs. One popular blog, The Budgeting Babe, is “a website dedicated to all the young, working women who want to spend like Carrie in a Jimmy Choo store but have a budget closer to Roseanne”.

Many would-be investors start reading blogs because they are looking for smart investment ideas or help with clearing their debts. But the real lure is often the minutiae of people’s lives. There’s something very appealing about the candour with which people (well, Americans anyway) seem happy to stick every detail of their income, expenditure and evenings out with their drinking buddies up on the web for everyone to see.

Many US blogs are simply chroniclinge the author’s quest for personal wealth. Neville’s Financial Blog, for example, is “tracking the road to financial success from the age of 22”. Neville is 22 but aims to have somewhere near $1m in liquid assets by the age of 27. It made me feel exhausted and old just reading about his plans to have three separate sources of income (apart from his job) by the end of 2005, or his joy at going to a glittering function attended by billionaires.

Some blogs however are run by the experts: AllThingsFinancial is a leading blog run by a Texan financial planner.

So prevalent are US money blogs that there’s even a “fantasy share” index of finance blogs, called Blog Shares. This is a good place to go to get a lists ofthe top US blogs with and provides links to popular sites. Another interesting good starting point is PF Blog, which has masses of useful links.

Back iIn the UK, painstaking research through many, many bloggers’ efforts found more blogs written by British cats and babies than tales of everyday budgeting, personal finance and investment. It’s probably something to do with our natural reticence, but the paucity of UK financial blogs seems astounding, especially among finance industry insiders, whom you might expect to be delighted at the chance to promote themselves.

Plenty of US finance experts run their own blogs (AllThingsFinancial is a leading one run by a Texan financial planner) but British financial bloggers tend to stick to the subject.

Steve Bee, a pensions expert at Scottish Life, has a BeeHive blog that covers pensions issues, andwhile Endowment Justice, which is striving to become the “acceptable face” of the controversialendowment claims business, has a blog collectively written by its management, , which is interesting and quite ranting about insurance companies and their tricks to put off would-be endowment complainants.

But mMany bloggers poke fun at collectively-written blogs. Blogs, they insist, should be deeply personal. All these iIndustry insiders are missing the point by not including details of describing their disastrous nights out or rage at useless builders.

Stuart Fowler, an author and consultant, has a blog about finance issues on his website, but he bemoans the lack of interest among other experts in debating these topics and contributing comments to others’ blogs.

“For me, it’s pretty dead without any dialogue, so that’s what I hope will happen. If people can produce evidence to undermine what I say, then great, I will stick it up there,” he says.

Indeed tThe most successful blogs appear to be first and foremost exercises in “personal branding”. One such blogger is self-styled “living brand” Ken Frost, who has a huge personal blog and an equally lengthy one (running to some 205 pages) detailing every twist and turn of the mis-sold endowments debacle and his own claim for compensation.

But the king of the financial “personal brand” in the UK is Martin Lewis. A broadcaster and journalist, Lewis started his Moneysavingexpert website just over two years ago. It may not be a traditional blog, but he writes everything on it.

Lewis says the personal tone of the site was verydeliberate: “What worries me with blogs is that you don’t know who is writing them – people know who I am. There are people out there who will punt things for profit – do you know who are you reading?”

There are now mMore than 250,000 people have signed up to receive Lewis’s weekly e-mail which details great deals, loopholes and freebies (a recent tip highlighted did you know that anyone carrying a garden gnome could get in free to Alton Towers?). The rather homespun look of the site belies the fact that Lewis now has six staff working for him.

Fans of Lewis’s rambling but useful “musings” will be pleased to hear he’s about to start a proper blog. “It’s going to be less of a personal finance blog, more of just what I am up to.”

Perfect for those websurfers who want more than just details of the best credit card deals.

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